Trends in Public Space: Public spaces must be designed to serve and perform - Jan 2021
By Jessica Chevalier
The public space sector of the commercial market encompasses a spectrum of varied locations with civic, cultural and faith-based significance. Libraries and museums, performance and arts centers, churches and mosques-all of these, both public and private, bring people together and build community. As such, though the sizes and intents of the spaces vary widely, they share similar needs and challenges related to flooring specification, with durability and lifespan both crucial considerations.
Forest Hills Baptist Church in Brentwood, Tennessee
Space often plays a unique role in a spiritual experience, building a sense of the sacred through architecture and iconography, and this illuminates the importance of well-thought and intentional design in these institutions. Faith-based spaces, like the humans populating them, come in a wide range of shapes and sizes-grand and hallowed, humble and patchwork, repurposed and piecemeal, sleek and modern-yet they largely share the same needs with regard to interior design, especially as it relates to flooring: affordable solutions that will withstand wear and tear (as well as questionable maintenance regimes), and look good for the long haul.
Second-generation faith-based facility designer Logan Newton, associate principal at HMK Architects, based in Brentwood, Tennessee, recently completed a renovation of and addition to the Forest Hills Baptist Church, also in Brentwood. The renovation, completed in partnership with Rachelle DeGeorge of Studio 121, sought to reconnect the facility, which was composed of somewhat disjointed buildings from different eras. “Churches often grow without a plan,” says Newton. “They are pieced together and sometimes end up a jumbled mess.”
Forest Hills engaged HMK to create a connected space that puts forth a good face for the public and serves the church community well. The renovation included creating a bridge between a disconnected entry and main sanctuary and rethinking an underutilized gymnasium.
The design team constructed a 17,360-square-foot atrium to connect the entry and sanctuary. The atrium serves as a gathering/social space for before and after services and creates a “free-flowing circulation space with clear and direct wayfinding,” according to HMK. Due to the wear and tear the space will endure from foot traffic and the fact that lively acoustics are appropriate for such an area, the atrium features LVT in two wood tones, with Shaw Contract’s Defined Differentiate as the field and its Stratum 500 Oconee Walnut as the accent. The two-tone pattern mimics the atrium skylights and defines the gathering space.
The gymnasium was transformed into a contemporary worship center, called the Elevate worship space, and flexible small-group meeting area. The space features foldable walls that can be used to convert it to various configurations as needed. Here, Mannington Commercial’s Current carpet tile in the Tidal colorway was specified to assist with acoustics.
Within the new classroom wing, Mannington Commercial’s New Possibilities II in Endeavor was used as the field, while its Close Knit II broadloom in Crete was used as an accent and to create greater durability underneath the folding partitions.
Because the children of the church would no longer have a gymnasium to run around in to burn energy in winter months, the design team constructed a small addition to the children’s wing to serve as an indoor playground. The space features a large-scale polka dot pattern created with Mannington Commercial’s Biospec SR (slip resistant) in Flax and Assurance II in Horizon Blue and Baltic Green.
Acoustics play an important role in church spaces but that doesn’t always mean that the goals are the same from facility to facility. In some instances, faith-based institutions are looking to create acoustically live environments, and in others they are seeking to deaden acoustics. As such, it’s very important that a designer understand the needs of the church client and make material suggestions accordingly. And Newton points out that acoustic considerations aren’t important only in the sanctuary but in all spaces where congregants gather.
For a more enlivened acoustic environment, LVT is a good choice, in Newton’s opinion, because the look of the material keep improving while “the price point continues to come down”-making it both an appealing and affordable choice. In addition, it stands up well to high levels of foot traffic, so it is often utilized in prefunction, lobby and corridor spaces, where foot traffic is at its highest and congregants may track in dirt and moisture.
For spaces where acoustics need to be deadened, broadloom was long the go-to choice, but Newton says the material is decreasing in popularity for faith-based design, while carpet tile is making gains, with the ability to replace individual tiles considered a boon.
