Designer Forum - November 2011
By Kristin Dorais
Writer George Bernard Shaw said, “You see things as they are and ask, ‘Why?’ I dream things as they never were and ask, ‘Why not?’” This “Why not?” approach is the unofficial basis of practice at Integrated Architecture, a Grand Rapids, Michigan based, design-oriented architecture and engineering firm. For the past dozen years, I have been working at Integrated, crafting interior solutions for clients ranging from healthcare to higher education.
In creating the new Global Forex Trading (GFT) offices, my “Why not?” challenge was to create a sophisticated, contemporary headquarters for an international Internet firm in a building designed in the heyday of the fax machine. The international headquarters, located in the somewhat unlikely city of Grand Rapids, Michigan, had to establish a certain presence, communicating the firm’s business acumen and financial success.
CREATING A CORPORATE PERSONA
While Global Forex’s work is intense, the corporate persona is contemporary and relaxed, a far cry from a staid financial environment, though the project design had to communicate quality, reliability and professionalism. Still, the new offices would need to be a recruiting tool for the best and the brightest, and a place of serious business, reflecting the achievements of the fast growing Internet monetary trading group.
The flooring materials that were selected keep in mind these attributes. As an example, the wool area rug, sitting directly outside the corporate boardroom, has a somewhat quirky wood pattern and rests on Plyboo wood flooring that offers a warmth and richness. This leads into the corporate boardroom, which has an elegant, cream colored carpet with a large over-scale pattern. This same tone of carpet is used throughout the executive area. The carpet blends traditional and modern aspects, as the pattern features traditional motifs while its scale creates a modern feel.
Other areas in the facility are more relaxed. One such place is the marketing department on the second level, which has a relatively young, cutting-edge working force. The carpet tile selected for that area was chosen partially because the design is traditional; however, it has an unexpected hint of chartreuse in the palette. This trendy color is used elsewhere in the office in carefully planned, appropriate areas.
Another location that is a bit different is the café. As it is located in the basement, we had to make it appealing, fun and friendly to encourage staff to utilize the space. The flooring supports this by mixing hard and soft surfaces. We carved out areas of hard surface terrazzo tile where the main traffic patterns and highest abuse would be. The seating areas are soft and comfortable. For this area, we chose an InterfaceFlor carpet tile that had a lot of patterning to it to help hide soiling. The carpet also has a textural appeal, which helps soften the hard surfaces that are typically found in these types of settings.
A HOLISTIC APPROACH TO DESIGN
While flooring design plays an important role in my work, my holistic design approach includes thinking about everything and creating a balance. Space is a three-dimensional environment, and, as I make decisions about how the floor affects that environment, I also consider what other influences there might be on the space. I consider its highlights, what elements play a supporting role, what color and type of furniture will be utilized. The decision about whether the floor will be part of the accent or a neutral complement is as much about creating a balance that supports the client’s goals and objectives as it is about creating a great design.
At GFT, the overall design is very clean and crisp. We looked at existing elements in the building that would be preserved, the existing furniture and how the new design would shape the facility. In addition, there were owner requirements regarding particular classic pieces of furniture that would be installed. All of this influenced our selection of flooring materials. As an example, when we were told that a Lalique Cactus table was being considered in the executive area, we knew it would require flooring that would accommodate it and not overpower it. Ultimately, we decided on using a travertine floor for the table to rest on.
In today’s economy, creativity is as much about providing a value for the client as it is about providing design expertise. When it comes to considering how flooring might impact the value-added matrix, Integrated takes into account how the product impacts the cost of operating the facility. Key to that is the cost of maintenance. The flooring industry has responded to the economy by offering products that are designed to be low maintenance. It’s rewarding to be able to specify a product that I know will be a great solution and will save the client money by reducing the time and resources required for upkeep.
In this project, we wanted to avoid products that required waxing because there wasn’t a place to store large cleaning machines. Therefore, most of the floors that we chose are low maintenance, needing only vacuuming or damp mop cleaning. The majority of the flooring is carpet, and most of the carpet is carpet tile, due to its ease of replacement and the need only to vacuum. The Plyboo wood flooring and the existing marble tile in the lobby are both able to be cleaned with a damp mop, along with the terrazzo tile in the café. Overall, our maintenance of the floors is either vacuuming or damp mop cleaning, making it easy for the client. In the executive area and boardroom, we selected a very light broadloom carpet, knowing that these were not high traffic areas. However, a year later, we realize that they are requiring more maintenance than we had anticipated.
COLOR & TEXTURE
Color inspiration for the Global Forex project came from a piece of Maharam fabric, which we knew would work nicely on the modular lobby furniture. The fabric features traditional stripes that appear to become flying birds. Typically you may see one or another of the patterns but not both in one piece of fabric. It corresponds well with the existing marble floors and contains some great colors that we were able to meld with some of the funkier colors and materials sparingly used throughout the space.
