When collaborate, an international television and print ad agency based in San Francisco, chose the Huntsman Architectural Group to design its new office, the challenge was to transform a 5,000-square-foot space in a 1909 office building, while meeting a limited construction budget. Wishing to set itself apart from traditional advertising agencies, Collaborate welcomed the architects' suggestions for designing the new office to reflect the agency's creative approach.

When Collaborate leased the space in 2001, it had already been stripped down to its brick walls and concrete ceiling and floor. The partners liked the natural lighting from the large operative windows in the historic building. The raw interior was also appealing because it recalled San Francisco's dot-com boom, when such interiors seemed to express the dynamism that came from ever-escalating business. With the boom over, the cheerful chaos of those offices could be seen to send the wrong message; yet Collaborate's partners felt that such materially honest interiors, if well organized and given some sophisticated design elements, would convey the agency's forward-looking stance.

The Huntsman design team succeeded in combining historic context with contemporary drama by installing a procession of light sculptures along the corridor by the inner wall of the office. The sculptures by Gisela Stromeyer Designs-created specifically for this project-are made of white Lycra fabric stretched and fastened to ceiling, floor and wall surfaces with simple eyelet screws and carabiner key rings. Originally, the designers envisioned the fabric sculptures suspended a few feet below the ceiling and lit from above; however, the client did not want an overhead light source in the studio and so the architects suggested moving the sculptures to their current position. Not only did this adjustment lower costs, but the highly polished concrete floor enhances the pooling of light at the columns' base. The light sources are surface-mounted T5 fluorescent tubes with orange poly sleeves. The warm glow diffused by the translucent fabric is undeniably cheerful. Should a different colored glow become desirable, the poly sleeves can be easily changed.

The ceiling conditions presented another series of unique lighting challenges. With its visible array of ducts and wiring, the open ceiling in the corridor area curtailed any opportunities for recessed fixtures. Instead, pendant luminaires of clear anodized aluminum with a polished satin finish and a matte interior were used. In the conference room, the open ceiling could not accommodate the lights necessary for graphic presentations, so the architects devised a suspended acoustical ceiling to house dimmable and adjustable rectangular downlights.

The artful union of color-wrapped fluorescent light fixtures and streched Lycra to produce glowing columns that spread light beyond their spatial limits has given the office interior an unexpected drama. Project designer Alison Smith believes that combining alternative and otherwise standard materials to produce exciting lighting effects has become a strong trend, promising more adventuresome combinations for the future. sally b. woodbridge