For facilities hoping to portray a hip or tech-y vibe, polished concrete is a sought-after flooring today, though the material creates challenges acoustically, especially in prefunction spaces, and can be costly, while its long lifecycle and ease of maintenance increase its appeal. Newton is always careful to caution his renovation clients that a slab may not look perfect once the floorcovering atop it is pulled up.
Maintenance is a highly important subject with regard to churches, as many do not have professional maintenance staffs like most commercial spaces; some may, in fact, rely on the goodwill of members to maintain the space. As such, it’s ideal for maintenance to be as simple and straightforward as possible, making products like VCT, which requires repeated waxing upkeep, less desirable.
Newton explains that because faith-based facilities are built with donated funds, leadership generally feels a strong need to get the most “bang for its buck,” and that today more are working with a professional architect and designer-with their broad knowledge base of solutions-to achieve their design goals. “It’s about finding balance between using best practices on materials versus cost,” says Newton. “The balance is the sweet spot.”
Like acoustics, the incorporation of natural and artificial light is an important consideration in faith-based design, and the desires in this regard vary greatly from one facility to the next. Some churches want floods of natural light, while others want virtually zero natural light so that they can achieve more complete control over the environment. In either case, it’s important that the designer have a good understanding of the goals in order to create a space that fits each institution’s unique needs and goals.
The Contemporary Church
Over the course of the last 25 years, the mega-church has been on the rise. Newton categorizes mega-churches as those with over 1,000 members. Of course, these congregations can grow quite a bit larger-Newton once worked on a 4,000-seat worship center-and need quite a lot of square footage to accommodate them. Newton says that square footage on such projects can reach 100,000 square feet.
For the most part, the faith-based facilities established prior to this era were not meant to accommodate congregations so large, which has dictated that mega-congregations either build from the ground up or renovate facilities previously employed for other uses, such as strip malls or commercial spaces.
However, there is also the fact that some faith-based institutions have the iconography of their specific faith tenets baked into the architecture and finishes. This can make it less appealing, in some cases, for a different congregation to inhabit the space. But that isn’t always the case. Newton notes that a formerly Nazarene facility near him was recently adopted by a Coptic congregation. “It is very interesting to see how they changed a 1960s Southern church into a very ornate space with intricate carvings,” Newton notes. “We see some congregations taking over old buildings and breathing new life in.”
While some church congregations are growing, of course, others are shrinking. “Declining churches will have to evaluate their facilities and see them for what they are,” says Newton. “The church going forward will be more thoughtful and strategic in the facilities that they build.”
The Covid-19 pandemic greatly limited physical gatherings, and that has a big impact on faith-based construction and renovation. Newton says, “Churches are definitely hesitant right now because we don’t know what future holds. Many pastors are assuming that in-person church attendance will be low for the next year or two. There is probably a group that won’t come back on a regular basis, but it’s interesting to hear, anecdotally, that giving remains strong. Many of the people who won’t come back weren’t super invested, and those who are invested will return-though when that is, we don’t know. I don’t see spaces shrinking due to pandemic but maybe staying the same for a while and allowing for gradual return.” Newton notes that, in response to Covid, the church he attends recently installed a ventilation system that increases air changes and kills germs.
Newton does believe that the livestreaming of church services is here to stay, even once Covid is fully in the rearview. And, in fact, one project on the verge of construction prior to the pandemic has reformatted its construction plans to convert what was intended to be a classroom into a production room for livestream events.
As to whether Covid will impact the design of faith-based space permanently, Newton states, “The pandemic has forever altered our perception of personal space. We won’t be as physically close to each other for a while, but we will get closer. I don’t see six-foot spacing being a huge driver moving forward, at least in the church setting.”
