"Everybody values the opportunity to connect, it's changing the way we think about space," says David Manfredi, who is a co-founder of the Boston-based firm Elkus Manfredi Architects. His firm completed the New Balance headquarters, also in Boston, in 2015 and Manfredi this week spoke to The Architect's Newspaper (AN), discussing how democratic design principles such as openness and connectivity shape his approach to architecture.
When the owner of New Balance, Jim Davis, hired Elkus Manfredi Architects to design the shoe company's headquarters, he told the architects to visit an old textile mill in Lawrence, Massachusetts and report what they saw. There, David Manfredi encountered a four story high, 600-foot-long riverside former mill, now occupied by New Balance, who uses it as a factory. "It’s beautiful classic New England building," Manfredi told AN. (A short video on the building can be found below).
"We found this incredible work environment that was designed for all these people to sit at their machines," he continued. "What I really saw was that everything that we strive for in the modern workplace. [Jim Davis] wanted us to see the quality of the space, the high ceilings… and how open and collaborative the whole space was."
The experience aligned with Manfredi's design ethos. At New Balance's headquarters, 650 people occupy the building yet there are only four private offices. "The historic traditional world of workspaces was related to stature. The boss’s room with a view, that’s all gone. We work now in environments where we now value connections to other people and not square footage," Manfredi argued.
In addition to a new headquarters, Davis also wanted a new health and wellness district including offices, dwellings, wellness facilities and a world-class training center.
"It's not just about making a building, it’s about creating a 360-degree environment," said Manfredi. The architect applied the same principles to address Davis' demands. Wellness (a topic that was featured in AN's recent print issue), openness, and connectivity all require the careful articulation of light, among other things. Apertures and openings, particularly in facade design, were crucial to these elements being successful.
"We had to create a whole series of destinations, making sidewalks with uses that engage pedestrians, such as
shops and usable open space where kids want to play."
"Our approach was that we wanted to be open, but this doesn't mean sprawling out with unnecessary surface parking," Manfredi added. "That way of thinking is in the past. Collaborating has changed, we achieve progress when connected, not in private. This is also a place for the next generation. Because of technology, we share everything online now—even my kids do it! My children and others won’t change when they get in the work workplace, they will expect to work in this environment of open innovation."
For this to happen, Manfredi argued that he had to "treat as much as the environment as publicly accessible, not trying to privatize, but instead to be democratic, so that spaces stay active past common hours of usage." An example of this can be seen with the Boston Warrior Ice Arena, where transparency facilitates a legible typological reading of the building. "How often to see an ice arena that has 40 feet of glass?" asked Manfredi.
David Manfredi will be speaking at the upcoming Facades+ conference this June. There, he will discuss this project and others in greater detail. To find out more about the Facades+ Boston conference and register, visit facadesplus.com. Seating is limited.