Endless table materializes intra-office connectivity in plywood, MDF, and epoxy.When Culver City-based Clive Wilkinson Architects (CWA) sat down with representatives of the Barbarian Group to discuss renovating the advertising agency's new 20,000-square-foot office, one word kept coming up: connection. "Before, they were all in offices designed for one person, but crammed five in each, and scattered," recalled associate principal Chester Nielsen. "It was a pain. Bringing everyone into the open, and having them feel like they were all connected was super important." The architects elected to "surgically gut" the leased New York Garment District loft to create a central workspace for between 125-175 employees. To materialize the theme of connection, they zeroed in on the idea of a single work surface, an endless table later christened the Superdesk. With 4,400 square feet of epoxy-coated surface atop a support structure comprising 870 unique laser-cut plywood panels, the Superdesk is a triumph of programmatic creativity. "Building a big table was not an obvious solution," said Nielsen, "but it's a simple one." The Superdesk began as a series of sketches by president Clive Wilkinson. "Upon first impression we got to this squiggly table," said Nielsen. "It worked really well. Honestly, we've just been refining that." The table's undulating surface lifts and lowers, to indicate subtle divisions between departments, and to create arched overpasses above intra-office "cow paths." The grotto-like spaces under the archways double as intimate gathering areas for up to eight people. From the sketches, the architects built two physical models—the first rough, the second more refined—before taking the design into Revit and Rhino. There they further fine-tuned the form and prepared it for fabrication by Machineous LLC. "Machineous wanted the project very much; they were a good partner on this," said Nielsen. "We worked back and forth to tweak what we needed to make the table constructible." Machineous laser-cut the component parts, including the plywood ribs that shape the Superdesk's archways, using vintage automotive-industry robots. Machineous flat-packed the cut pieces and shipped them to New York, where the desk was assembled on site. The Superdesk's walls are framed in 2-by-4 lumber faced with plywood; plate steel brackets connect the various wood elements. Machineous bonded the MDF tabletop and painted it a shimmering white to give it the appearance of a single connected surface. The crowning achievement of the fabrication process—and the literal polish on the project—was a continuous epoxy pour, completed by rotating teams over a 24-hour period. Despite the complications inherent to prefabricating and installing a massive piece of furniture on opposite coasts, CWA and Machineous managed to deliver their innovative take on contemporary office culture both on time and within Barbarian Group's tight budget. "Something quite notable from the perspectives of both design and fabrication is that it's the same cost as going to Office Depot" for conventional desks, noted Nielsen. What is more, with plenty of surface area for laptops and the other, increasingly minimal, accoutrements of the modern workplace, and with a data and power track built into its walls, the Superdesk "is very, very flexible," he said. "Unlike a typical office [layout], it can change in a day."
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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!
Camila Schaulsohn is Communications Director and Editor-in-Chief of e-Oculus. She was born and raised in Santiago, Chile.
It’s hard enough for west coast firms to make it into architecture publications, but Clive Wilkinson has made it into the vaunted pages of the New Yorker. In the “Talk of the Town,” writer Nick Paumgarten describes Wilkinson’s thousand-foot-long, resin-topped “superdesk,” which he designed for New York ad agency Barbarian Group in Chelsea, as “swerving around the giant loft space like a mega slot-car track.” Barbarian calls the desk “4,400 square feet of undulating, unbroken awesomeness to keep people and ideas flowing.” In fact the desk even played a major role in a recent company party, and Paumgarten wondered if the desk itself might be taking on human characteristics: “One got a sense, after a while, that the superdesk might be capable of consciousness, that it was observing the humans as they heedlessly laughed and flirted and left glasses of wine on its carapace, and that it might be developing longings and resentments, or plotting its revenge.”