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Solution of the Month

Another Manís Treasure: In renovating a TV studio into offices for AECOM, daylight goes from problem to priority.

Michielli + Wyetzner
January 2011

By David Sokol

Bountiful daylight was far from the minds of the previous occupants of the twelfth floor of a 1910 building in Manhattan’s West Chelsea neighborhood. In its earlier incarnation, the 8,900-square-foot interior was a television studio for taping cooking shows. To maintain balanced light levels in these idealized kitchens and dining areas, their makers covered an original rooftop monitor and coated the ceiling in black paint.

AECOM Offices
Photo © Alexander Severin/RAZUMMEDIA
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Reviving that skylight became an essential component of Michielli + Wyetzner’s dramatic transformation of the space on behalf of its latest tenant EDAW, which merged with AECOM Design + Planning shortly before moving in, in the autumn of 2008. The urban design and landscape firm’s previous home was like a tenement in plan, according to firm cofounder Michael Wyetzner, AIA, and similarly dark. EDAW not only craved daylight for its new space, but also “they didn’t want it to feel corporate,” says partner Frank Michielli, AIA. Add the staff’s preexisting sustainability awareness and reintroducing the central monitor was indubitable; implementation of vermicomposting, eco-resin work surfaces, a bicyclist-friendly shower, and energy-efficient mechanical systems were all incorporated into this, too, to achieve LEED Gold.

Since the 10-by-10-foot skylight is larger than its predecessor, expanding the opening required some additional steel reinforcement. The final product amplifies daylight entering the building’s extensive north and south exposures, all of which work in tandem with lighting controls to reduce overall electricity consumption.

To ensure daylight penetration from the inside-out, the skylight tops a conference room, which is entirely glassed in by panels that are movable on the two short sides of the room’s rectangular plan. Because the steel-framed panels could not be hung from the interior’s original vaulted terracotta ceiling, the architects deployed trusses to install the panel tracks, tying those trusses to the building’s structural steel beams. The track is off-the-shelf, the panels custom-fabricated and custom-welded.

The panel system also accommodates the staff’s collaborative work style without demanding extra square footage. By configuring and reconfiguring the movable planes, the conference room becomes large or small, a seminar room or auxiliary pin-up space, traditional meeting place or gallery. Tweaking the layout requires a simple push and a gentle stop: “We designed the panels so they are center-hung, with extension flanges preventing them from locking or swinging into one another,” Wyetzner explains, with Michielli adding, “The panels were heavy enough that they could brake without specifying lockdown pins.”

By minimizing vertical obstructions like lockdown pins, Michielli and Wyetzner underscored the thoroughness of their illumination scheme. In a similarly spirited move, the design team specified collaboration-friendly workstations sporting 18-inch dividers. And to service those desks, it installed electrical troughs in the 3-inch-deep plank floor, thereby preventing conduit from dangling from the ceiling. Although the client recently began realizing Michielli + Wyetzner’s concept for a rooftop garden, already it’s as if AECOM employees are working outside.

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