10 Questions With… Perkins and Will’s Brent Capron

Brent Capron was born out west and made his mark there, winning an IIDA Northern California Interior Design Award for the Qantas One World Business Lounge at LAX, and an IIDA Northern California People’s Choice Award for Westfield’s North American headquarters. But he has spent much of his 20+ year career improving corporate interiors up and down the East Coast, including MetLife’s global headquarters and MTV Networks Entertainment offices. As Perkins and Will’s associate principal and New York interior design director, he was part of the team—including Meena Krenek and Joan Blumenfeld—that recently completed a massive consolidation of Unilever’s 1,000 brands into a LEED Platinum and WELL Certified Gold headquarters in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. This past summer, he unveiled a three-floor headquarters for Viacom that livened up graphic black-and-white interiors with DIY wall covering employees could color themselves. Clearly, Capron isn’t afraid of injecting thoughtfulness, even whimsy, into large-scale corporate projects. Here, in a conversation that has been edited for space and clarity, he thinks out loud about the power of spiritual modernism.

Interior Design: Do you remember the first time you really noticed the design of a space?

Brent Capron: Growing up in Colorado, my family attended church in the suburbs of Denver. It was a modernist building designed as a perfect square in plan with no direct windows to the exterior, just a series of skylights around the perimeter and a skylight in the center of the pyramid ceiling incorporated with a modern spire steeple hung over the center of the room. At the front of the Sanctuary was a 45-foot long modernist stained-glass window into a sculptural concrete screen, depicting the moment of creation. I was fascinated and affected by the power of color and light, the state of mind it put me in. The texture of the brick, the way the diffused light hit it from above and the imperfections of the handcrafted walls.

ID: You earned a BA in architecture from Carnegie Mellon. Did you have any mentors there?

BC: Vivian Loftness taught me to utilize the environment as a design tool and work with the elements to create more performative design solutions. Bruce Lindsey taught me the poetic art of making every design move intentional. And Art Lubetz taught me that a building could communicate ideas not just to those using the space, but to those walking by and that the message can be a fun one-liner or have deeper nuanced meanings as you pull back the layers.

Unilver headquarters in New Jersey. Photography courtesy of Perkins and Will.

ID: For Indeed’s offices in Stamford, you hit upon a sort of barn-styled entrance. Why did that make sense for the project?

BC: It was important for each of Indeed’s offices to draw significantly from the location and the local community. For their Stamford location, rather than reference the expected vernacular of the New England nautical history, we looked inland towards Connecticut’s deep heritage in local farming, the farm-to-table movement, and the countryside where traditional covered bridges are found. Themes of co-op farming, agrarian culture, and natural elements populate the spaces, with the occasional wink to lobster fishing and colonial architecture.

ID: The Unilever offices also focus on wood. What attracts you to that material?

BC: Wood is a natural product that provides a sense of warmth and visual interest to a space. It is an organic and easily renewable material, so when installed correctly it can be a positive effect on the wellness of those using the space. It is warmer and softer than many building materials and can be utilized to improve the acoustics of a space. The ease with which one can work with wood and the flexibility of the material allows the designer to be creative in their three-dimensional solutions.

Unilever's headquarters in New Jersey. Photography courtesy of Perkins and Will.

ID: For Penguin’s offices, obviously books needed to be at the forefront. How do you make that fresh?

BC: One keeps the space fresh by focusing on the basics of the user experience. The design for Penguin is a celebration of the Book. The walls and workstations are designed to be actual bookshelves, rather than traditional walls or panels. The proliferation of display space gives all of the editors and staff the opportunity to display what they are working on and whom they are working with. Cork floors, soft furniture, and the ability to seal social spaces off from the rest of the floor control the overall sound in the space giving the entire facility a library atmosphere. Strategically placed furniture near the windows provide ideal places to curl up and read, while desk lamps and privacy screens provide a quiet moment of focus for those who are reading at their desk 90 percent of the day. Note: We did not have to stage the photoshoot, this is how Penguin keeps their space daily.

ID: Like Penguin, the Verizon interiors also focus on the analog. Did this seem sort of counter-intuitive for such a digitally-focused brand?

BC: We were building on a larger hospitality theme throughout their facility, one built on the physical human interaction and haptic experiences. An analog space is the perfect balance to the digital work done by Verizon and their many brands. The overall concept was to draw on the typical New York loft vernacular, both the post-industrial SoHo type loft and the Gilded age Flatiron type loft. This concept took elements from each and created black-and-white abstractions of iconic elements to produce a unique illustrated, NY-centric, urban media experience to house multiple enterprise groups that support the many networks at Viacom. The graphics in the space reference international cities where Viacom has a presence, providing an intuitive wayfinding device for those in the space.

Indeed's offices in Stamford, Connecticut. Photography courtesy of Perkins and Will.

ID: What’s your favorite detail in the space?

BC: The concrete-terrazzo floors, or illustrated black and white graphics, the use of Pop Art and Neon, the black barn door and the hung grid ceiling with the black mesh expressing the structure and mechanical above while appearing to reference a previous use in the past.

ID: What’s a trend in interiors you would like to see phased out for awhile, and why?

BC: Postcard wellness and sustainability solutions. Green walls and reclaimed wood should not be treated like art installations and plastered to the wall in feature locations as finish solutions or images of green. Sustainable, Resilient, and Well solutions should be much more thoroughly vetted and integrated more deeply into all aspects of the design, so that the users get the fresh air experience of biophilia throughout the space, or gain an understanding that all the materials used in the space where sensibly chosen to support the environment and the occupants of the space. 

Indeed's offices in Stamford, Connecticut. Photography courtesy of Perkins and Will.

ID: What are you own offices like—chaotic, highly organized?

BC: We are currently in the process of designing our new office that we will occupy in April. We are building an atelier environment, one large open room, surrounded by pin-up spaces, 3D printers, white boards and media screens, VR stations, and places to collaborate and discuss design. We are creating a canvas for chaos. It will be on the second floor of 1250 Broadway (NoMad Tower) and will be highly visible from the street, putting us on display and giving us the opportunity to let the public in and get a glimpse of what it is like inside a leading New York design studio.

ID: If you could change one thing in the industry, what would it be and why?

BC: I would break down more silos. I am an architect that focuses on space from the inside out. While many of my projects are corporate workplaces, the influence from other genres of design is growing every day. So the solutions for the design of space should not be segmented into Tenant Fit-out, core, and shell, etc. It should be thought of holistically, using integrated teams and a variety of talent that can think about space, the environment, and the effect it has on those using it and the society within which it is built.

Penguin Books offices. Photography courtesy of Perkins and Will.
Penguin Books offices. Photography courtesy of Perkins and Will.
Verizon's New York City offices. Photography courtesy of Perkins and Will.
Verizon's New York City offices. Photography courtesy of Perkins and Will.
Viacom headquarters in New York City. Photography courtesy of Perkins and Will.
Viacom headquarters in New York City. Photography courtesy of Perkins and Will.

Read more: 10 Questions With... Jean-Philippe Nuel

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