Community & Public Space: Flooring for community space must be durable and look good - Jan 19
By Jessica Chevalier
Public spaces play an important role in society, providing places within which people united by commonalities-be they location, interest, belief or occupation-can come together. According to designers working in this sector, business has been brisk as of late, as metropolitan areas seek to set themselves apart with modern gathering facilities that both reflect and support the communities in which they are situated.
As with other spaces that serve large groups, flooring plays an important role in public space design: creating ambiance, promoting safety, and standing up to the wear and tear not only from the people using them but also, in many cases, from the movement of machinery and other rolling loads, food and beverage spills, and the demands of multi-functionality.
THE COMMONALITIES OF PUBLIC SPACE
The term public space as we’re using it here is a bit amorphous. A library, such as the new Forsyth County Public Library located in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, serves a very different purpose in a community than a stadium or convention center does. Inherently, a community library seeks to provide services for the local population, without restriction and free of charge. This is noble work, and certainly not an antiquated effort; in fact, according to a Pew Research Center study published in 2017, Millennials in America “are more likely to have visited a public library in the past year than any other adult generation.”
Convention centers and stadiums obviously have a different business model: generating revenue. As such, they are not accessible to the general public; however, the design approach today is typically oriented to the local area, with elements reflecting a location’s historic roots, local flavor and cultural identity. Both the Miami Beach Convention Center in Miami, Florida and the Little Caesars Arena in Detroit, Michigan, home of the Detroit Red Wings, are examples in this regard, balancing functionality needs with design identity to create a space that is truly pleasing and one that will both endure and resonate long term.
While it may not be surprising that projects funded with public monies, such as community libraries, are expected to serve their populations for long periods without significant renovation, the same is true of commerce-based public spaces, according to the experts who design in this sector. Tracy
Stearns, senior principal and regional leader of HOK’s hospitality practice, Kansas City, reports that many of the stadiums his practice is renovating today have been in use for 15 to 20 years. And Mike Winters, principal, director of design and interiors for Fentress Architects, reports that the same is true in the convention center realm. “It might be ten to 20 years before they renovate again,” he reports. “Miami [Beach Convention Center] wasn’t renovated for over 30 years.”
This reality yields a stunning challenge to designers, who must select flooring products that will endure a substantial and extended beating while maintaining their aesthetic appeal. Oftentimes, for the highest traffic areas, like circulation paths, that means concrete or terrazzo with broadloom and carpet tile used prominently in supporting areas such as suites and conference/meeting rooms. Ceramic tile, LVT, hardwood and rubber also have their place, yielding full palettes that are rich with diversity and complexity.
Interior design of public space is always changing in both practical and conceptual ways. Here, Fentress’ Winters points to several ways in which designers are rethinking convention centers and other public spaces today.
• Security-In the age of the active shooter and similar threats, security and emergency planning is an important focus for designers of large and accessible gathering spaces.
• Technology-Facilities today must support all the technological activities that will take place within them. That means speedy Wi-Fi and often specified areas for social media or streaming events. At ten gigabites/second, the Miami Beach Convention Center is currently the most technologically advanced center in the U.S.
• Daylighting-Convention centers used to be big black boxes without daylighting upon which an event could erect its own identity. Today, meeting planners and attendees appreciate the benefits that daylight brings to a space, particularly in meeting spaces where events may last all day. Today, audiovisual equipment doesn’t rely on projection, so obscuring daylight is less of an issue, but to provide flexibility, Fentress specifies electronic blackout shades.
• Branding-“From a design standpoint, branding has created great opportunities for Fentress and the way we design,” says Winters. “In the past, owners wanted spaces that they could have complete control over. Now we are hearing over and over again that they want something that identifies the ‘place.’”
“Public space is a growing segment,” says Winters. “Cities across the country are investing in new convention centers or expanding their current centers. Fentress is working on Miami Beach Convention Center and Georgia World Congress Center, which are currently under construction. We are also designing Colorado Convention Center Phase III and Broward County Convention Center.” All told, Fentress has more convention center work on its books than it has had in 30 years.
Cate Lloyd, interior designer with Ratio Architects, agrees, noting that her firm is currently working on quite a few YMCA and community center projects, and, similarly, HOK has several stadium projects currently underway, including renovations at the Seattle Mariners’ Safeco Field and the Columbus Blue Jackets’ Nationwide Arena.
The financial impact of these projects for the communities in which they are embedded is far-reaching. “The Colorado Convention Center brings in $600 million to the economy annually,” says Winters. “The center supports the airport, taxis, Uber, Lyft, hotels, restaurants and bars, as well as general tourism and job support. The social impacts generally involve revitalization of urban areas, adding to the civic environment and providing a place for large community events, such as banquets, concerts, graduations, sporting events, etc.”
