Photo: © Mariko Reid

Next World

Jensen Architects, Johanna Grawunder

San Francisco

By Lydia Lee

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San Francisco's multitudinous tech start-ups are not only making their mark in economic terms, they're redefining the workspace. To create alluring environments, youthful company owners overwhelmingly favor open floor plans, bright hues, fuzzy surfaces, and spacious lounges.

It was important for Next World, a venture-capital firm that specializes in these businesses, to show that they were tapped into the zeitgeist. However, the 25-person firm was looking for a polished version of such an office for its space in the historic district of Jackson Square, and commissioned a local architect known for his restraint rather than than ebullience, Mark Jensen, shown in such projects as SFMOMA's rooftop sculpture garden and, more recently, in Shed, a foodie outpost in Healdsburg, California.

Due to the significance of the building's historic location, the design team had to proceed in a gingerly manner. They expanded the single-story former factory, which had six existing skylights, and opened it to more daylight by creating a double-height glass-roofed entry and luminous penthouse that now serves as the company's main conference room. However, the additional level could not be visible from the street, so the architects set it back 10 feet from the facade. Then they demolished the walls that divided the 5,000-square-foot ground floor into a warren of rooms. Jensen's team also unearthed a sunken seating area—the circa-1920s concrete building had once been a cabaret—and expanded it into a large conversation pit.

To enhance the ambiance, Jensen brought in lighting designer and architect Johanna Grawunder, who created a layered electric lighting system to augment the daylight provided by the skylights. Her scheme includes a series of ambient recessed-LED fixtures and a strip of warm, 3,000-Kelvin (K) LEDs for uplighting, concealed in the soffit around the central space. She also ringed each skylight with color-changing LEDs that provide lighting at night and help set the mood for company parties in the central lounge.

Next World was intent on having some private offices to help productivity and concentration. Jensen wrapped the central area with glassed-in offices, offering acoustic privacy while maintaining the expansiveness the client desired. The architect pushed each office out with a 3-foot-deep “sunroom” to mimic the welcoming feeling of a row of storefronts around the communal area, blurring the edge between public and private space, and hung acoustic-felt panels, in a rainbow of colors, on the white walls inside.

“We wanted the space to be clean, almost gallery-like,” explains Jensen. “By introducing moments of color and heavy materiality in an otherwise neutral setting, the panels have the effect of paintings.”

Grawunder positioned glare-free, linear LED pendants over each desk within the enclosed work areas, butting them against the wall so that they appear to continue into the next office. “These are simple things that don't cost any more money, but you get a dashing effect,” she says.

To further reduce noise, the architects stretched white acoustic fabric across the ceiling of the main central space and conference room. More of this sound-absorbing textile covers LED tape above the reception area to create a glowing yet visually clean ceiling.

The brightest space is the upstairs conference room, where a selection of Eames molded-plastic chairs in jellybean hues surrounds a conference table made of salvaged California bay laurel. Here clients are encouraged to sit in a seat with an illuminating view: the iconic Transamerica tower, perfectly framed through a new skylight, shedding light on the potential of venture capital.

Architect: Jensen Architects — Mark Jensen, principal; Frank Merritt, Nick Sowers, lead architects; Paul Jones, Ryan Golenberg, Kim Cinco, Kyle Belcher, Erin Osberg, project team

Lighting Designer: Johanna Grawunder

Client: Next World

Size: 9,750 square feet

Completion date: May 2013

February 2014
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