New York City
The energy-drink company Red Bull (RB) tends to engage the public in unconventional ways. As it plunges into adventurous youth culture—extreme sports, high-risk aviation feats, edgy art and music—it’s never just paying to affix its logo to a Formula 1 racecar or a radical skydive. Rather, the company owns and runs the teams, as well as such endeavors as Red Bull Air Force—generating a following without ever mentioning the product per se. An analogy might be, instead of buying roadside billboard space, RB creates the road, setting the route and pulling in traffic.
On floors seven and eight, the architects created RBMA’s temporary administrative and experimental spaces. Nearly a year later, RB brought Inaba back to convert those upper stories into offices for its eastern U.S. business hub.
Founded in 1998, RBMA offers immersive workshops in a different city each year—London, São Paulo, and Tokyo among them. Participants, competitively selected, attend without charge (flown in, fed, and put up by RB). These intense two-week summer sessions, with 30 students each, bring together talents including instrumentalists, DJs, songwriters, vocalists, and recording engineers, in genres spanning from jazz to hip-hop. The experience revolves around living room-sofa-style lectures by music legends (such as Brian Eno or Philip Glass) and “bedroom studios,” where randomly mixed participants collaborate. “Like think tanks, they’re containers for creativity,” says RBMA cofounder Many Ameri. “Imagine a New Zealand drummer, an American jazz pianist, and a Czech techno producer connecting for the first time in one room.”
RB also runs a music festival around each Academy—at venues as diverse as museums, street fairs, and nightclubs. So the duplex needed flexible space for tied-in parties and events.
Like RB’s headquarters, in rural Austria, the understated Chelsea duplex has no exterior signage (and barely any interior branding). Inside its glass storefront, a long, midnight-blue reception desk curves at one end, leading to a similarly colored steel stairway that winds down to the lower level. Dramatic against white terrazzo floors, these dark sculptural forms appear in a 3,400-square-foot space with few other permanent elements besides a purple-lit broadcasting booth and a black bar, with clear acrylic tubes overhead, rimmed in rings of white light. Small glass-faced fridges, wall-inset like medicine cabinets, hold cans of Red Bull—the closest it gets to branding here.
A side door leads to a men’s room bathed in red light, reminiscent of nightclubs, while the women’s room next-door glows yellow. Downstairs, a dark-surfaced performance space sits below a ceiling inlaid with dash-like LED lighting.
Since people work at the studios deep into the night on varied activities, says principal architect Jeffrey Inaba, “we created spaces—discrete volumes in a range of scales—with distinct qualities of light.” Hypersaturated wall colors intensify the effects of neon, fluorescent, LED, and other illumination types.
The first project’s success led to Inaba’s second RB commission, replacing the temporary Academy facilities upstairs with permanent offices. “If downstairs was about stark, dramatic color contrasts, artificial lighting, and a tech environment,” says Inaba, “the idea here was very different, far subtler in its tonal ranges, more about qualities of daylight.”
Unlike the original semi-underground duplex—now operating as Red Bull Studios, with event, art exhibition, and free recording spaces—the offices have windows on three sides and function mainly during business hours. Inaba’s strategy was to animate a daylit, predominantly white interior with sparks of color, favoring ambient or indirect illumination over visible fixtures or focal points of light, as he had done downstairs. Here, the sun’s rays filter through translucent and dichroic glass, or reflect off such surfaces as a deftly placed mirror or a vitreous wall panel, casting gently modulated light and color into the interior.
Across the open offices, glassed-in meeting rooms provide acoustical buffers, performing simultaneously as dividers and transparent connectors.
Inaba joined the two floors with a wide central stair—a monolithic, glossy-white glass-fiber-reinforced-concrete (GFRC) form—giving the workspaces additional light and views. Half amphitheater, half regular steps, split down the middle, the stairway is slightly unnerving to descend, but also a novel twist on familiar stadium seating for in-office screenings.
Though this upstairs/downstairs duo presents two projects vastly different in program, public interface, light, and color, both encourage collaboration. (And, somehow, the bar, laid-back sofas, and Red Bull fridges show up in each of them.) Ameri recently articulated a key characteristic of the Academy that could as easily describe the new offices: “It’s about making space for conversation, places where ideas get shared and things get created.”
Client/Owner: Red Bull North America
Personnel in architect's firm who should receive special credit:
Architect of record:
Jill Leckner, principal, registered
Owner’s Representative (Office):
Studio: 21,400 square feet; Office: 16,800 square feet
Studios, April 2013; office, November 2014
Office: Internal Steel Stair by Maspeth Welding Inc.
Office: Mistral Architectural Metal + Glass Inc.
Office: Mistral Architectural Metal + Glass Inc.
Terrazzo Floor: D. Magnan & Co., Inc.
Color epoxy floor: Hoffman Floor Covering corp.
Cabinetwork and custom woodwork:
Paints and stains:
Special interior finishes unique to this project:
Reception furniture: Furniture Masters, Knoll, Geiger
Chairs: Vitra, Design Within Reach, Geiger, Knoll, Blu Dot
Dimming System or other lighting controls: