Anchors Away

Oct. 1, 2007

IAC takes off all stops at new HQ

It's been cursed a "milky hulk," praised for having an "enigmatic beauty."

"People either love the building or they hate it. You don't find many people who are ambiguous about it," says Eric Levin, director, real estate development, InterActiveCorp (IAC).

True, it isn't what one would expect amid the warehouse and industrial-type structures that define New York City's Chelsea neighborhood - or maybe any neighborhood for that matter. True, it isn't what some expected from Frank Gehry. But this isn't the Frank Gehry building or the Barry Diller building: This is the IAC building.

The architectural and technological risks the building take reflect the entrepreneurial spirit of the company that has launched cybersuperstars such as Ask.com, HSN.com, and Match.com. "This sort of cutting-edge building represents the cutting-edge technology that underlies what our various businesses do," states Levin.

Simply put, this building makes sense.  

Gigabyte Glass
The IAC building is one of maritime proportions and technology; it is also one of metaphors. Its undulated, nautical form steams ahead, leaving behind the stuffy corporate offices that this Internet conglomerate once called home. 

More than 1,400 pieces of low-iron glass define the IAC building's formidable façade. To inhabitants of the 150,000-square-foot facility, the glass not only provides views of the nearby Hudson River, but also of the structure itself as it twists, folds, and cuts into the city's skyline. "First and foremost, this is a workplace, so it needed to give great light and views to everybody throughout the building," says Levin. But there is one more twist, or two. 

The purity of the glass allows the ceramic frit pattern on its exterior layer to maintain a white color, reflecting the sun's heat and giving the building a characteristic sugar-coated appearance that, by night, becomes transparent. Each exterior pane is connected to a second layer of glass with a ½-inch air barrier between the two acting as a thermal and acoustic insulator.

Each unit is fitted to the structure using "cold warping," an innovative glass bending technique developed by Permasteelisa. Three corners of each unit are fitted to the building's structure; the fourth is manually bent and secured to a separate plane, creating a deflection across the face of the glass.

Because this is the first building to use this technology, the method had to prove its metal before the curtain wall could be raised on the eleven-story structure, according to Levin. A two-story mock-up of the curtain wall, constructed in Italy, was blasted by an airplane engine to simulate hurricane-force winds and battered by water. The testing went from high-tech to simple, primitive tools. Technicians walked along the wall with a lit match; if something blew it out, that indicated an air leak.

Maintainability, however, was the most important test. IAC officials had to be assured that curtain-wall glass could be replaced on-site. At the testing facility in Italy, a worker cut out a piece of the glass from the mock-up, replaced it, and bent it, all while suspended from the curtain wall.  

Above: On the west side of the lobby, the 120-foot-wide by 11-foot-tall video wall emits an artistic aura.
Below: Behind the scenes, panels of LEDs produce the colorful show.

Instant Messaging
The inner recesses of the IAC building show a vessel as varied as the businesses that inhabit its floors but one that still binds, anchoring IAC's identity. At the helm, the ground floor lobby is a canvas for a digital diptych of IAC's Internet egos.

A 20-foot-wide by 11-foot-tall video wall behind the reception desk greets guests. Its content, created by Warren Z Productions, is real-time information and statistics from the corporation's dot-coms. Pinpoints of light streaming from a globe on the screen mark each user who is online at the moment. Want to see what's happening on Ticketmaster.com or Chemistry.com? A touchscreen kiosk allows users to change the content on the video wall, and a small box with a rollerball allows them to turn the globe. 

Adjacent to this video wall, an abstract mosaic of logos representing IAC's 60-plus operating business units pops from the pristine white interior. The art piece was designed by Toronto-based strategic branding firm Bruce Mau Design.

As one continues west through the quiet and contemplative atmosphere, a 120-foot-wide by 11-foot-high video wall is revealed, softly illuminated by panels of Color Kinetics ColorBlast LEDs. The idea of the video wall was borne out of a collaboration between architect Frank Gehry and Bruce Mau. "They had this grand vision for a multimedia digital canvas that could be interactive, advertise, display art installations, or show any other type of flexible content," says Levin.

While content on the smaller video wall is a literal expression of IAC's global presence, the larger video wall transmits more metaphorical messages. This high-art installation came with high expectations with its 11:1 aspect ratio, a stark contrast to the other wall's 1.8:1. To help execute this vision, IAC called upon Edison, NJ-based AV design and integration firm McCann Systems.

Before McCann Systems had been awarded the project, however, the size of the video wall and projection room had already been determined, and the projection room didn't have the depth to display an 11-foot-high image of this quality. Projecting the image required a throw distance of 13 feet. To go the distance, designers had to flip everything they knew about audiovisual design on its head. "We started playing around with ideas. We started working with our mirror providers. We said to them, ‘What if we rotate the image?'" recalls Jonathan Shor, director of technology at McCann Systems.

Using a combination of mirrors throughout the space and processing software to rotate the image 90 degrees, Shor and Project Manager Joe Fusaro achieved the required throw distance. Normally, projected images are wider than they are tall. The rotated image is now taller than wide to span the required height. It also has better pixel density. Instead of each projector displaying a 1050-pixel-high by 1400-pixel-wide image, the image is 1400 pixels high by 1050 pixels wide. That makes it beyond high-definition quality, which is 1080 pixels high.

