ANF Architects describe an education project: Designer Forum - Dec 2015

By Bill Ferguson

When a floorplate is long and narrow and filled with closely spaced columns, it imposes a confining grid. ANF Architects/Interior Design knew this was one of many obstacles facing the Teacher Town Commons’ desire for a dynamic, invigorating space for its new offices. Teacher Town USA, in bringing together several small education-related nonprofit organizations to Memphis from across the United States, was seeking an energizing design to initiate person-to-person work relationships, new ideas and capacity-building collaborations to strengthen and grow the organizations.

Not surprisingly, converting two floors of a 1930’s narrow, concrete, column-filled freight warehouse into a communal think tank and incubator for 15 to 25 organizations presented challenges. Sounds bounced off every surface. Existing interior floor slabs were uneven and unlevel. Each floor is 46’ by 158’ (less stairs, elevator, toilets, and mechanical) and its long parallel exterior walls felt close and confining. Straight rows of tightly spaced 2’ diameter columns made it a rigidly rectilinear space. The poured flooring was heavy duty, roughed up by its early decades of use, and built without modern-day commercial tolerances in mind—unless 2” differences are acceptable.

Floor prep required multiple applications of self-leveling compound due to depth differences and the need for uniform and accessible floors.

To break out of the grid, the ANF team created a wide path, starting at the front corner entrance stair and running across each floor to the diagonally opposite rear stair and elevator. To foreshorten the proportions of the floorplate as seen from the front reception desk area, the path widens as it extends toward the rear. New construction was held back, revealing mushroom columns, exterior brick, cast concrete deck and sidewall windows that comprise the interior historical elements. Interior architecture, design and furniture added modern counterpoints with vibrant colors and extroverted furniture styles.

A top priority was pulling together occupants while enabling semiprivate and private work. Materials and design accomplished this. Existing hard concrete, brick and glass surfaces were mitigated by carpet, ceiling panels and high-acoustic gypsum walls. 

To reduce noise reverberation, either the concrete floor or concrete ceiling needed to be covered. New flooring was selected in lieu of stained concrete to be kind to the feet and shins of the occupants. The design team also wanted to expose the column capitals and utilities on the overhead slab.

Initial color concepts for flooring, walls and ceiling treatments incorporated a neutral palette, so the furniture could really pop in the open touchdown spaces, phone booths, huddle spots and breakout hubs. A white color was chosen for the ceiling and walls to bounce daylight into the interior from the frosted side windows. For the two carpet tile colors, the shades and textures of grey and brownish grey handsomely complemented the warehouse interior and the path concept. Strong red accents were added to create more visual movement and fun.

ANF decided on textured flooring. The team wanted it for design and needed it for function. From several perspectives, textures are more important than colors. That is not by any means to say colors are unimportant, but textures create additional colors from a single color due to changing viewpoints, light, shadows and shading. Textures also form or enhance patterns.

For acoustics and softness underfoot, the broad diagonal path was covered with Interface’s Walk The Plank carpet tiles in the Ash colorway, installed in one-third offset running brick bond, laid parallel with the centerline of the path. For the abutting open office and office areas, a slightly darker gray carpet tile was oriented sidewall to sidewall to visually widen the floor. Selected for this application was Walk The Plank in the Hickory colorway, installed in one-third offset running brick bond. 

The organization of the entire space was reoriented by the carpeted diagonal path, echoed above by a lower acoustical ceiling, all cutting on a bias through the surrounding work area carpet and column gridlines. Walls angled akimbo, furniture groupings, and lighting reinforce the free-flowing layout in which even the column rows themselves appear to be angled.

The circulation path is the same on both floors, but conference and private collaboration spaces vary. The fourth floor has a large boardroom with hospitality and breakout spaces. The fifth floor has a collaborative teleconferencing space and roundtable discussion room. Spaces cater to public stakeholder meetings, visiting students and private-user group collaborations.

Bursts of accent colors on wall edges and furnishings identify individual groups and aim to enliven and differentiate assorted areas, and to assist with placemaking and wayfinding. Red, the primary accent color, is used in the flooring and runs up various walls as paint or wallcovering, and it appears on exposed HVAC ducts. Just the right choice for this accent, the carpet tile was Interface’s Urban Retreat in Red.

Sustainable materials and methods were considered vital for the comfort, health, recruitment and retention of the 20- and 30-something occupants and their growing organizations. The 100% recycled content, including some post-consumer and high post-industrial content, of Walk The Plank and Urban Retreat carpet tiles helped the design team achieve this goal. Also, the tiles were installed with Interface TacTiles rather than traditional adhesive.

Hard floor surfaces were specified in stained concrete and appear in the refresh bars, coffee room, elevator lobby, restrooms and service rooms. This decision helped the budget, and the design team decided the industrial look could work with the exposed columns, piping, conduit, ducts, and old side windows. In the restrooms, Interceramic’s Concrete 12” porcelain floor tile was specified in Black and Light Gray, with Laticrete’s 1500 Series Sanded Grout in Raven on the wet walls.

To benefit both Teacher Town USA and the building owner, ANF selected all finish materials, carpeting included, to be easily cleanable and durable. The Interface carpet is tough, protected against soil and stains, antimicrobial, and easily cleaned. In addition, the pattern is forgiving, and it is carpet tile, so damaged pieces are quickly replaceable. At carpet-to-concrete transitions, Johnsonite’s Transition CTA-20-J in Charcoal protects the edges.

As the most consistently seen surface, even in high-ceiling rooms, flooring sets the immediate tone that spaces invoke in their occupants and guests, and its durability and maintainability affect the longer term tone of those spaces. This naturally affects the attitudes of people—in this case, at their workplace. ANF gets a great deal of design results from tiled flooring products, whether it is carpet, ceramic, cork, LVT or whatever. There are so many ways to install and even mix them that the possibilities seem all but unlimited.

Copyright 2015 Floor Focus

Related Topics:Interface, Laticrete