The Grand Invisible Plan

Sept. 8, 2006
Lofty design brings comfort and function to StonePeak Ceramics

By Gregory A. DeTogne

Nestled in the heart of Chicago’s art district at 314 W. Superior St., the headquarters of StonePeak Ceramics, a multimillion dollar Italian company, sits in the city’s River North neighborhood, not far from the Merchandise Mart, a local landmark frequented by architects and designers. Office space occupies the second floor of the StonePeak structure, and the bottom floor has a complete working kitchen, a lounge, conference room, and meeting areas. A showroom on this floor showcases the company’s full product line and is a versatile workspace that can accommodate training sessions, sales programs, and entertainment.

OKW Architects of Chicago developed the headquarters design. “Rather than building new, it was decided that an existing structure would be renovated to fulfill the company’s headquarters needs,” says OKW partner Michael Breclaw, who led the architectural side of the design project.

OKW imbued the design with a clearly American spirit. “The whole process was a well-integrated exploration,” says OKW’s Martha Strong, who managed interior design. “We looked long and hard at materials, colors, and the sensibilities of how function works within the architecture, as well as how to best take advantage of the characteristics inherent within the existing building.”

StonePeak’s new corporate headquarters is indeed a place serious about function, but its warm, open plan and homey amenities like the kitchen and lounge area give it a decidedly residential feel, making a clear break with the traditional notion of a day spent at the office.

“Architecture and design play a large role in defining what StonePeak Ceramics is all about,” relates Cathy Dulberg of StonePeak. Technology needed to fulfill the building’s function, but it had to be integrated unobtrusively into the design.

Unobtrusive Tech
Dulberg is the first to admit that StonePeak had no grand plan to accommodate the required business and entertainment systems. That was a job for Procom Sound Systems in Burr Ridge, IL. Procom takes an approach to the business of systems integration that makes no compromises when it comes to function, but keeps the technology unobtrusive.

The StonePeak technology needs were in two main areas:

  • Comprehensive multimedia presentation capabilities in meeting and conference spaces.
  • Audio that met strict sound reinforcement requirements.

By being mindful of the placement of components and wiring of hardware, the firm left the building’s intrinsic design elements nearly undisturbed even when the technology seemed committed to heading in an opposite direction. “There are certain cues and indicators that alert people to technology’s presence,” Procom founder and chief designer Keith Spale believes. “If you eliminate those cues, you can soften its visibility in any environment. One of the biggest intrusions technology can make within a room comes from seeing cabling in full view. If you can successfully hide the cabling, system components fade into the woodwork all the easier.”

Giving practice to what Spale preaches, the Procom installation crew hid cabling leading to loudspeakers in decorative channels and situated the ceiling-mounted projector in the lower level’s main conference/meeting space to conceal connecting wires from seating areas. Loudspeakers, too, kept a low profile, being selected not only for their performance attributes, but also their compact size and chameleon-like colors that blended into specific mounting locations.

“Given our druthers, we would have recessed the main conference area’s projector into the ceiling at a depth where it couldn’t be seen at all,” Spale says, adding that in order to overcome the room’s strong natural light, this application required the illumination power of a larger unit that couldn’t be recessed. “Just by hiding the cabling, however, the impact of the device was greatly reduced. You have to really be looking to notice it.”

Components serving as the backbone for all systems operations throughout the headquarters are housed out-of-sight in a custom cabinet found within the showroom. The cabinet features a special recessed rear panel that allows it to be mounted flush to the wall, hiding cabling that would normally protrude. Built using natural woods, it looks like a fine piece of furniture, not a repository for the electronic black boxes inside.

All video playback in the main conference/meeting area is managed by a high-powered 3,500 ANSI-lumen BenQ model PB8260 projector. Providing computer audio, video, and data input for a dedicated tower or laptop PCs, the space is also equipped for CD/DVD playback and features a pair of small Tannoy i6 AW ICT loudspeakers.

Routing for computer input is automatic; audio from any source is routed within the room and throughout two other zones laid out in the building by an Australian Monitor Zone Mix 3 processor. A simple twist of a source-select knob distributes audio within the zone or zones chosen.

One zone within the building comprises a conference room where two Tannoy CMS6 ICTB ceiling-mounted speakers reside. Within another zone, six compact Quam FM7X1/70 loudspeaker enclosures manage audio needs in the lounge and material studio area, the latter of which is best described by Spale as a “library of tile” where samples of all of StonePeak’s products can be found. The reception area is part of this zone as well, as is a corridor and the kitchen, all of which also rely on Tannoy CMS6 ICTB loudspeakers. Amplifier power is supplied by an ISA 300T amplifier from QSC Audio for the zone containing the lounge, material studio area, and conference room. Conversely, a Stewart PA50B serves up power for the media room.

All this technology is housed in a space both attractive and functional, just as the designers wanted. “Some people have an eye for design. They can bring harmony to color and fully visualize what something will look like before it’s complete. We try to bring that same eye to our systems approach,” Spale says. “Our job has become like an artist’s, only our palette is one that includes a galaxy of different components. Choosing just the right ones that deliver on both aesthetic and performance levels is our ongoing objective.”

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