Frank Lloyd Wright’s design for the Guggenheim Museum’s open, spiral atrium is fitting for an institution that’s wrapped up in democratizing art for the world. The space exudes an air of transparency and collaboration that’s translated across the museum’s various exhibitions, big and small. What’s not on display are the behind-the-scenes spaces where the Guggenheim Foundation employees dream up the exhibitions seen on the white walls of the iconic mid-century building.
For decades, the 200 people employed by the Foundation have sat confined to compact working quarters in a downtown Manhattan office building that inconveniently forced employees to waste time traveling to the Upper East Side museum by train. Now, thanks to an interior by Studio Gang, the Foundation’s new offices match the architectural efficiency of the museum and provide better accessibility all around.
Located high up within the former US Steel Building, known today as One Liberty Plaza, the 30,000-square-foot headquarters features a bright, open office-plan that brings together the Foundation’s 18 departments and hundreds of staff members for the first time in the institution’s existence. To create as much room as possible, Studio Gang gut-renovated an entire floor plate in the column-free tower.
The design team then integrated various types of workspaces into the design, including single-use cubicles, conference rooms, lounge areas, a reading room, and a canteen, to encourage new modes of formal and casual collaboration. They also outfitted the interior with a muted color palette and chose sustainable materials to regulate noise and heat, creating an overall atmosphere of calm and focus.
“One of the biggest problems the Foundation previously faced was that the departments couldn’t interact easily; they physically couldn’t see each other,” said Margaret Cavenagh, principal of interior architecture at Studio Gang. “So we decided to think about the new design as a series of city blocks with anchoring spaces.”
Studio Gang placed individual workstations up against the windows or walls, giving employees ample opportunity for daylight, while collaborative spaces and private offices backed up against the core. A main circulation route, going east to west, was placed to serve as a laneway between the two ends and features the Foundation’s massive library and archival collection along its walls.
“Once we had this urban-scale street running through the space, corners became plazas, and the open areas and collaborative spaces became easier to get to as well,” she said.
Office design is an often overlooked form of architecture, but Studio Gang gave careful planning to each and every detail and kept some of the building’s original elements. The original polished concrete gave the floors a clear and clean appearance, which helped maintain the modernist, industrial aesthetic of the structure. The exposed ceiling was amplified in style by integrating ceiling fins made of recycled water bottles from Turf Design. This helped create a unified look above and improve the acoustics.
Upon entering the Foundation, Studio Gang displayed a massive model room, Cavenagh’s favorite spot. It features splayed-out models of the Guggenheim Museum itself, where curators and designers create mini mock-ups and layouts for exhibits. This sets the tone for an active, but manageable mood within the spacious environment. In the old office, employees used to be stepping over each other and there wasn’t room for quiet work or loud collaboration; the new office gives employees the best of both worlds.
“We’re always doing interiors work thinking holistically about the space as an extension of architecture,” said Cavenagh. “We’re passionate about how we build for the future. The Guggenheim is stepping into a new chapter of growth and we hope this office will help them work smarter and feel better about their daily environment.”