In short, the benefits of community spaces-even private, commerce-based ones-have significant benefit to the communities within which they are established. “My hope is that people will better understand that public spaces not only drive a city competitively in the way of economic development and population growth but also improve the quality of life of the place,” said Ty Tabing, downtown revitalization, city-building consultant, in Why Public Spaces Matter, produced by Wichita’s The Chung Report.
LITTLE CAESARS ARENA
Detroit’s Little Caesars Arena, a multipurpose space, clocks in at a whopping 872,000 square feet. The Ilitch family, which owns both Little Caesars and the Detroit Red Wings, the team that plays and practices at the arena, wanted the new facility to fit in with the midtown Detroit environment within which it’s situated. This is a particularly steep order for a professional sports arena, many of which dwarf surrounding architectural structures. In addition, the Ilitch family wanted the facility to be a boon for the local community, a somewhat blighted area.
HOK’s innovative design made both desires a reality. The approach mixes the contemporary design of an arena with a perimeter of hospitality, retail and office locations featuring traditional brick facades-each with unique patterning-similar to other architecture in the area. In addition, the arena design includes outdoor spaces-one atop the Red Wings’ practice facility-for summer concerts and events. The entire facility is topped with a transparent roof that allows daylighting across the interior.
Within the main entrance, which the design firm refers to as the “via,” patrons are greeted by a terrazzo floor in five warm grey tones, a counterbalance to the cool, moody greys of Detroit skies. The design team considered several different patterns for the terrazzo before settling on one that relates to the patterning on the skin of the arena. Ultimately, the intention for the terrazzo design is to serve as a neutral backdrop against which the interior architecture, art and sponsorship elements can shine.
On the lower concourse, the terrazzo transitions into concrete. “At the end of the day, it’s all about budget,” Stearns explains. The upper concourse is all concrete.
Regarding slip and fall risk with these hard surface flooring elements, Tambra Thorson, senior vice president and director of interiors for HOK San Francisco, says, “Even though the surfaces look shiny, they really aren’t. The engineering specifications pay attention to that.” However, Stearns notes that, in the presence of liquid, that story changes quickly, and spills must be cleaned up immediately.
With such large groups moving through the space, it is important to mitigate acoustics. Thorson notes, “The roof has an acoustic quality that helps with sound, and the shapes [of the interior] do too. In addition, the underside of the concourse has a slat wood ceiling with acoustic properties.”
Within suite, clubhouse and lounge areas, the HOK team had the ability to vary flooring a bit more. Many of these feature soft surface flooring-typically broadloom-along with porcelain for heavy food and spill zones, and LVT. Stearns says, “If you have a hard surface floor, you typically specify a soft ceiling, and if you have a soft floor, you do a hard ceiling.” He emphasizes that it’s important that these spaces not use materials that create an office-like atmosphere, so rather than acoustic ceiling panels, the company sometimes opts for acoustic sheet rock.
Stearns reports that he and his team often select broadloom rather than carpet tile. “A lot of people think that they will remove the tiles [if they are dirty], but they never do,” he says. “Tile is getting better, with larger-scale patterns, but we usually select broadloom that is fuzzier and thicker.” For spaces where players will be wearing skates, the design team chose a broadloom by The Dixie Group’s Atlas that is engineered to withstand such abuse-basically the same carpet that is specified in country clubs for use under cleats.
Regarding the carpet manufacturers they typically utilize, Thorson says, “Over the years, we’ve found our go-to companies and do a lot of customs. Our reps will often work with us on pricing if there is a concern by playing with ounce weight or re-engineering the product to reach our price point. When we select for a high-abuse environment, we take a team approach with our manufacturer partners and know that they have our back.”
Stearns adds, “We also try not to over-spec carpet. You don’t need a 20-year carpet in a suite if you know the customer intends to replace it sooner.”
Thorson notes that she typically chooses premium nylon-not a manufacturer brand-for projects requiring high performance.
In planning The Comerica Player’s Club, the most premium club at the arena, the HOK team knew that it wanted to use porcelain throughout the space to create an upscale vibe with high cleanability and durability qualities. However, before each game, glass partitions are closed around a walkway through the club, and as the Red Wings team leaves the locker room and heads for the ice, it creates a processional through the space amid cheering fans. For the safety of both the players-already in their skates-and the flooring, it was clear that porcelain could not be used on the walkway, so the design team researched other options. Carpet was considered but deselected due to the restaurant setting and the fact that, paired with the porcelain, it could create an unsteady surface for furniture half-on/half-off each material. But rubber, with its dense yet absorptive quality, turned out to be the perfect choice. The rubber holds up well under skate blades and doesn’t pose a tipping hazard for stools or tables positioned across both materials. The HOK team specified a rich red color, alluding to the concept of a red carpet.