Eighteen Digital Projection projectors throw images onto mirrors, where they are rotated 90 degrees, then bounced onto another mirror, enlarging the images to the proper height before they are thrown onto the screen. Stewart Filmscreen's StarGlas was chosen as the projection surface for its durability and image-blending capabilities. The projection layer is sandwiched between two layers of ultralow-iron, Euro white float glass. The result is a seamless 1,400-pixel-high by 15,000-pixel-wide image.

Projected content, created by Trollbäck + Co., was inspired by a series of taglines conceived by Bruce Mau Design that play off IAC's name. For instance, time lapse video of flowers represents the "I date" tagline, a direct reference to Match.com and Chemistry.com. Such content is alternated with a color show produced by a bank of Color Kinetics ColorBlast LEDs located behind the video wall.

The overall expression is one that effectively blurs the line between art, architecture, and advertising. 

IAC in bloom. Projected content for the larger video wall was inspired by a series of taglines
conceived by Bruce Mau Design that play off IAC's name. Time lapse video of flowers represents
"I date," a direct reference to Match.com and Chemistry.com, two of the corporation's business units.

Online Interiors
Interior office spaces walk this same line. Illusion creates connections, the undefined defines, and the unexpected elevates IAC's presence.

Strategically placed interior elements flatter the building's façade. Particular attention was paid to the west façade - considered the most sculptural. Open workstations are positioned along the interior perimeter while donut-shaped light fixtures indirectly light workstations. "[Gehry] felt we should allow the lights to follow the organic shape of the floors rather than try to align the lighting patterns from floor to floor. He said there should be ‘random pools of light' that follow the furniture," says Levin. As a result, ceilings emit a diffuse glow.

Within enclosed office spaces along the north and south side, office partitions are interrupted at 8 feet by a sheet of clear glass so as not to obstruct an interior light cove that traces the edge of each floor. A central control system turns off other lighting sources and lowers shades after 9 p.m., allowing the light cove to become the dominant lighting statement after dark. 

But, just a bit farther "inland," IAC interiors steer a different course.

Translucent, color-saturated office fronts create a variable mosaic of yellows, reds, blues, and greens. "Instead of trying to simplify the design, we play up the variation, which, essentially, creates something that's unique and in contrast to the exterior," says Todd DeGarmo, AIA, CEO and principal of New York City-based STUDIOS Architecture.

The twisted, contorted form of the building created varied floor plates, allowing different layouts on each floor. As a result, each floor becomes its own destination, fostering cross-pollination between businesses. This theme is carried into the facility's 26 conference rooms.

"The concept was that there should be a variety to the conference rooms. It would be a reason to go to the fifth floor or the eighth floor because there was a technology there that was maybe different than the room on your floor," says DeGarmo. For instance, a conference room on one floor may only have audioconferencing while a conference room on the next may have videoconferencing. "The Bridge" is where these technologies - and more - converge to connect IAC with the world.

Above: Integration and intimacy define The Bridge. In the conference room, each meeting participant is
"hooked up" with a monitor, speaker, and microphone, creating an experience similar to that of a user sitting at
a home computer. Each monitor pulls out from a rise in the conference table.
Below: Shocks of color punctuate IAC office interiors. IAC officials wanted to create workspaces that recall the fun and
energetic vibe of the early dot-com days in the ‘90s, says Eric Levin, director, real estate development, IAC.

Connected Conferencing
Located on the sixth floor, The Bridge is IAC's executive conference room. Its technological sophistication is alluded through its sophisticated furnishings. An avocado-shaped mahogany and redwood burl-veneered conference table, designed by STUDIOS and fabricated by WallGoldfinger, is an intimate meeting space for eight or 18 people. Individual Elo monitors pull out from a rise in the conference table, allowing participants to not only stay connected with the meeting but also with each other. Monitors are positioned at a certain height so users can see the person seated across from them.

But this is just the tip of the IACberg.

Four of the monitors double as touchscreens to control content on a rear-projection screen at the front of the room. Two Christie projectors with Vista processing allow picture-in-picture capabilities across the projection surface. "Its like an Elvis thing - you can watch five different channels at once. They can project satellite TV, videoconferencing, computer, laptop, and cable TV all across the screen," says Shor. 

To decide where cameras should be installed for videoconferencing, McCann Systems built a mock-up of the conference room at its offices. Cameras were positioned all around a projection screen. A video call was then placed to IAC Chairman and CEO Barry Diller's office in Los Angeles so he could choose the best camera angles.

As night descends on New York City, the IAC building's snowy surface appears to melt
away, transforming it from ocean liner to glowing gallery. 

Love it or leave it, dig it or not, IAC has the code down. It has taken all the bits and bytes that make up its Internet businesses and embodied them in a design that is not only eclectic but also electric. "Most Internet companies exist in the ether," says Levin. "By us constructing a permanent landmark on the skyline it says that we're here and we're here to stay and this is who we are." 

Chelsea Houy ([email protected]) is the new products editor at ARCHI-TECH.

Voice your opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of I+S Design, create an account today!