Intelligent Design and sculptor Patrick Dougherty hatch a habitable artwork at Wieden + Kennedy in Portland, Oregon
Jen Renzi -- Interior Design, 8/1/2007 12:00:00 AM
Wieden + Kennedy is not lacking in art cred. Located in the gallery-filled Pearl District of Portland, Oregon, the advertising agency occupies a 1914 icehouse converted by Allied Works Architecture's Brad Cloepfil, the vision behind the Seattle Art Museum and the Museum of Arts & Design in New York. The icehouse's first and third floors house the Portland Institute of Contemporary Art, where W+K's creative team can see work by emerging talents—between brainstorming on print campaigns for Nike, Starbucks Coffee, and Target.
Now staffers don't have to leave the sixth floor for fine art, thanks to Patrick Dougherty's provocative site-specific installation. He has made large-scale stick sculptures for locations as diverse as a shrine in Chiba, Japan, and a BCBG Max Azria boutique in Los Angeles, but this is his first office installation. "W+K is forward-looking—they do things purely for experimental purposes," Dougherty says. "Quite unusual for a commercial enterprise."
Introduced to Dougherty by Cloepfil, W+K president Dan Wieden commissioned the sculptor to enliven an unused 16-by-21-foot fir platform that projects, like a diving board, into a central atrium. The only stipulation was that the sculpture double as usable meeting space, with tables and chairs to seat 12. Furnishings would be overseen by Intelligent Design, a firm that does product development and space planning and had furnished Wieden's private office as well as various work and break-out spaces.
"We'd been consulting on W+K interiors from the get-go," explains Intelligent Design's principal, Bill Fritts. "When I caught wind of this project, I thought, This is amazing. Patrick's organic lines contrasting with Brad's linear building—I bugged Dan to be a part of it."
It took Dougherty two weeks to weave slim willow and alder saplings together, some of them through the steel cables of the platform's balustrade. While he's accustomed to working in challenging environments—spiral staircases, public parks—W+K posed a unique set of obstacles, vertigo not least among them. "I focused my eyes on one point on the ceiling," he says with a laugh.
There was also the matter of logistics. "The building process can be dirty," he continues. "If you want the client to love you later, the site has to be kept tidy, not looking like a bunch of trouble." After gathering saplings near the Willamette River and wrapping them in blankets, his crew brought the bundles up in the elevator, cleaning debris along the way.
Installing the nest drew onlookers, Fritts among them. "It was fascinating how Patrick wove branches together in response to light and shadow movement, integrating nature with the built environment," he says. The largest sticks form the base of the installation; more delicate ones are layered on top. Not unlike in a drawing, they're all oriented in the same direction to imply movement. "Lines are important—they carry the sensations. The whole thing can't look like a hair ball," Dougherty explains.
Inside the nest, Fritts's biggest furnishings statement is a free-form sofa. It was sculpted on the spot from eco-friendly natural rubber, using a turkey carver and a Japanese saw; the finished form was then sent out to be upholstered in nubby burgundy-flecked gray wool felt. "Felt's organic quality plays off the character of the nest," Fritts says. Also wool felt are the deep-taupe carpet tiles. "The staff drinks soda and coffee here—replaceable tiles made sense," he points out. The nest's chandelier is reminiscent of, yes, eggs. Fritts began, very literally, by sketching a bowl of eggs, then turned the paper upside down. The resulting fixture's 17 orbs of yellow, orange, and clear handblown glass are strung at varying heights on steel wire.
Since the bulk of the furnishings budget was absorbed by the custom pieces, Fritts took the remaining funds and went scavenging. His search for pieces inspired by Scandinavia turned up a mix of mid-century chairs and side tables, which he accented with current items by Karim Rashid and Marcel Wanders. "Pieces from other parts of the office move in and out almost every time there's a meeting, too," Fritts adds. "It continues to evolve—and that's how I like it." Birds of a feather.