Building of the Day #10
The Barbarian Group
112 West 20th Street
Clive Wilkinson Architects
It seems like something out of an interiors sci-fi novel: a barbaric desk comes to life, invading a helpless office floor. Nothing can stop it. It grows around structural columns. Monsters represent our cultural fears, and this could be a story expressing our anxieties about Corporate America, if it wasn’t for the fact that Clive Wilkinson Architects’ superdesk for The Barbarian Group is so functional and so cool. A 1,100-foot-long uninterrupted white surface snakes about the office, arching to create nooks for informal meetings and casual encounters.
During today’s tour, Clive Wilkinson and Barbarian’s Genevieve Robles and Nick Bonadies took us back to the origins of the superdesk. While The Barbarian Group was still working in cubicles, it challenged Wilkinson andhis team to design the most creative, collaborative environment possible. His solution was surprisingly simple: sit everyone, from the founders to the interns, around one enormous desk.
All of the pieces were fabricated in LA by repurposed automotive robots driven by floppy disks, and then trucked across country. After weathering winter snowstorms, the pieces finally arrived in New York, all small enough to fit in the office building’s modestly-sized elevator. The desk was assembled on-site, and after a 30-hour eco-resin pour just a few days before staff moved in, the desk became the seamless surface that has graced many an architecture publication. Despite the epic creation story, Wilkinson said that the superdesk is around 40 percent less expensive than designing a traditional office space.
The surface’s undulating form creates subtle divisions, allowing employees to gather by departments. However, desk spaces aren’t fixed, and staffers can easily roll their under-desk cabinets to another location if a project requires them to do so. “We can restack the deck whenever we need to,” said Robles.
Wilkinson chose to expose the nuts and bolts, but the sparkling, seamless surface still looks astonishingly malleable. At one point it dips down, forming what Robles referred to as a “waterless hot tub.” Elsewhere, the surface softly rises to standing height for employees who prefer to work on their feet. And comfortable furniture grows almost organically inside the arches, which are padded with sound insulation to create intimate meeting environments.
Wilkinson’s expressive surface can make imaginations run wild. And this is exactly what The Barbarian Group was looking for.
Don’t forget your library card for tomorrow’s tour at the Glen Oaks Branch Library!