While Newton gives two thumbs up to the adhesive industry’s quest to be greener, he has had some instances in which the new adhesives were adversely affected by water. “The new adhesives are not as strong as they used to be,” the designer contends. “We see problems with cleaning crews that don’t understand the flooring well. They clean with water, and it gets underneath and delaminates the flooring.” Newton believes that, due to increased attention to germs and ventilation, church facilities will be leaving their doors open more moving forward, so there will likely be more humidity in the spaces that before. That could impact the specification of flooring and lead designers to choose impervious materials like ceramic tile and polished concrete over those that could be adversely affected by water.
The Gaillard Center in Charleston, South Carolina
The city of Charleston hired Nashville-based ESa, partnering with David M. Schwarz Architects, to transform a tired, modernist, 1960s performing arts space into a vibrant, world-class multipurpose theater. The goals for The Gaillard Center, located in the heart of one of the city’s historic neighborhoods, were two-fold; upon completion, the space needed to both fit into Charleston’s historic streetscape and provide a state-of-the-art experience with premium acoustics, top-notch theatric equipment and seating for 1,800. In addition to the performance hall, the project, totaling 260,000 square feet, included renovation of approximately 40,000 square feet of existing support space, creation of a new 10,000-square-foot banquet hall, and a 61,000-square-foot addition to house new municipal offices.
The Gaillard design team utilized contemporary interpretations of traditional materials, paying tribute to the unique history and architecture of the city. “Flooring is one of the most critical surfaces in a public space, and the one surface that everyone who experiences the space comes into contact with,” says Jarred Bobo, senior interior design manager for ESa. “Flooring selections for the Gaillard Center needed to appear architecturally authentic to a historic building and to help convey the perception that the flooring materials might have been installed decades ago, rather than for just a few years. Some flooring was selected for its durability, minimal maintenance requirements and initial installation savings. Flooring also needed to help with the acoustics.”
To achieve these goals within the performance hall, the design team selected Axminster broadloom over pad for the aisles with integrally colored concrete under the seats. The concrete reflects the sound, while the broadloom and soft seating absorbs it, and both of these were requirements of the acoustician. In addition, both the Axminster and concrete are good at camouflaging soiling until the material can be cleaned.
Longevity and ease of maintenance were top-of-mind considerations in specifying the concrete. “The integrally colored concrete in the performance hall minimizes the appearance of scratches as the surface color is the same color throughout the entire thickness of the concrete floor,” says Bobo. “The integral color deters the need of frequent surface refurbishment.”
Axminster, constructed of woven wool fiber, was also utilized for the banquet and meeting facilities, as well as for some prefunction spaces. “The Axminster carpeting in the banquet hall and performance hall pre-function spaces sees a lot of traffic and even farm equipment during some conventions,” explains Bobo. “This carpeting type was considered not only for its unlimited design options, but because wool has a naturally existing crimp that allows the fibers to bounce back under the heaviest of foot traffic. [The prefunction area] experiences its share of food and beverage mishaps, as well, and wool requires less intensive cleaning than synthetic fibers, due to the natural stain resistance of its scaled fiber. Even though the carpet is constructed of a durable wool, there should be an understanding that this flooring can age out and needs to be replaced every eight to ten years, depending upon space use.” The carpet patterning, which includes a nod to local palmetto foliage as well as a traditional damask, were selected to minimize visible stains, lint, dirt and soiling.
In prefunction spaces, the Axminster is lined with natural stone flooring around the edges. The stone flooring was “selected for its natural beauty and perception of sophistication,” says Bobo, but limited to borders due to its higher maintenance needs.
Throughout the main thoroughfares of the Gaillard, where the highest foot traffic is expected, terrazzo was specified. Terrazzo, though expensive up front, is notably long-lasting under extreme wear and tear and requires little maintenance.
Hardwood was selected for certain prefunction spaces as well as the performance stage and within the green room. For each of these spaces, the design team took comfort in the fact that hardwood flooring could be refinished as necessary to maintain its beautiful and timeless appearance.
