Home sweet home meets office life at Saatchi & Saatchi's Southern California outpost by Shubin + Donaldson
Edie Cohen -- Interior Design, 5/1/2008 12:00:00 AM
For the past dozen years, the West Coast HQ of Saatchi & Saatchi has been in Torrance, California. Why locate 30 miles from downtown Los Angeles? Because the main account handled by this arm of the advertising giant is the Toyota Motor Corporation, just minutes away. When Saatchi decided it was time to renovate, Shubin + Donaldson Architects threw its hat into the ring despite underdog status. "We'd designed several other ad agencies, basically the competition," Russell Shubin explains.
Before making the pitch, he and Robin Donaldson dissected the project's parameters. Since Saatchi had no need for a showcase to court potential clients, the goal of the renovation was strictly to improve the quality of working life for employees, 300 of them spread out over five stories totaling 106,000 square feet. "Five floors equals a divided culture," Donaldson notes. "We aimed to densify the population." That meant a destination floor. "One where people would meet and eat," Shubin continues. Dollars figured into the decision, too. Distributed equally, the $35-per-square-foot budget would have had minimal impact.
Shubin and Donaldson landed the job. Their pitch line? "Homing at work." They returned again and again to that concept in mapping out the third floor, which got the top billing.
Before putting mouse to pad, the architects mulled over ideas. How do creatives work? How do workplace and residential influences converge? Where does creativity happen? The overriding response to the latter was: not in formal conference rooms or planned meetings. "Creativity happens in the in-between moments," Shubin notes.
At home, some of those moments might involve quiet time in the library. What better place to think? Saatchi's version, anchoring one end of the third floor, is called the Pit. It's encircled by curved shelving units, their sober walnut frames contrasting with resin panels in lively lilac, celadon, and Creamsicle orange. A bench in the same materials spirals into the center of the floor, like an energy vortex. Directly above, a gunmetal-gray conical structure houses the library's primary light sources. They're supplemented by fluorescent linear fixtures and recessed can lights for clearer reading.
In Southern California, no house is complete without a garden. "It's where you hang out if you're not in the kitchen or the media room," Shubin says. Saatchi's "garden" is a built interpretation, a lounge enclosed by walls of bamboo poles springing from a bed of river rocks. Steps up from standard outdoor fare, the furniture combines the restrained and the whimsical. Tucked under Jean Prouvé's round low tables of ebonized oak, Hella Jongerius's ottomans add femininity with their vibrant embroidered covers.
When work eventually goes into formal mode, at least as formal as it gets for the jeans-wearing staff, a proper conference room directly across the way offers a walnut-topped table and dark gray upholstered chairs. Agency-wide meetings—to announce, say, where the Prius will travel next—take place, bleacher-style, both on the internal staircase that connects floors two and three and on the additional stairway-to-nowhere that rises from the upper landing. Latecomers can perch at the adjacent kitchen's long counter, topped in a gleaming quartz composite, or huddle around Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec's white powder-coated interpretations of old-school wooden picnic tables.
Those white elements aside, Shubin and Donaldson splashed the entire third floor in SoCal-appropriate orange. Serpentine sofas in a focus-group area and angular swivel chairs in some of the few private offices are upholstered in sunny orange wool. In the open office area occupied by most of the Saatchi crew, Werner Aisslinger's Level 34 workstations are making their U.S. debut, complete with rolling file cabinets powder-coated orange. Day-Glo honeycomb resin screens off the elevator lobby from the center of the 175-foot-long floor plate as well as paneling the wall behind the bamboo bar in the kitchen.
Staffers spilling into the bar area are welcomed by Bouroullec picnic tables surrounded by Verner Panton's namesake polypropylene chairs in tangerine, an unusual choice for them. By pure happenstance, Vitra recently produced 2,000 in this particular shade of orange—Saatchi's signature color. No wonder the agency was the largest U.S. purchaser of the limited-edition run.