Clean and Sober
London-based Borgos Dance Architects and Designers create a luminous open office for graphic designers in Bermondsey's 1930s Glass House building.
Suzanne TrocmÃ© -- Interior Design, 1/1/2001 12:00:00 AM
DESIGNS SUCCESSFULLY INTEGRATING a clean, spare look with natural materials are much harder to come by in the West than in the East. A Western take on a "natural look" can result in an unseemly hodgepodge of ethnic trinkets arrayed against a backdrop of rough-hewn walls, whereas clean too often translates as clinical. In Japanese design, however, organic materials have been deployed for the realization of sleek, simple looks for thousands of years.
As such, the simple but tactile plan created by Borgos Dance Architects and Designers for the offices of a graphic design company in London seem like an anomaly anywhere west of Kyoto. But partners Simon Dance and Etienne Borgos may have discovered a new sensibility derived from their recent projects in Japan, which include architectural work on the prize-winning entry for the Osaka International Design Competition as well as designs for street furniture promoted by the Port Authority of Osaka and the Japan Design Foundation. Their 1997 proposal addressed the need to configure two large-scale, linear open spaces adjacent to Osaka's new harbor front. Dance and Borgos managed to unify a long canal promenade and a mile-and-a-half of seafront park through the strategic distribution of translucent resin and solid wall elements in a variety of sizes and colors. "The color and arrangements of the linear screens, benches, and event spaces allowed easy orientation within the scheme while also providing a strong visual identity with the area," says Dance of the Osaka project. The luminous screens were also adapted for use as signage and street architecture, and certain designs have been retained by the Port Authority for future implementation. Borgos and Dance have continued to use resin in their work, combining translucent soft resin with natural materials in furniture designs This work has been inspired in part by other artists and designers who utilize poured or cast resin, such as L.C. Armstrong, the painter Fred Tomaselli, and the sculptor Rachel Whiteread.
The 2,300-sq.-ft. office space that Dance, Borgos, and associate Michael Gould prepared for North Design-a company specializing in graphic design solutions for a wide spectrum of clients, including the artists Marc Quinn and Jenny Saville as well as the less racy Royal Automobile Club-exhibits an adept union of industrial and natural materials. Taking the form of a luminous studio located on the ground floor of a typical former factory building, it is composed of a rectangular open-plan studio with nine-foot-high screening elements that subdivide the space and allow for privacy between the meeting rooms and main workspace. The exterior envelope is solar-controlled, possessing a translucent, white double-glazed skin to address the need for privacy from the outside world. "The creation of an external envelope for the studio was clearly a priority," says Dance. "The skin would also act as a filter for excessive sunlight, introducing the quiet drama of shadows and reflections into luminous interiors."
When North Design first visited the site, there were faced with a skeletal structure and no services. "Unusually in London, we were faced with the challenge of working with a given quantity of space rather than with existing configurations of fabrics and workings," Dance explains. "In these circumstances it was possible to generate properly purpose- specific solutions. The client wanted us to create a serene but purposeful contemporary working environment."
Once the exterior envelope had been devised, work could begin on subdividing the internal spaces in such a way that, as Borgos remarks, "any compromise to the impression of openness would be kept to a minimum." In order to ensure seclusion for conference rooms, slatted wooden partitions were inserted to provide necessary, but minimal, screening from the main open-plan space.
On one of the shorter sides of the rectangular office, to the south, the scheme incorporates an interior relaxation space that opens onto a private courtyard now landscaped with translucent screens and bamboo and backlit at night-the idea being that the garden "would bring the green tranquility of the natural world into the heart of the studio's wired, white interior."
Time was short: the project was commissioned and completed within four months with building permission granted four weeks into the schedule.