The final piece of Gaillard’s flooring story is within its back-of-house spaces, which house Charleston city offices. For these spaces, carpet tile was selected, largely because individual tiles can be replaced if and when damage occurs.
Public space is often culturally significant, as well as often historic, so the ability to customize flooring is fairly important to designers serving the sector. “The design expectations of a project like the Gaillard versus another commercial space, say an airport, is that the level of fine, historically appropriate detail must be brought in early on and fine-tuned all the way through the design process,” says Bobo. “It is always nice when a project budget is balanced with these expectations so that the expectations can be realized.”
In these cases, whether recreating historic patterns and color palettes or creating a new design that is reflective of local identity and traditions, couture designs often win out. It isn’t unusual for designers to search through hundreds of designs before settling on something they can work with-or alter. And when nothing is just right, designers often opt to start afresh and create something themselves.
In spaces that serve the public, renovation causes major disruption to the space’s schedule and is therefore often avoided until absolutely necessary-and this impacts what products are specified up front. However, as public spaces serve as a face of the community, lifecycle must not only be about functionality but also about fashionability. Flooring must maintain its fresh and timeless appeal if it is to do its job. A floor that is aged out makes a space look tired.
“One goal for public space flooring is for it to last as long as possible, since the space is typically heavily trafficked,” says Bobo. “Replacement can be inconvenient during normal operating hours. Some spaces do indeed get used more than others with more daily foot traffic.” For his public space projects, Bobo opts for as much hard surface as possible, using soft surfaces for acoustics and to define certain types of seating groups.
In addition, because square footage can be substantial in public space projects like the Gaillard, designers must find ways to incorporate visual texture into each space through flooring design. Bobo prefers “pattern with a side of pattern and a sprinkle of a bit more pattern.” That said, a broad range of choice in materiality, pattern, color and texture is highly prized.
Of course, public space designers are always looking for a bit more magic to accent these hallowed facilities. “I would love to see a hard surface tile that closely resembles the designs and matrix material of the quartz surfacing slabs for counters and vertical surfacing,” says Bobo. “Some of the slabs now have more clear quartz particles, creating a bit more ‘bling,’ and it would be nice to see a little more of that ‘bling’ in some hard surface flooring. The manufacturers would need to be conscientious of surface friction for commercial environments, of course.”
The designer adds, “I feel that the flooring manufacturers and installers have really made huge strides in their offerings and in their installation capabilities over the past ten years.”
When designing a public space intended to serve its community for years, it’s important for designers to consider the needs of tomorrow, as well. “With the population growth, architects and designers have had to design spaces that not only accommodate the number of people for today, but for growth assumptions ten to 15 years into the future,” explains Bobo. “Technology has also affected the design of public spaces and will continue to affect design, as we have seen how productive some of us are at doing some tasks remotely.”
We saw these factors come into play as the Internet-with all its cables and wires-rose in importance and some facilities with poured walls and floors, for example, found themselves without a channel for these electrical components. Of course, it’s hard to envision what the coming years may bring with regard to needs, and that’s why incorporating adaptability and flexibility into space design is important.
Wyoming State Capitol Restoration
Architecture and design firm CSHQA-with offices in Boise, Idaho; Denver, Colorado; and Sacramento, California-was called in to design the renovation of the Wyoming State Capitol after a firm that specializes in historic preservation completed indepth design analysis of the property. The preservation firm surveyed the Capitol, both physically and through historic documents and photos, to uncover the original finishes, flooring and wall stenciling.
The central portion of the Capitol was originally constructed in 1888 with wings added in 1890 and 1917 and featured three different architectural styles and wood species throughout. “Over time, there was a lot of remodeling done,” says Megumi Haus, interior designer with CSHQA, “and we could see from the surface that a lot of the finishes weren’t original-not the right style and oddly colored.”
Haus’ primary task was developing custom carpets to coordinate with the stenciling, and the designer spent two years analyzing hundreds of samples to come up with a final ten carpet designs/colorations.
