SOM @ WTC pix
With the World Trade Center slowly rising, Silverstein Properties fast-tracked a marketing office by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill
C.C. Sullivan -- Interior Design, 9/1/2006 12:00:00 AM
The 25th-floor office has views of the Freedom Tower's building site and, beyond it, the World Financial Center by Cesar Pelli & Associates.
The perforated aluminum also wraps the reception desk.
A table and chairs by Charles and Ray Eames inhabit a model meeting area with an aluminum-plank ceiling and carpet tile made of recycled nylon.
On the gallery's 63-inch plasma screens, marketing images alternate with live video from motorized cameras located behind the media wall. Suspended 15-feet away, a frame of stainless steel and chromed glass contains wireless sensors that let the human hand act as the mouse controlling the images.
The ceiling system is stretched vinyl.
The walls' two layers of perforation offer gradients of privacy and transparency.
Used for promotional and charity events, the bar is paired with stools in chrome and molded walnut veneer.
An exposed ceiling and a painted concrete floor bear witness to the center's modest budget.
The 52-story 7 World Trade Center was the first tower built following September 11, 2001.
Floor and walls meet at a metallic-painted recessed base lit by strings of LEDs.
|Optimism drives real estate. Without confidence in a brighter future, why build at all? The colossal bullishness at the World Trade Center site proves the rule.
There, building schemes are drafted in an emotional microcosm. There, construction precedes customary prerequisites such as letters of credit and anchor tenants. There, not only does a developer commission two giant towers from Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, essentially on spec, but he goes on to audaciously unveil high-rise concepts by Foster and Partners, Maki and Associates, and the Richard Rogers Partnership.
While feuds over financing, control, and design continue to rage down on the ground, the atmosphere is decidedly different 25 stories up in SOM partner David Childs's shimmering 7 World Trade Center. Here, SOM interior-design partner Stephen Apking's job was to convey developer Larry Silverstein's upbeat message via a marketing center for Silverstein Properties. Beyond providing a venue for fairly ordinary lease signings, meetings, and press conferences, this 4,700-square-foot space would have to ooze confidence and showcase the buildings of tomorrow, all on a humbling budget.
What could have been the space's biggest asset—floor-to-ceiling panoramic views—offered cold comfort. "When we met with Larry, he made it clear there would be little to show on the site for a long time," Apking says. "So we had to make tangible the promise of the great things to come. It was imperative that our methods and results be bleeding-edge." His two big moves certainly fit that description.
First, an undulating wall of white powder-coated perforated aluminum appears to unfurl from the front door, sweeping through the loftlike space and morphing into a reception desk here, a bar there. The wall's curved segments were made using the 3-D modeling tool Rhinoceros. SOM's inventive interiors group fed CAD data directly to a robotic water-jet cutter, which sliced sheet aluminum into perfect shippable pieces that were then powder-coated by hand. "Our information moved directly from the design phase to the installation phase," Apking says. "It's a new way of creating form, a new definition of architecture."
The walls' flow breaks between reception and the bar to allow access to the second focal point, a grid of nine plasma screens. Suspended in midair in front of this media wall, a 3-by-4-foot frame glows with an enigmatic and otherworldly light. Basically, the frame is a computer mouse: Tour leaders or curious guests extend an arm through the opening, and wireless sensors inside the frame magically translate the movements into point-and-click. Controlled by this invisible-interface, the plasma screens show live video feeds of ground zero from two cameras mounted inside. (At least most of the time. The techno-futuristic gadget is so bleeding-edge that it refuses to work every so often.)
The surrounding presentation gallery is pleasingly raw, an effect that conjures the excitement of a building site. For the first few months, in fact, prospective tenants had to wear hard hats and enter via the construction elevator. Apking heightened the overall industrial feel by contrasting it with refined accents. Set against the exposed ceiling, white stretched-fabric canopies echo the arcs of the perforated walls below. Where the walls meet the painted floor, a mirror-finished recessed base is lit by LEDs.
But this brave new world doesn't exist for itself alone. Its raison d'être is to offer an introduction to real estate for lease. Flanking the presentation gallery are prototype legal and trading offices where future tenants can try out Euro-styled workstations and meeting areas with modernist furnishings and aluminum-plank ceilings. "We worked with SOM to both show off 7 World Trade Center and give a sense of what the Freedom Tower will look like," Silverstein Properties communications director Dara McQuillan says.
The building's first "tenants" were Halle Berry and Bruce Willis, stars of an upcoming movie about a powerful ad agency. The marketing center has also hosted awards ceremonies for the AIA and the Municipal Art Society of New York. "We're the community center of Lower Manhattan," McQuillan quips. As well as a sustainability beacon for the neighborhood. In the model offices, SOM's design meets the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED Silver certification for commercial interiors. Everything is modular and reusable, right down to the charcoal-gray nylon carpet tiles. Even the perforated steel walls can be dismantled.
Indeed, that capability is about to be put to the test. Moody's Investors Service, the financial ratings goliath, reportedly intends to pounce on 15 floors at 7 World Trade Center—including the space occupied by the marketing center, which will, accordingly, become the victim of its own success. "And that," McQuillan observes, "isn't a bad thing."