Edie Cohen | October 25, 2013
Extreme sports are not Clive Wilkinson’s thing. He’s never participated in motocross, surfing, or even skateboarding, nor is he likely to try them anytime soon—what with a new bride and two young children at home. But that didn’t stop Fox Head, an action-sports clothing and accessories company in Irvine, California, from tapping the Interior Design Hall of Fame member to take command of designing a new headquarters. In the office realm, Clive Wilkinson Architects is an undisputed champion.
The challenge he took on for Fox Head was a boxy, monolithic warehouse virtually indistinguishable from surrounding ones. Wilkinson was quick to change that, beginning with the front facade. He covered it in concrete painted charcoal gray except for the stucco coated zippy red, one of the company’s signature colors, on the angular recessed entry—the angles are supposed to create a shape like a futuristic bike helmet. Out back is another story. Abundant glass and an elevated terrace overlook a landscaped swath incorporating pavers that spell out the words Dream On. Beyond is a small motocross course that doubles as a pump track for testing the gear and apparel designed inside.
For the cavernous 82,000-square-foot interior, Wilkinson and Pete Fox, the second-generation CEO, mapped out a complex program suitable for 300 employees. Explaining the overall organization, Wilkinson cites “traditional urban-planning concepts that foster a community centered around place, interaction, and innovation.” It’s an approach near and dear to his heart, pioneered by him way back in 1998 at TBWA\Chiat\Day in Los Angeles. At Fox Head, an all-red reception area—articulated with anodized ceiling slats and a wavelike desk—and a zebra-patterned archway introduce the urban-planning sequence.
It begins with a plaza, an open square space surrounded by four glassed-fronted showrooms simulating the retail storefronts of a cityscape. Extending from here through the center of the warehouse, Main Street is lined by meeting spaces. They’re joined by a lounge, an ad hoc gathering place that, in an urban setting, would translate into a pocket park. Only this indoor version, a vignette that could easily be mistaken for a corner of the lobby in a hipster hotel, boasts benches and sofas upholstered in heather gray, red swivel chairs, and a table by Charles and Ray Eames.
The open-sided lounge nevertheless offers a degree of intimacy, which comes from being sheltered beneath a staircase and a catwalk that give access to one of the mezzanines inserted beneath the 26-foot ceiling. “On the roofs of the Main Street structures,” Wilkinson explains. He housed a boardroom and a conference room up there, the latter fully enclosed in red glass. The mezzanine’s hand-scraped oak flooring stands out against the gray-stained concrete below.
Added to the mix at the end of Main Street are the kitchen and, opposite it, an area called the Clubhouse. That’s a stadium reference, given the bleacher seating for company meetings. It integrates a staircase up to the rearmost mezzanine on that side.
Flanking Main Street on both sides are vast office areas, the workplace proper. The design studio is on one side, with staffers working at a benching system. Sales, marketing, human resources, and accounting are on the other, an even larger expanse outfitted with workstations. What also distinguishes the design studio is its enormous suspended lanterns and its ample tackboards and whiteboards. At any given moment, they’re covered with sketches of products in development, from sweatshirts and sneakers to MX and BMX gear sets. Where space is blank, tagging may appear—employees are free to graffiti available whiteboard, injecting a bit of edge.
Overhead, Wilkinson says, “Ductwork and other infrastructure are exposed to enhance the architecture.” Skylights are new. Around the skylights, between the beams, is a ceiling treatment consisting of nothing more than rolls of white thermal insulation. “It works acoustically,” he adds. “And it’s cheap.” He should know, having tried it out at Google in Silicon Valley as well as at his own office in L.A.
Bursts of orange and yellow, Fox Head’s original colors when it was founded in 1974, make the overall landscape light and bright. In contrast, providing a dose of noir literally and figuratively, the design center and showroom for the IVI Eyewear brand share a freestanding volume of slats lacquered ebony. “It’s a reference to classical architecture,” Wilkinson says. What? “OK,” he concedes with a laugh. “Let’s call it Gothic.” Or maybe goth.
John Meachem; Sam Farhang; Sasha Shumyatsky; Matthew Moran; Chester Nielsen; Andrea Schoening; Mitsuhiro Komatsu; Annie Ritz; Meredith Mcdaniel: Clive Wilkinson Architects. Lighting Design Alliance: Lighting Consultant. Meléndrez Design Partners: Landscaping Consultant. Englekirk Structural Engineers: Structural Engineer. TK1SC: Mechanical, Plumbing Engineer. OMB Electrical Engineers: Electrical Engineer. Ware Malcomb: Civil Engineer. Artcrafters Cabinets: Woodwork. Howard Building Corporation: General Contractor.