CHALLENGE Tasked with bringing a sense of the Pacific Northwest to a historic building in midtown Manhattan, architecture and interior design firm Tobin+Parnes Design Enterprises (TPDE) created a functional, contemporary office space on the 37th floor in the landmark Seagram Building for Portland, Oregon-based Mazama Capital Management. The location places Mazama in “the heart of New York City action,” explains Carol Tobin, principal of TPDE. However, designing the space in such a building meant adhering to strict preservation guidelines, which in this case involved the incorporation of the luminous acrylic grid ceiling created by the building's original lighting designer, the late Richard Kelly.
SOLUTION In the late 1950s when Kelly worked on the Seagram Building with architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, his hope was for the lighting to appear uniform to those viewing it from the street. Tobin says it is her understanding that Kelly “wanted the building to glow and look like a lantern.” And while the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission generally tends to protect a building's façade, Tobin explains that in this case, it has designated not only the building exterior but also the luminous ceiling that runs around the perimeter of each of the 38 floors. “You're not allowed to touch it,” she says about the ceiling. “As a result, it dictates what happens to the rest of the space.”
Preservation issues aside, the client very much set the tone for this project, which was completed in April 2007. Mazama executives wanted the 5,000-square-foot New York office to reflect the company's Oregon roots, resulting in the use of natural finishes and warm lighting to soften the space. “It was a challenge because we wanted to integrate and enhance the warmth of those materials by the intelligent use of the right lighting,” Tobin explains.
A sense of warmth immediately is apparent upon entering despite there being no reception desk. Rather, a living room-like environment complete with a couch, chairs, and carpet greets visitors. Ambient light is provided by a combination of lighting elements, including 14W T5 fluorescent cove lighting and 60W A-lamp pendants. Employees can see visitors through ceiling-suspended layered acrylic panels, which distinguish the lobby from the work area. An entry wall along one side of the space is wrapped in a horizontally veined walnut veneer, illuminated with low-voltage 71W MR16 lamps to enhance the wood grain, making it stand out like a piece of art. Across the space, a paneled wall made up of 32-by-32-inch squares of plaster form a wave-like pattern that allows light and shadow to ripple across the textured surface. Ceiling-recessed 50W PAR20 accent lighting is used to cast shadows on the plaster, which “increases your sense of depth and enhances the texture,” Tobin says.
The Mazama offices face west and receive afternoon light through the floor-to-ceiling windows. No draperies or decorative elements are allowed on the windows; another preservation requirement mandates that all tenants use the same horizontal blinds. But this is not a problem for Mazama employees. “They loved the openness,” Tobin says. “I don't think I've ever been up there when the blinds have been down.”
When incorporating the luminous ceiling into the lighting design, Tobin explains the idea was to have it look like “building jewelry, something that was an enhancement to the space.” A higher efficiency T8 fluorescent lamp was installed, meeting landmark requirements and building guidelines. “Walking by the building at night, it's spectacular,” Tobin says. “You look up and see all the ceilings are exactly the same. The grid is punctuated perfectly and creates a very quiet geometry. It's strong, but not screaming in your face.” The combination of lighting components used throughout the space to create a warm atmosphere works well with the luminous ceiling, resulting in a lighting design fitting for both the Mazama office and the landmark Seagram Building.