Southfield, Michigan

Smithgroup had completed four Microsoft Technology Centers (MTC) for the software giant by the time the multidisciplinary firm was asked to design a fifth, in Southfield, Michigan. The challenge, according to Rodrigo Manríquez, senior lighting designer and head of SmithGroup’s Lighting Design Studio, was: “How many different ways can you draw a circle?” Microsoft uses MTCs to meet with potential customers in strategic locations to design technology solutions. Each center offers the same services but has a unique identity. “It goes back to the essence of the target client, which gives it a regional flavor and is in sync with the values of that client,” says Manr'quez.

A Detroit suburb, Southfield has deep connections to the automotive industry, so SmithGroup drew its inspiration for the renovation of an existing office in a multi-tenant tower from the sleek forms and bright surfaces that emerge from auto manufacturers’ production lines. “To be able to put an MTC in Southfield, knowing that the [auto] industry is trying to come out of their flop of a few years back, is interesting,” says Manr'quez. “It takes a lot of foresight.” His team felt a responsibility to translate this vote of confidence into the design.

SmithGroup’s solution—to choreograph movement with lighting—draws people from point to point in the 16,300-square-foot space. Upon entering the office, visitors are greeted by a luminous solid-surface reception desk, backlit with LEDs. From here, the lighting team “carved” or “sculpted” elements of illumination, using this automotive language to guide the aesthetics.

Like a showroom in a showroom, Microsoft’s massive server gleams behind glass in the lobby. Inside, a cove conceals LEDs embedded in the ceiling that emanate blue light, a color that can be changed for a particular client. The lighting designers applied a special translucent film to the inside of glazed walls to enhance the effect of the color. Likewise, fixtures in the floor bounce beams of light off the surface of the black server. “We provided a bright enough surface beyond the glass to create a jewelry box attitude,” says Manr'quez.

These effects continue along a curved hallway with a series of dropped ceilings that begin above the lobby. A linear stripe of indirect light from LEDs tucked into a cove provides a directional that guides visitors to conference rooms, offices, and a lounge. The design team then framed the doors to the Envisioning Center—an auditorium-like space that was not part of SmithGroup’s scope—with LEDs set behind a translucent acrylic. An adjacent, undulating blue wall curves and gleams like a satiny sedan, bowing out to create a lit acrylic bench and turning back in again to illuminate the floor with a glow, like light spilling from an open car door.

Ultimately, SmithGroup’s scheme is as sleek and efficient in form and purpose as its client’s offering. “The LED technology for us, it was a no-brainer. It’s easy to maintain, elegant, and fits into tight spaces,” says Matthew Alleman, the project lighting designer. It’s also a simple solution in this case. “[Microsoft] wanted to have a great space to show their clients, but they also wanted to be able to maintain it to keep it at its peak performance.”


Architect: Smith Group
Lighting design lead: Rodrigo Manríquez
Project lighting designer: Matthew Alleman
Design principal: Rod Vickroy
Project architect: Craig St. Clair
Interior Designer: Kim Klingeisen, interior designer

General Contractor
Turner Construction Company

16,300 square feet

$2.5 million

Completion date
November 2010



Interior Ambient Lighting
Philips Color Kinetics

Zumtobel, Translite Sonoma, Pure Lighting

Interior Accent Lighting
Philips Color Kinetics, ERCO, RSA

Lighting Controls

Special Surfacing
Newmat Newlight translucent membrane

Reception Desk
Corian, Chemetal polished chrome plastic laminate