A Case in Reflection

Sept. 1, 2004
Robert Nieminen

Charged with branding its client's new office space, SKB Architecture & Design brings a touch of Foley Hoag's Boston headquarters to Washington D.C.

What do you do when a client wants to brand a new office, but programmed space requirements leave little design flexibility? If you're part of the project team for SKB Architecture & Design, you opt for a less literal translation and take a unique design approach that is responsive to the influences of the local site, yet reflects the signature of your client's corporate headquarters.

That was the case when SKB was retained by its repeat client, Foley Hoag, LLC, a Boston, MA-based law firm with over 240 lawyers, to program and plan the firm's 15,000-square-foot Washington, DC office. Branding was at the forefront of Foley Hoag's needs, but the design character of the base building lobby to the individual floor transferred through in the design of the elevator cabs and door panels. The inability to make changes to these base building elements created a significant challenge for SKB in transitioning design and materials into the Foley Hoag space.

Add to that the fact that the DC office was much more constrained than Boston and that the client wanted an efficient space without being sterile or overly compartmentalized, and you get a sense of what the SKB project team was up against. According to partner-
in-charge Tom Jones, "The design challenge was to establish an organizational hierarchy within the space which clearly defined functions while keeping the interior space as open as possible." This involved the need to create a sense of community within the office
as well. "People didn't feel connected. They were in a geometric, dog-leg space and were separated too far apart," Jones explains. "We were able to help create a sense of community where people know who is and isn't in the office by coming into the reception area and utilizing the common space."

While the design elements of the Boston office didn't need to be duplicated, the features that made the DC office "recognizable" to attorneys who frequented both offices include etched glass at conference room corners, mirror backed acid etched glass, sycamore and Madrone burl veneers, an unique secretarial bay design and conference room credenza construction.

Sycamore and Madrone burl were used in the elevator lobby to help tone down the bright brass elevator doors and jambs. The Madrone burl was again introduced in conference room credenzas, the reception desk and reception area marketing material display shelf. A durable limestone and marble border define the elevator lobby, main entry, reception and interior circulation to the conference rooms. Etched glass was used at the main entry and conference rooms. Mirror backed acid etched glass and sycamore fronts were used at all secretarial stations. Clerestory glass was used extensively between the perimeter offices and all perimeter corridors.

According to Jones, it was important to take advantage of the full height perimeter glass and nine-foot ceiling height by bringing daylight and views as deeply into the space as possible. This was accomplished by the extensive use of clerestory glass and sidelights. Energy efficient/state-of-the-art light fixtures played important functional and aesthetic roles in this interior office environment.

The project team determined the best location for both the reception area and main conference room was on the building's perimeter in a location without windows. For the main conference room, this location addressed the controllability of lighting for teleconferencing and presented a design opportunity as well. Full height acrylic panels mimic the rhythm of the perimeter window mullions. This translucent material softens the perimeter wall in this room as it produces a diffused texture when illuminated. A combination of Decoustic ceiling tiles framed by drywall was used in the reception area and both conference rooms.

The pantry, designed to act as a casual conferencing area, is sized to seat 10 people. This function is located on the perimeter of the space at the corner intersection of two glass lines.

Two Venetian plaster walls contain the space at either end of the floor and another two plaster walls extend from the elevator core into the space. These elements can be seen as one looks down either major corridor. The notable color and texture of these
elements provide the occupants immediate orientation within the space, and help to transition from the open spaces (i.e., library) to the closed spaces (i.e., offices).

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