The design of this 22,000 square foot tenant improvement for XAP Corporation evolved from the unique challenges and conditions presented by the client and the exigencies created by the physical context. XAP Corporation is the pioneer in electronic and Internet-based information management systems for college-bound students. XAP Corporation's mission is to be the leader in building and providing students and their families, universities and sponsors the most comprehensive and widely used online information services for higher education.
In addition to particular programmatic needs, the XAP project presented the delicate challenge of operating within and conforming to distinct parameters issued by the building’s architect and owner/developer. All phases of design required approval via rigorous design review by not only the client but, also more uniquely, the building’s architect. One of the more stringent constraints required by the building architect was that no element of the new tenant improvement design significantly touch or interact with the existing structure. This imposed requirement significantly influenced the resulting formal strategy and design approach.
The organizational strategy implemented at XAP is one frequently revisited by Brooks + Scarpa. Offices and workstations, which constitute a dense area of the program and require similar spatial properties (size and shape) and formal elements (desk, chair, shelves, etc.), are clustered and neatly organized in an open landscape. Service spaces and additional offices requiring more privacy are organized in simple volumes that flank the perimeter of space. These more private areas and individually inhabited areas of the program deliberately serve as a background for a more dramatic expression of the public space and selected areas of the program which can then be foregrounded, emphasized and more dynamically explored. Free from full height, enclosing walls, the open landscape strategy supports a continuity and flow of space. Even though the 22,000 SF building is packed with program, it maintains an open, spacious feeling. This organizational strategy also takes advantage of the spatial qualities of the existing building—an industrial saw-tooth roof warehouse with exposed framework and dramatic clerestory windows at each structural bay. Finally, the placement of formal bars of program at the perimeter allows for the creation of an elegant circulation space through which the buildings mechanical and electrical services are quietly distributed. Each bar is characterized by a tall, clean, simply expressed soffit behind which the building’s infrastructure pulses. This design solution was particularly significant as the building’s architect required concealment of all ductwork and electrical conduit.
While designed to serve as formal background, these workstation and office elements are well considered, meticulously crafted and elegantly realized. Furthermore, they establish a rigorous order that creates an ever-present backbone that can then be broken from and contrasted by the freer flowing, more sculptural elements without losing the clarity and coherence of the overall design.
With this well-constructed backbone in place, the entry and public areas of XAP unfold along the southern edge of the building. Flooded with light from clerestory windows, this is the zone where forms play and space dances. Unlike most offices, the reception desk at XAP is held back from the main entry door by 30 feet. This encourages visitors to penetrate the space and interact with form before making contact. They are invited to experience the attitude and character of the firm physically and sensually rather than abruptly being hindered at an anonymous waiting area behind whose walls a corporate identity is concealed. XAP’s corporate identity unfolds up front and unabashedly as a spatial experience.
Lawrence Scarpa designed much of the furniture at XAP as an integral part of the project. Workstations, conference tables, sofas, chairs and carpets are as critical to the spatial effect as the larger elements of the design. The reception desk is one of the feature furniture elements at XAP.
Formally expressive and meticulously crafted, the reception counter floats atop its tube steel support, touching the ground at two points. While seemingly complex, the reception desk is actually composed of quite simple construction methods: cast-in-place concrete and welded tube steel. While it can be experienced as a finely crafted object, the reception desk, as well as many of the other design elements and furniture at XAP, can also be experienced as space. The form and expression of these elements activate and create a quality of space that would not exist without them.
The busiest, most highly trafficked areas of the program--the Kitchen/Café and the Recreation Area—are placed at opposite ends of this 30’ x 145’ corridor of space. This organization creates a dynamic link across the length of the building and defies typical corporate office patterns of sticking kitchens in a room in the back, not to be seen, while not providing recreation areas at all. One must walk clear across the space to get to either of these programmatic elements and hence, experience the space and its sculptural follies in the round. The kitchen is dominated by a 20’ long cast in place concrete island that serves as a bar counter and as another node of activity.
Carefully oriented, the Board Room and the Conference Room become the formal focal points of the project. Both of these organically shaped forms are representative of an ongoing formal exploration and signify an important aspect of the firm’s work: a commitment to experimentation with form and materials and a passion for the process of making and construction. These qualities are as integral and important to the design as the resulting form itself. These sculptural follies were initially studied in physical model form. From there, a series of computer generated models were produced to study the formal possibilities, as well as location, orientation and relationship to the larger field. Once the final design was achieved and engineered, the computer models were used to generate drawings for a steel bending fabricator who used the data to fabricate the full scale tube steel members which, ultimately assembled, give presence and life to each volume. Significantly, these structures were left literally exposed and raw on the exterior. Tube steel and round bar characterize the formal expression. In a twist of convention, the interior is finished with plaster—smooth and refined. This material and textural counterpoint is indicative of the overall design at XAP, enhancing the dynamism and richness of the space.