It’s not often one walks into an office and feels a sense of calm and utter tranquility. An uncommon workplace in the center of downtown Chicago is serious in tone, as well as serene, designed as much for receiving visitors as for providing its 25-person staff the best environment in which to work.
The space, with its zen atmosphere, is, not surprisingly, anchored by a strong Eastern influence, reflecting a desire of the client, who has traveled extensively in Asia and amassed an impressive collection of art from the continent. What may be surprising, however, is that its design comes via Italy.
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The Rome-based architecture firm Alvisi Kirimoto, headed by Massimo Alvisi and Japanese-born partner Junko Kirimoto, was tapped to tailor the space—its first project in the U.S.—working with the local office of CannonDesign, which had been brought on earlier to organize the layout of the rectangular floor plate. The straightforward arrangement has private offices and conference rooms lining the window walls around a central core containing the elevator banks and bathrooms.
“It was very clear from the beginning that the client wanted something special,” recalls Alvisi. Working with CannonDesign, the client had already selected two consecutive midlevel floors in a new tower being built along the Chicago River, after deciding to relocate from just a few blocks away. The office for one enterprise would occupy the full lower floor, nearly 30,000 square feet, taking advantage of its 12-foot ceiling height and carving out a piece of the floor above—which houses another of the client’s businesses—to create a large double-height room that has come to be known as the Winter Garden. “We had an unusual amount of flexibility with the building, which was just beginning construction,” says CannonDesign principal Mark Hirons. “We were even offered the possibility of balconies, but we opted for a light-filled interior space at one end of the floor that could be enjoyed year-round.”
The 24-foot-high Winter Garden, with a giant window over the river, serves as a multipurpose room—for meetings, events, exhibitions, and even as a place to relax. (The office not only regularly hosts clients but board members of related companies and institutions.) Alvisi Kirimoto initially conceived the space as a wood box, but wanted it to appear weightless. So they developed its walls as two layers of offset vertical hickory slats with a glass partition between them. The slats begin at the ceiling and end 10 inches above the floor, giving the impression that the box is suspended. “Because the layers of slats don’t align, it looks very different when seen from straight on or from an angle. That’s a very Eastern concept—to have different views of the same object,” says Alvisi. “We also wanted to bring in daylight on all sides but needed to control it, since there would be art inside at times.” (The motif of hickory slats set in front of glass is used for partitions throughout the floor, including ones that enclose private offices and small conference rooms.)
A permanent artwork was commissioned for the Winter Garden. Japanese bamboo artist Ueno Masao created a 12-foot-tall spiraling sculpture that hangs from the ceiling like a lantern to punctuate the soaring volume, its thin, curving bamboo poles in dialogue with the thicker slats surrounding it. Kirimoto designed a long table, manufactured in Japan, to stand beside it. Its deep red lacquered top adds another eye-catching note in the dramatic space.
The design team applied touches of color, both soft and bold, throughout the mainly monochromatic office—unified by a creamy white carpet—to striking effect. Bright orange fabric-wrapped acoustic panels, hung beneath the tall ceilings in private offices, match desk chairs; rose-hued Japanese rice paper covers wall panels in the reception area; glossy white cubicles separate private offices along the perimeter from interior, windowless ones; more deep reds mark the staff lunch area and private dining room (serviced by a professional-grade kitchen that often hosts renowned chefs). A game room, where employees, who tend to work long hours in the office when not traveling, can take a break with a table tennis match or a round of virtual golf, introduces more pops of color.
The integration of the client’s extensive collection of modern and Asian art was as critical an element of the design as any. A bronze Henry Moore sculpture of abstract reclining figures greets visitors in the reception area. Ceiling-high murals, previously on loan to the Art Institute of Chicago, line a wall by a waiting area near the executive offices; large, ancient bronze medallions are arrayed along a wall beside the Winter Garden. A contemporary Buddha statue marks an end of a long hallway (one of two corridors that traverse the entire floor), set in front of the floor-to-ceiling windows that offer the city as a backdrop.
Perhaps even more than the Eastern influences, it is those 360-degree vistas high above Chicago, with the Willis Tower and other landmarks nearby, that take this office space to another level. “Part of the goal was to turn the hallways into small streets with a very strong direction, to connect flows of people with these incredible views,” says Alvisi. While providing a quiet, art-filled oasis in the sky, the office also grounds its occupants in the center of a dense urbanity—a reminder that, despite its luxury-hotel or museum-like feel, it is a place where business gets done.
Personnel in architect's firm who should receive special credit:
Architect of record:
MEP Engineer: CannonDesign
Acoustic consultant: Arup
Executive Construction Inc. | ConopCo Project Management
Nic Lehoux, firstname.lastname@example.org, +1 6468087535
Glass: Christopher Glass & Aluminum, INC.
Entrances: Glass entrance doors: Christopher Glass & Aluminum, INC.
Wood doors: Millwork doors: Parenti & Raffaelli, LTD.
Locksets: Adams Rite
Pulls: Millwork pulls: Parenti & Raffaelli,LTD.
Acoustical ceilings: Installer: Performance Contracting, Inc. (PCI)
Cabinetwork and custom woodwork: Millworks and caseworks: Parenti & Raffaelli, LTD.
Paints and stains: Pinnacle decorating, Inc.
Paneling: Parenti & Raffaelli, LTD.
Plastic laminate: Plastic Laminate Manufacturer for Cases: Abet Laminati
Solid surfacing: Countertops: HI-MACS
Special surfacing: Countertops: OKITE
Floor and wall tile: Installer: Northern Illinois Terrazzo & Tile Co.
Carpet: Installer: Vortex Commercial Flooring, Inc.
Special interior finishes unique to this project: Japanese lacquered table top: designed by Alvisi Kirimoto, manufactured by Wajima Kirimoto
Reception furniture: Custom reception desk: Parenti & Raffaelli LTD
Chairs: Carl Hansen, Herman Miller, Knoll
Tables: Custom design tables manufacturer: HALCON
Upholstery: Fabric Manufacturer: Maharam
Other furniture: Sofas and Lounge Chairs: B&B Italia, De Padova, Driade, Knoll
Interior ambient lighting: Fabbian, iGuzzini, MP Lighting, SSL Lighting, Tech Lighting, Vibia
Downlights: Juno, Usai, Focal Point, Kenall
Elevators/escalators: Schindler Elevator Corp.
Plumbing: Sherman Mechanical, Inc.
Add any additional building components or special equipment that made a significant contribution to this project: Bonsai provider: Foliage Design Systems