In the service corridor just outside the club, the design team specified Bentley’s Rough Idea walk-off mat product used as broadloom. “We liked the look, and it also holds up under work trucks and such,” says Thorson. “It’s the path from the club to the elevator, so it has to look good but be highly durable.”
For the premier green room-the dressing room used by concert headliners-the HOK team selected a wood-look porcelain and wool rugs. Interestingly, however, many big name entertainers will completely transform the space to their own tastes-especially if they play the venue multiple nights-even bringing in their own area rugs and furniture. For this reason, the flooring needed to be ultra durable.
Workability for the maintenance staff was high on the HOK design team’s list of priorities, and that can be a Sisyphean task in facilities as large as the Little Caesars Arena, spaces Stearns describes as “little cities.”
Thorson adds, “There’s a little bit of everything: dock and freight, high-end owners’ suites, green rooms, club of all sorts, beer gardens. The design team has to be very flexible and knowledgeable of the materials we are putting in. Each material has to be specified for that kind of use and abuse.” To ease the burden on the maintenance team, the group seeks to streamline the material lists, using the same materials in multiple spaces.
In addition, many of the spaces must be transformable. The Wives’ Lounge that overlooks the practice ice, for instance, has glass dividers that can be used to partition off the bar, a kids’ area and a quiet space. This space can also be rented for private events. Here, LVT creates a warm, residential environment for the families to relax in.
And, ultimately, the challenge is designing not only for now but also for the future. “We aren’t tearing down stadiums today; we are rehabbing them,” says Stearns. “Sometimes we’re adding on or reducing seat count. The facilities have enough infrastructure in them to [serve] for a long time, so we are reinventing them.”
MIAMI BEACH CONVENTION CENTER
Fentress Architects believes that convention centers, like airports, often serve as the gateway to cities, hosting out-of-town guests for two- to three-day stints and thereby serving as a contextual representation of the community.
Tasked with renovating and expanding the Miami Beach Convention Center-opened in 1958 and last renovated in 1989-Fentress looked to highly identifiable local landmarks as well as the natural landscape for inspiration both inside and out.
The new convention center incorporates a 500,000-square-foot exhibit hall, four new ballrooms and 127,000 square feet of additional flexible meeting spaces-a total of 1.4 million square feet renovated or added.
The exterior of the convention center is a hurricane-resistant gleaming glass volume that features 500 angled aluminum “fins” to create an undulating façade reminiscent of the nearby ocean waves.
The entrance to the building reveals an expanse of black and white terrazzo. The patterning and color of the material is inspired by the nearby Lincoln Road Mall-a notable location just a block away from the convention center-which has piano key striping down its main circulation paths. For the convention center terrazzo, Fentress oriented the striping in an east-west direction, perpendicular to the building, to help emphasize wayfinding, drawing visitors toward the exhibit hall and junior ballroom entries. The terrazzo pattern is broken up with a curvilinear line to represent a wave of receding water.
Throughout the facility, Fentress used four carpet patterns, manufactured by Milliken in a 3’x3’ tile size. The first pattern, which is an abstract with the appearance of receding water, is used in the pre-function/public circulation areas. This is one of Milliken’s standard patterns, which Fentress custom-colored and enlarged in scale.
The other three designs were fully custom. The design team used satellite images of oceans and water around Miami Beach-as well as the pattern of fan coral-to create the designs. Says Brent Otsuka, interior designer with Fentress, “We chose Milliken because we wanted to create a photorealistic and abstract image of water on the carpet. Milliken has the capability to print anything on carpet to any scale. For these large spaces the patterns are large as well. We wanted to minimize the pattern repeat’s appearance. As a result, one of the carpet patterns has a 156-tile repeat.”
Fentress needed to make sure this would be easy to maintain after installation, Otsuka notes, adding, “With Milliken’s technology, they can print an identification number on the carpet in black-light ink. The facility maintenance group has a plan with these patterns and numbers. The facility has attic stock of these patterns, but they can also order whichever ones they need. For example, if ID numbers 30 to 56 are in a high traffic zone, they can simply order just those tiles and not the entire pattern.” In addition, for replacement pieces, Milliken can factor in fading to eliminate any sore-thumb effect.