The Capitol is divided into two areas-the public-facing spaces and basement office space. The custom carpets were used in the public-facing areas with carpet tile in the offices. The total area of soft surface flooring utilized on the project was 70,850 square feet.
Haus chose to partner with Tarkett primarily because its family of brands could provide all of the flooring materials needed for the project and, most importantly, provide coordinated colorations across the various product categories.
Tarkett’s Desso Axminster was selected for the most high-profile areas, including the house and senate chambers, the governor’s zone and a few of the large meeting rooms, while Desso tufted carpet was selected for less prominent but still public-facing areas due to its lower cost.
To create the couture designs, Haus modified existing Desso patterns to coordinate with the original stenciling, which was both geometric and ornate in various locations.
The carpet tile used in offices spaces is a Tarkett cushion-back product, as the Capitol needed a product with some moisture mitigation properties. Masland broadloom was specified for the stairs.
In addition to carpet, the Capitol also features original marble tile floors, which were restored.
Ultimately, Haus reports that seeing the custom patterns installed in the Capitol was very satisfying and notes that it was critical that the installation be completed by a skilled crew knowledgeable of Axminster installation. W2W Commercial Flooring fit that bill and, reports Haus, was “wonderful to work with.”
Because material longevity is a substantial concern in civic work-where the upheaval of renovations can be extremely problematic-Haus selected Axminster for the most heavily traveled carpet areas. When she’s not using Axminster, Haus prefers carpet featuring solution-dyed fiber for its ability to be thoroughly cleaned without diminishment of its aesthetic or performance characteristics.
Haus notes that in the world of carpets, many of the new designs are tone on tone, which isn’t her preference for commercial projects. “I always look for carpet with more than two colors,” the designer reports. “It hides soiling better and looks cleaner. A lot of the new carpet is tone on tone, and there is a place for that, but it dirties quickly.”
As for hard surface, Haus often uses LVT in her work, in part because it’s what the client is asking for. She adds, “We are using it a lot more than we used to and find that many of today’s products do much better in high-traffic zones than LVTs did ten years ago.” However, the designer would like to see more varied aesthetic options. “I love the thicker gauge LVT that is flush with carpet tile, but I would like to see more of that in non-wood looks,” she notes.
Acoustics were a major consideration on the Capitol project, as they are on most public space projects, and in cases where hard surface flooring is demanded, Haus turns to a host of solutions, such as acoustic mitigation plaster, acoustic mitigation ceiling tile, acoustic mitigation art, synthetic felt panels and wood-look acoustic mitigation products. “We try to be creative,” says Haus. “We do a lot of acoustic lighting. It helps quite a bit if you choose the right product.”
While public areas are largely off-limits amid the virus, designers expect that Americans will return to these treasured spaces, perhaps with more gusto than ever, appreciating what, for a time, the pandemic took away.
Of course, that doesn’t mean the spaces themselves won’t be affected by what we, as a people, have lived through, but, overall, the designers with whom we spoke don’t believe that the incorporation of social distancing-overtly or subtly-will be desired or required in public spaces. “As one that prefers hugs over handshakes, I certainly hope that the distancing strategies will be a selective behavior and not a mandated behavior post pandemic,” says Bobo. “I do feel that after the six-foot distancing strategy mandates have expired, most of us will still be more aware in tighter proximities and may perhaps make choices to minimize health risks.”
Designer Megumi Haus of CSHQA notes that within her designs she is “being conscious” of distancing but not incorporating any permanent solutions into her designs. She adds, “We have an airport project right now-lots of people moving through-and we asked the client, ‘Do you want us to design mindful of distancing?’ But they, too, are hopeful that everything will go back to normal eventually. In the short term, we might do a temporary sticker or floor guide. But I think, for the most part, we are designing for and hoping to return to normalcy.”
Bobo believes the effectiveness of the vaccines will determine to what extent we will return to “normal” behaviors and, therefore, “normal” design.
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