Location: Grand Rapids, Michigan
Designing a new office space for your own architectural and engineering firm is a unique challenge. As architects, what we do is special, and how we serve our clients is unique. We wanted a place to focus our creative energy in a space that brings out the best in our firm so that we can bring the best to our design. In the fall of 2011, we created “The Lab.” The Lab is a place where we retreat to collaborate together, explore new ideas, and push boundaries. It is uniquely designed and laid out to reflect our firm’s creative skills. As we quickly jump from one space to another, the Lab enhances our creativity by allowing us to freely think.
Our firm had a few clear design directives: Provide a range of choices in where and how to work; incorporate sustainability and environmental performance; build flexibility for outside community and client use; and foster increased knowledge sharing through collaboration. We designed the LEED Gold certified, 2,600 square foot interior office space in an existing five-story, early 80’s office building and created spaces that are open, flexible, and light filled. Writable and tackable wall surfaces line the core walls and team spaces so that one never has to hunt for a place to collaboratively sketch. The space is organized using free-standing storage, translucent curtains, and changes in flooring material. This not only provided a high degree of rapid reconfigurability in the space but also gives members of our organization access to daylight and views.
At the entry, a café greets visitors and features a backsplash wall made up of end cut recycled barn beams from a local farm and a countertop of recycled metal shavings. This social space blends into a large group meeting area that hosts weekly peer reviews, education lunch presentations, fundraising events, and receptions. A tackable surface runs the full height and length of the perimeter wall, while everything in the space is on wheels so it is configurable by groups as they need it. A range of work spaces are available, from a tall kitchen table with plenty of room to spread out to an enclosed design lounge, the “egg,” featuring large-scale pivoting walls, lounge furniture, and curved walls painted with a writable surface. Other work spaces included booth seating for one or two people with marker board tabletop surfaces and open workstations along the perimeter windows.
The finishes are quite minimal. Materials were selected for their environmental performance and collaborative impact. The "beauty" of the space comes from the work that happens inside it: sketches, flow charts, and new design concepts. The space is intentionally left not-too-perfect so teams are encouraged to manipulate it, not be precious about it. The finishes serve as a canvas for collaborative thinking. Completed in August of 2011, the work space has been the ultimate Lab. The most analytical team members can't help but sketch their thoughts and ideas on the table whiteboards while they sit and chat.