It takes a village
A communal workplace by Kostow Greenwood Architects helps Dallas-based Mad River Post edit film and video in style
Monica Geran -- Interior Design, 5/1/2003 12:00:00 AM
Open, unregimented offices are constantly touted for fostering creativity. That said, the Dallas office of Mad River Post charts new territory in openness, with a decidedly down-home approach. The company's film and video editors occupy four freestanding corrugated-metal "houses" furnished in rec-room chic. Producers work, like summer campers, under billowing tents. And the staff as a whole meets and eats in a central lounge more akin to a backyard patio than a corporate break-out area.
The Dallas office represents MRP's third collaboration with Kostow Greenwood Architects—New York and Detroit came first—so principal Michael Kostow understood the company's highly specialized needs. The highly unusual site, the upper level of a two- story former munitions factory in the city's artsy Deep Ellum neighborhood, posed a new set of challenges.
Although the 1938 building was abandoned 30 years ago, a strong industrial tang remains palpable. Exposed steel trusses support an 18-foot ceiling. Original flooring, preserved under a clear polyurethane sealant, is 4-inch-thick oak planks. And industrial-sash ribbon windows wrap three walls.
Which, in this case, was not a good thing. "To video editors, light is the enemy," explains Kostow. "They actually prefer to work in a dark or colorless environment, where monitors and screens are more easily viewed."
Balancing enclosure and openness became KGA's central challenge. "Given the high ceilings, it would have been claustrophobic to put in full-height walls," says Kostow. "We'd have lost the lofty sense of space." Instead, KGA kept the perimeter open and placed offices in the "houses," a series of freestanding mini buildings. The rest of the 15,000-square-foot floor plate is a free-flowing zone containing reception, lounges, and a kitchen. "It's like a town, with houses on a square," explains MRP founder and chairman Michael Elliot.
For editors, KGA designed pitch-roofed houses with corrugated siding of galvanized sheet metal and large picture windows with opaque pull-down shades. The 320-square-foot interiors seat up to six apiece for client meetings and editing sessions. Furnishings are an eclectic mix of mid- century modern, a style favored and accumulated by Elliot, who frequently scours eBay to expand his collection. (The sling chairs, 1960s Italianate floor lamps, and Harry Bertoia–esque wire tables' lack of pedigree lessens neither their appeal nor Elliot's pleasure in purchasing them.)
Producers, meanwhile, work in four semiprivate enclosures along a window wall. KGA set these offices 5 feet back from the perimeter and cut wide doorways on both sides of the enclosures to let sunlight into interior break-out areas. In lieu of ceilings, the string of offices is capped by nylon sailcloth slung over a framework of steel cables. Up-lights bounce off the cloth to produce a uniform, indirect luminescence.
The producers' enclosures are fronted in slatted partitions of horizontal wood strips. "Like houses that have been framed but not yet shingled," explains Kostow. Here and throughout, the predominant material is wood salvaged from barns. Asked about the species of wood, the architect mentally shrugs his shoulders. Who can tell? Although he allows that it's quite likely to be oak. Aged oak.
Tucked between the tented offices and the sheet-metal shacks is the open-plan lounge, akin to a town square. The space is anchored by a 250-square-foot kitchen, set at an angle, with a back wall that forms a U-shape cast-concrete countertop. Staffers and visitors can pull up stools here or relax at one of the scattered outdoor tables and chairs—a welcoming environment for talking business or shooting the breeze over Texas barbecue.
A single detail provides perhaps the best example of the neighborhood feeling at MRP. And that detail has less to do with KGA's architecture than with the size of the office, roughly half a football field. Staffers, says Kostow, frequently travel around by bicycle.