In a 1913 New York City building, creature comforts and unique planning accompanied by sensitive restoration boost staff communication and collaboration while activating a soaring space for boutique financial services company
The award-winning design and architecture firm Andrew Franz Architect PLLC has announced the construction start for a new headquarters of a prominent investment firm. According to the architects and designers, the new workspace reflects the company’s close, personalized approach to investor relationships and its belief in collaboration and information sharing. The design also achieves the company’s primary aim: creating an approachable, comfortable and accessible work environment for employees and visitors alike.
Embracing a double-height, sunlit loft penthouse of a 1913 building in Manhattan’s Hudson Yards neighborhood, architect Andrew Franz, AIA, LEED AP, has worked with the investment company to conceive a collaborative workplace for about 90 people that maintains a sense of community and family. The resulting space sheds its commercial vocabulary in favor of a warmer, more inviting environment suggestive of a library or a den – intimate and welcoming, yet in an airy, open space flooded with daylight and energy.
Symbolizing the notions of communication and interaction, the 35,000-squarefoot workspace revolves around a wide bridge with glazed railings, seating and plantings that connects two sides of the historic mezzanine floor. Serving as a place for gatherings and impromptu meetings, the bridge has a coffee bar midway across its span to host social and professional dialogues. A large open stair doubles as seating for town hall meetings and group discussions. “We balanced the desire for a strong sense of community and collaboration with abundant private, intimate areas for employees to retreat to,” says Franz. The design creates varied ways for staff to withdraw from the open, public areas and into more intimate, library-style quiet zones and breakout spaces for spontaneous meetings and uninterrupted work.
Even with its 85 workstations and 10 conference rooms, the inviting new offices are designed for openness and transparency. Upon entering, visitors and employees can immediately see the interior double-height space where the concentration of workstations are housed and, through glass partitions, view into and through the perimeter meeting areas. To achieve this, the architects performed an extensive and sensitive restoration to remove partitions, infilled mezzanine areas, exposed ductwork and soffits that had been added to the space over the years. The results allow for more expansive views and for sunlight to penetrate deep into the dramatic two-story space.
We chose to embrace the historical character of the Beaux-Arts interior designed a century ago by architects Goldwin, Starrett and Van Vleck with its towering columns and arched windows. Our goal was to restore the impressive space and central work hall and then insert modern transparent elements,
– says Franz.
Once the bulk that had obstructed light and views was removed, Franz and his team were committed to maintaining the views for all. By gathering the workstations at the interior of the space rather than at the perimeter, views opened to the Hudson River, the Statue of Liberty and downtown Manhattan through the grand southern windows, allowing natural light to filter into the space, unencumbered by shades or blinds. Instead, the architects inserted a floating glazed bar of meeting rooms clad in carved wood louvers. By day, the louvers act to control solar gain and glare while providing some privacy and warmth. At night the glazed bar becomes a lantern that hovers in the space.
“The former tenant had shades across most of the windows. By liberating the perimeter from desktop computing functions, we were able to celebrate and democratize the view and abundant daylight. It’s now shared and continuous,” says Franz. “Unable to install a louver or screen on the exterior of the building, we turned to the interior. The original architecture was so dynamic, so unique, that we didn’t want to overpower it, yet we wanted what was new to be discernible. The louvered bar struck the right balance.”
The interior furnishings were an opportunity to introduce a curated palette of rich, textured materials. Sunlight reaches deep into the space and illuminates a honeycomb-motif polychromatic ceiling in the small meeting rooms, one of many ways acoustics were integrated into the space. A mix of vintage, modern and custom furniture and lighting project a warm atmosphere that more closely suggests a boutique hotel lobby or contemporary loft residence more than an investor’s command center, says Franz. “Wherever possible, we used materials unexpected in traditional modern offices: vintage and custom carpets, conference tables, chairs and lighting. The company is almost 50 years old. We didn’t feel they needed to look new or like a startup. There is a great legacy that we wanted the design to convey,” he says.
These and other welcome changes will greet the employees when the headquarters opens this winter. By integrating principles of active design, an approach promoting physical activity and health, the new offices encourage movement up and down and across the spaces. This “circulation loop,” as Franz calls it, includes several touchpoints along the way: coffee service, a large chef’s kitchen, lounges, yoga studio, and a gym. “Not only is this good for one’s health, but the circulation loop also generates the happenstance meetings and exchange of ideas that mark today’s best and most innovative companies,” says Franz.
Franz, whose 14-year-old practice has achieved significant attention, showcases his firm’s acclaimed talents for melding old and new. The result is a workplace that encourages collaboration, offers a warm welcome to visiting clients, and reinforces the distinct nature of the company’s approach to investment banking, marked by close, personal relationships between coworkers and among investors and advisors.