Important Section for Offices
Clear sections in offices
“When we began working on the building,” says architect John Keenen, “it was a total wreck. There were many small, dark rooms, and a rickety stair that zigzagged from bottom to top.” After demolition, virtually nothing remained. The street facade, part of a New York City Landmarks district, could not be modified, but the interior was gutted and the rear wall completely rebuilt. K/R installed, among other elements, new concrete floors with radiant heating, an extraordinary staircase capped with a new glass skylight, and entirely new, state-of-the-art mechanical and electrical systems.
With only 3,500 sq. ft. of space on four levels, the architects were challenged to deal with a rather tight container. Nonetheless, they developed an inventive strategy to reconfigure the building’s section. Two new, 18-in.-wide slots of space join the four levels, one that runs along the stairwell and the other along the rear facade of the building. Various stair rails, balustrades, and finely-detailed furniture elements such as reclining chairs, desk and glass screen make these spaces tumble-proof.
K/R designed the new garden facade as a curtain wall made of stucco, metal, and glass. From the outside, it reveals the spatial arrangement of the interior by expressing the floor slabs and vertical slots along with the variation in program along the different levels. From the inside, the wall has been designed to carefully mediate the flow of air, light, and views. Keenen improved an otherwise undistinguished backlot view by deftly combining clear, sandblasted and prismatic glass panels. Clear sections were used at eye level and behind the frosted acrylic balustrade to create oblique garden views and guard privacy; sandblasted glass panels bring in additional light; and the prismatic sections, composed of two pieces of clear glass laminated with an intermediate prism, refract light into the interior.
Vertical relationship office design
A new mahogany staircase, the physical link among levels, was located at the building’s eastern edge. Between the garden and street levels, the stair wraps around a new, cast-in-place concrete wall that anchors the steel structure above. On the entry level, the stair is separated from work areas by a screen fabricated of blued structural steel and mahogany slats. A nickel silver rail winds around the screen and becomes, on the second floor, a guard along the top of a credenza that keeps objects from falling through. At the upper level the screen is filled in with fiberglass panels to maximize the privacy of the director’s office.
Horizontal floor office interior
In counterpoint to the continuous vertical relationships, horizontal floors were given somewhat individual identities. At the garden level, K/R specified bamboo flooring and provided an open kitchen that can be used as an informal meeting and conference area. New doors to the garden were designed with an integral security screen that also plays a decorative role. The garden itself was designed with a floor of concrete pavers and, at the back, a low retaining wall that borders an area of ivy and small willow trees. One floor up, at the entry level, the flooring switches to poured, off-white resin; the program here encompasses a reception area, vestibule, and administrative offices.
The main work area is on the second floor, an open office space with a big, egg-shaped table and most comfortable sleeper sofa or best sofa bed designed by K/R. Two slots interrupt the table, reiterating the overall spatial idea at a smaller scale while accommodating some very practical concerns. One slot accepts the structural column that runs through the building while the other accepts electrical cords and computer wires. The table was built in four sections so that it can slide apart to allow multiple configurations of the work area with sofa beds. On the uppermost level is the director’s suite, which can be completely enclosed with translucent sliding doors.
Throughout the space hang important works of contemporary art from the foundation’s collection, and a common palette of materials and lighting further unites the four floors. Perhaps the most important built element that knits the interior together is the vertical screen between the work areas and stairwell. According to Keenen, this construction subtly evokes a church’s choir screen, which separates altar from choir but still allows for some transparency and view. This ecclesiastical reference is but one of several, coordinated ways that K/R reached for the sublime in their effort to render the everyday life of this foundation glorious.
The project team consisted of principal John Keenen with Robert Young and Joel Shifflet as well as Aaron Bentley, Jan Greben, Jill Hanson, Markus Mangler, Nathan McRae, Terence Riley, Cindy Rodriguez, and Joe Serrins.