CHALLENGE When real estate and design-build firm Clayco rebranded in 2005, the company asked its architecture, interior design, and planning collaborative, Forum Studio, to update its St. Louis corporate headquarters, and moved both companies-previously separated by a parking lot-under the same roof. As Mike Benz, principal and senior designer at Forum, says, 'What we were missing was the opportunity to take advantage of spontaneous collaboration.'
ARCHITECTURAL AND LIGHTING SOLUTIOn To accommodate the increased number of employees, Forum transformed the existing offices and attached warehouse into the type of space that Clayco desired: an open forum where clients can observe the working process, and a place where project team members are interspersed to foster a truly collaborative environment. By using a wide range of products and materials, and exposing the building's structural and mechanical systems, Forum added another dimension to the design, a working showroom. 'Clients can walk through and point to something that they might want to incorporate into their projects,' Benz explains.
Forum adapted half of the warehouse-approximately 18,000 square feet-for its studio, and renovated 80 percent of the existing offices to aesthetically and functionally connect the two distinct areas. In order for the office space to reflect the new studio design, Forum carved out large sections, transforming what was formerly a maze of corridors and private offices into an open, loft-like environment, replacing the lay-in ceiling and direct parabolic fluorescent 2x4 fixtures with a softer indirect lighting scheme for an airy, voluminous work environment throughout.
In the 24-foot-high entry lobby, which connects the warehouse and conference rooms, a floating central staircase leads to second-floor offices. Previously illuminated with skylights and canlights, the dark two-story volume was full of hard surfaces. As Benz explains, 'We took it from a space of dark wood and brick, ancient coffee-can tracklights, and bad acoustics to one of lighter-colored materials, and indirect, diffused natural light with specific accents on particular materials.' An existing linear skylight along the northern edge of the ceiling supplies ambient daylight, while in-ground metal halide uplights provide spiked accents on the concrete wall.
In the studio, the goal was natural light. Because the former warehouse had no access to daylight, Forum punched three 8-foot-wide-by-14-foot-tall windows into the existing concrete panels along the northern wall; four 5-foot-wide-by-10-foot-long triple-insulated frosted-glass skylights were installed down the center of the ceiling. To supplement the natural light, indirect 400W metal halide HID pendants-manipulated by daylight sensors located in the skylight wells-illuminate the exposed structural elements and ductwork on the ceiling. In addition to skylights in the existing office space, linear indirect T8 pendant luminaires on 14-foot centers uplight the ceiling, and existing parabolic fixtures were reused in private offices. 'This gives us a variety of lighting strategies we can show to clients,' says Benz.
Throughout the headquarters, materials, such as concrete, galvanized steel, and wood, remain consistent, as does the use of Techstyle by Hunter Douglas, a translucent ceiling system of 'hanging clouds.' With both acoustic and luminescent properties, the 4-foot-square sheer polyester panels, backlit with both natural light and metal halide tracklighting, dampen sound in the voluminous space of the studio, while providing a softly illuminated cover to the entire building. The system, notes Benz, 'combines the assets of a typical acoustical dropped ceiling-accessibility, acoustics, and modularity. But what I really love is that for an 'off-the-shelf' product, it has a lot of sculptural, space-shaping capabilities.'
Having started in 1999 as a 9-person firm, Forum is now 68 in number, and is already renovating the remaining 18,000 square feet of warehouse for additional studio space. The environment, where work is put on display via open meeting rooms, communal areas, and a light-filled space, 'seems to provide a delightfully serendipitous experience to all our visitors,' says Benz. sallie moffat