Regarding flooring specification in public space environments, Fentress reports that product durability/lifespan and the functionality of the space are the key drivers. “Knowing the function of the space will direct what material choices will be used,” explains Winters. “Durability and cleanability are key components. Another consideration for this project is longevity. Most public spaces we work on do not undergo a renovation for ten or 20 years.” The designer points out that this is an area where public space differs from other commercial work. Public spaces are not renovated to keep up with trends, as many other commercial sectors are, so designers strive to create patterning and color palettes that are timelessness rather than timely.
FORSYTH COUNTY PUBLIC LIBRARY
When Lloyd of Ratio Architects approaches a new public space project, her first priority is to create a vibrant, fun and welcoming facility that will attract the community to the space.
The Forsyth County Public Library in Winston-Salem, North Carolina is certainly that. Established in the heart of the city, the library is a glass and steel structure accented with bright-but not cloying-tones that engage passersby and add a pop of life to the city landscape. Unlike the traditional library-design-of-old that positioned the establishments as hallowed and somewhat intimidating halls of learning, with uninspired interiors that leaned more toward executive than community use, the utilization of transparency at the Forsyth County Public Library invites the public to view the life within, establishing a connection before a visitor even steps through the door.
Inside the facility, the flooring and finishes continue that story with patterning and palettes that are interesting yet not overwhelming. The design team intended for the floor to act as a neutral backdrop across the library, and that starts with the use of Stonepeak’s Quartzite porcelain in Moon and Iron with a charcoal-toned Mapei grout, flowing from the entrance into the café area, where visitors can order an espresso drink or select a snack made by one of several local vendors. The large format of the tiles, 12”x24”, paired with the two-tone approach yields a modern, clean feel.
To the left of the entry, the heart of the library opens, extending outward and upward with an open ceiling that enables visitors to view all three stories, with their varied finishes. For this first-impression space, which is also home to the circulation desk, the Ratio team specified Milliken’s Straight Talk Snap Back 2.0 carpet tile in Basic Grey, which, with its straight lines and right angles, adds texture and variation without stealing the show and is reminiscent of books with all their corners and spines.
For the children’s area, adjacent to circulation, Straight Talk transitions into another Milliken carpet tile, Theory 2.0 More Blip with random purple accents. An island of Milliken’s Elevation True North in Flora, a deep magenta-toned purple, provides a point of rest from the active pattern at the children’s librarian help desk. With lime, sky, orange and eggplant accents as well as bright and moveable child-sized seating, the children’s area is welcome and active without trivializing the young people using it.
A similar format is used within the technology space, which features a field of the same Straight Talk Snap Back 2.0 that is used in the central area surrounding an island of Milliken’s Elevation True North in Ravine, a warm grey, around the information desk.
For the teen area, the Ratio team selected Milliken’s dynamic Theory Collection-with a conceptual letter design that calls to mind the game of Tetris-in the colorway Freudian Slip with Apple. A seating area positioned just inside the entry rests atop a rectangular island of Elevation True North in Cirque, a variegated royal blue. The royal blue is reiterated in end caps across the space.
Angulate in Light Movement, a nylon carpet from Tarkett’s Tandus Centiva with geometric diamond-shaped patterning in shades of yellow and grey, was specified for the boardroom, reception area and Forsyth Room.
All in all, the carpets in the facility come together to promote exploration and engage interest. In choosing them, the Ratio design team sought products that offered variety, a green profile and the strength to hold up to the intense foot traffic that such a facility endures. Several of the Milliken products feature acoustic backing to assist with sound abatement in the space, and in large areas acoustic paneling is employed.
Hard surface flooring also played a role in the Forsyth County Public Library design. Four colors of Forbo’s Marmoleum Modular-Concrete, Chartreuse, Stucco Rosso and Summer Pudding-are used in wide, single-color swaths around the stairwells, creating an effect reminiscent of a poured floor. The “technology petting zoo,” where guests can try out new electronic devices, features two styles of Mannington Commercial’s Spacia LVT-Sift Stone Canvas and Mirus Cotton-used in tandem to create a field with tonal “stipes” of varying width.
The Ratio design team knew that the furnishings in the space needed to be durable and flexible, as they would be community use, as well as accommodate varied events and programming; therefore, the furniture is largely moveable and reconfigurable. One of the most loved spaces at the library is an open-air terrace on the third floor that features tables and chairs for individual or group collaborations.
In addition, the team sought to incorporate wayfinding into the design. The open roof is evidence of this, as is the central stair, which is not hidden away but placed prominently in the facility and “highlighted” with brightly colored translucent glass paneling that catches the eye.
Ultimately, Ratio Architects’ design communicates the important message that public libraries are not outdated institutions of the past but dynamic and evolving resources for the present and future.
Copyright 2018 Floor Focus