One Wall Does It All

An innovative design firm creates a dynamic, 100-foot-long wall at NYU—and covers it in felt.

February 01, 2008 |
  Covered in tricolor felt, trimmed in walnut, and standing on black steel legs, this dynamic 100-foot-long wall helps define public and private space within NYU’s Office of Strategic Assessment, Planning, and Design. PHOTO: MICHAEL MORAN  

A t 10,000 sf, the space New York University assigned its newly created Office of Strategic Assessment, Planning, and Design was relatively small, and the budget for reworking its bland rental space into stylish offices was a thrifty $66/sf. Not much to work with in either category.

SAPD is the sole department overseeing NYU’s future building projects and construction budgets, so when the time came for the department to issue an RFP for its own space, aesthetics and fiscal responsibility were at the top of the list. Responding architects were asked to show how they could economically maximize the requisite architectural and spatial elements.

The university’s more-for-less request was a perfect fit for the winning design firm, Lewis.Tsurumaki.Lewis. LTL, based in New York’s Chelsea neighborhood, had developed a reputation for doing really cool things with really inexpensive materials—corrugated cardboard, bamboo skewers, and cast plaster molds of coffee cup lids—in really small spaces, some of which measured nary 300 sf.

  The wall starts in the lobby as a cabinet in front of the conference room window, then quickly rises up to heights of 10 feet as it makes its way toward private work spaces at the rear. PHOTO: MICHAEL MORAN  
  A major benefit to having an entire wall finished in felt: a giant bulletin board. Walnut ledges are used to display

NYU’s future building projects.
  The 10,000-sf office was minimally built-out for a previous tenant, so the wall strategically wraps around existing elements, including a conference room, offices, and original cast-iron columns. GRAPHIC: LTL ARCHITECTS  

The firm’s exciting but economical material choices for the SAPD project include industrial felt in three colors (white, light grey, and dark grey), blackened steel, and rich walnut. These materials adorn the project’s signature element, a dynamic 100-foot-long multifunctional wall that reaches a height of 10 feet as it zigzags through the office.

“Our strategy was to find a single, architecturally efficient element that performed as many different functions as possible,” says Marc Tsurumaki, a partner at LTL. The wall became a spatial device that would differentiate public and private spaces, create a public gallery running the length of the space, attenuate noise, incorporate a lighting element, and provide a strong visual feature linking the two sides of the floor plan, which has a long, thin footprint.

The wall was largely constructed offsite using steel framing, internal bracing, and a plywood stress skin, in pieces small enough to squeeze into the building’s service elevator. Offsite construction minimized disruption to the already-occupied SAPD office. (The space had been partly built-out for a previous tenant.) Retaining those features saved time and money, and allowed Tsurumaki to focus on his signature element, the wall.

Once the sections arrived on site, the wall was pieced together, first in the lobby, where it starts as a low cabinet in front of a conference room window and then rises up at a steep angle, eventually becoming part of the ceiling before finally terminating in the collaborative team space at the rear of the office. Voids within the wall form doorways into workstation areas, and small cut-outs reveal parts of the office’s original cast-iron columns. Indirect lighting is installed along the edges of these openings.

The wall is supported by blackened steel legs and fastened to the concrete ceiling. It’s trimmed out in walnut, which is also used to make display ledges that span the length of the wall.

The most striking—and whimsical—finish material, however, is the tricolored industrial felt. “It brings warmth and depth to the space and mitigates acoustic issues in the office, where almost all the other surfaces are hard,” says Tsurumaki. There is a logical sequence to the seemingly random felt pattern: smaller strips are used at the base of the wall and then gradually increase in size the higher they go, emphasizing the linearity of the space. An added bonus: the felt surface also serves as a gigantic bulletin board.

Tsurumaki finished the project in two months, bringing it in under budget. “The department was able to give some money back to the university, which was extremely important to them,” he says.

Important to LTL Architects, too, because the firm landed a second NYU project with a similarly tight budget: faculty space for the Department of Social and Cultural Analysis. What will it be this time? Walls papered in old mid-term exams? Let the materials selection begin!

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