The existing marble floor in the space, which we retained and dulled, is a neutral grey. In many of the larger spaces, we continue that theme, using somewhat neutral carpet. Some of the carpet insets in the marble are highlighted with a contrasting carpet in a subtle stripe of yellow green. Overall, the intent was to use a neutral color for materials that would not be easily replaced. We used paints and fabrics for the accents.
We had a lot of fun with the carpets on this project, from the patterning of carpet tile in the café to the custom color carpet in the executive area and boardroom. Working with The Scott Group on creating custom rugs to follow through with the design intent was a delight.
Even as I pay special attention to color and the impact color has on a space, my true love is texture. Texture is what gives the space its true feel. Working with texture and color together, a designer can create dynamic spaces that support the people who live and work within. My inspiration for color comes from a variety of sources. It may be the nature surrounding the building, or it may derive from what colors are appropriate for certain spaces and the feelings that the spaces project. It often comes from how the space is branded and how the interior palette can support the brand image.
On the Global Forex project, we played with texture in various ways. The existing marble tile is beautiful and is a great backdrop for a plush wool area rug. The same is true of the Plyboo wood flooring. The wood pattern theme of the area rug is continued on small acrylic tables nearby. Even in the executive restrooms, we added rugs to the tile. The glowing ceiling on the second level has a honeycomb texture, and a similar texture was used for the coil draperies in the executive boardroom. Instead of fading into the background, the floorcoverings complete the design, adding the final touch to the upscale corporate office.
Simple concepts utilizing form and function were carefully thought through and then employed throughout the building. At the same time, high quality materials such as a handcrafted ribbon wall entry into the executive suite and programmable LED lights in the lobby’s water feature are used to reinforce the corporate style.
Office zones are furnished and designed according to the work and function principle. The executive suite is refined and elegant, the collaborative marketing area is much more active, and the lower level windowless café bubbles with energy and life.
As a sustainable design activist, I approach all my projects holistically, carefully weighing the environmental consequences of each decision. I consider the environmental impact in every choice I make. This is done not only by complying with codes and guidelines, but also by going beyond them. I think about the product, how it is manufactured, where it was produced, and what raw materials were used in the manufacturing. I also consider its future. What will it be like in 20 years? Where will it be? I must feel confident that the products I specify are not harming the environment. I am equally concerned about their impact on the building’s occupants and avoid using any products that contribute to indoor air pollution.
While Global Forex did not request that we consider sustainability, my team made a conscious decision to make sure the products that we specified held true to our firm’s value of protecting the environment with everything we do. The flooring is FloorScore certified, and we used wool rugs and fabrics. We chose to keep the marble floors rather than replace them. We also looked at the lifecycle and durability of the materials we chose, making sure they met our standards. In addition, much of the furniture was produced nearby and was manufactured meeting Greenguard or SCS (Scientific Certification Systems) certified standards.
There are many performance characteristics that I consider. Each client is unique, and every building is unique. We look at the substrate and how the flooring may or may not work with the building structure. We look at what chemicals are being used. We consider how long the client will be occupying the space and what their expectations are in terms of replacement. At GFT, we selected products that would withstand the test of time.
THE DECISION TO GO HARD OR SOFT
While there is a trend toward low maintenance solutions, I don't see that as translating to an overall trend that promotes hard surface over soft. In addition to maintenance, the decision to go with hard or soft flooring is based upon these key factors:
• The use of the space. It is important to understand how the space will be used. What type of activities will take place in the area? At GFT, it is primarily office space. The highest amount of traffic will come from the employees and not from guests. The exceptions to this are the conference areas and cafe. Within the office spaces, we interviewed each group to discover their daily tasks to confirm that our flooring choices accommodated their uses.
• The feeling or atmosphere that is being created. We needed to make sure our flooring selections communicated quality, reliability and professionalism. As a result, our flooring choices needed to be high quality and visually attractive without being too trendy or modern.
• Spatial acoustics. Spatial acoustics also play a role in determining hard or soft surface. While flooring surfaces do help to determine a room's sound level, they aren't the only factor. Ceilings, furnishings, window treatments and wall coverings also contribute to the space's auditory quality. Sometimes, the space should be lively and energetic. In these cases, hard flooring may be a good solution. In this project, the biggest of the surfaces were hard, except for the flooring. We used a product from Herman Miller on the walls in two of the offices and two of the conference rooms, which helped provide acoustic separation. We maintained the design intent by wrapping the panels with decorative fabrics.
• Climate. Climate may also be a consideration. In areas where there is a significant amount of snow or rain, a soft, moisture absorbing surface is often the better choice. In a drier climate, the hard surface may get the nod.
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