Fabrics shape a new media shop

Three kinds of fabrics shape a 21st century production space.

Like the traveling circuses in the 19th century and today, the field of new media requires workspaces that are flexible, open and able to accommodate large groups when necessary. Editors, animators and producers often work alone or online, but there are times they must travel to a shared space to perform their work.

In New York City’s SoHo neighborhood, this new office for Logan, a bicoastal media specialist, is visually crisp yet soft and diaphanous. It is a kind of “big top” tent for 21st century media production, with both collaborative spaces that are open and smaller work suites that offer acoustic privacy for small groups.

Industrial fabrics make this functionality possible. The office is located in a 604m2 corner loft space, and is SO – IL’s design response to Logan’s work with mobile consultants that join the team on a per-project basis. This constantly changing work setting requires little in the way of personalized work stations and rooms, but a high level of flexibility. SO – IL, of Brooklyn, N.Y., rethought specialized office space by creating layers of transparency with two identical, symmetrical rectilinear spaces, each gathered around a 19.8 m continuous custom worktable. A stretched PVC luminous ceiling offers even, shadowless lighting across both spaces.

The length of this “great hall” is accentuated through the use of glass and fabric to create zones of privacy. A pane of glass divides the two workspaces, creating a mirror-effect that doubles the space. Hanging Gerriets trevira nylon fabric panels line the workrooms to create a stunning diaphanous effect and center-point perspective.

“They are both dividing and not dividing,” says architect Ilias Papageorgiou of the nylon screens. As SO – IL’s associate principal in charge of the project, he led the creation of spatial and material mock-ups in both their office and on-site. SO – IL tested a fabric and hanging system that could provide the right balance of opacity and luminosity. A key goal was to bring daylight into the two linear workrooms without overwhelming the visibility of digital screens.

SO – IL ultimately selected nylon panels by Gerriets, a theatrical equipment company, because this curtain offered the right balance of opacity and luminosity. A further discovery from the mock-up sessions was that the nylon panels could be attached to crossbars with Velcro®, an invention more associated with camping gear and tents than with corporate office design.

“The assumption for video has long been that they need to be in a dark basement hole,” Papageorgiou says, but this fabric solution allows for diffused natural light and a sense of changing exterior light and seasons. “The screens work to capture the colors and light projected from outside,” he adds. Although they appear stark white in photos, these screens also pick up subtle blues on clear winter days or golden tints on sunny afternoons.

Yet there is more to the story than just this pair of big tent rooms. Digital production also requires small editing suites and spaces where media professionals can work directly with clients to refine their projects in real-time. SO – IL created three dark and quiet spaces—one lined with grey ripple felt engineered by Toronto, Ont., Canada’s Felt Studio. The other two suites are lined with felt by Boston, Mass.’s FilzFelt, a firm specializing in German fabrics.

Papageorgiou met SO – IL’s co-founder Florian Idenburg while a student at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design. Idenburg, who was a professor there, also worked for the design firm SANNAA and served as the project architect for the metal mesh clad New Museum in Manhattan, profiled in the March 2008 Fabric Architecture. Today, SO – IL, an architecture firm of roughly 10 people, experiments with meshes and fabrics for interior and exterior uses in projects around the world.

Contributing editor Frank Edgerton Martin’s feature story on the sustainable design features of the American University of Beirut campus appeared in the Sept/Oct 2011 issue.

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