Though exposed ductwork and scraped-bare brick walls have become familiar commercial interior ingredients, they can introduce the visitor to a low-key grandeur. Hong Kong–based B&Co. and New York–based Spacesmith collaborated to celebrate these stripped-down elements in the design of a new office and showrooms in the Empire State Building in New York for Hong Kong–based Li & Fung Global Brands Group, which sources and makes clothing for hundreds of brands.
“We envision, design, produce, and sell wholesale,” says Haim Dabah, the company’s executive director and group president. And in the volatile apparel retailing market, much rides on how fluidly in-house designers can collaborate with marketers, buyers, and far-flung contractors. The Empire State Building didn’t draw the company so much with its lofty presence in the skyline, but with the 100,000-square-foot sixth floor that could place these players in close proximity with one another.
Evoking a manufacturing environment
Given the cacophony that greets mall shoppers these days, the consistent palette of neutral colors and background textures that the designers selected for Li & Fung’s space comes as a surprise.
The concept was developed by Branko Pahor of B&Co., and has been fleshed out with subtle discipline by Spacesmith, led by principal Marc Gordon. Ductwork, wiring harnesses, and other infrastructure hang exposed from the 17-foot-high concrete ceiling, but have been discreetly tidied. The designers were not intimidated by the ceiling height, and instead embraced it to enhance spatial generosity.
Video wall welcomes and introduces brands
Visitors are greeted by a 12-foot-high video wall, which shows off apparel collections as diverse as Sperry Top-Sider, Adrienne Vittadini, and Sean Jean. A terraced, board-faced reception desk acts as a hinge as it inflects at an angle toward a suite of brand management offices.
A lounge alcove, adjacent to the reception area, has pendant fixtures featuring clusters of transparent, incandescent bulbs that accent a grouping of a table and chairs.
Opposite the reception desk is a broad internal corridor lined with ceiling-mounted LED floodlights that vary light levels—a pleasant echo of the fashion runway. The corridor leads into an open area, including a kitchen and refectory tables, that accommodates casual meetings ranging from just a few buyers to hundreds of them during brand events and market weeks.
The more than 20 airy showrooms lining the corridor are fronted with full-height, frameless glass walls and doors to entice visitors with the focus on the merchandise on display. All that glass also draws daylight from the oversized windows deep into the floorplate. A range of light fixtures is used throughout the showrooms to render fabric colors consistently, and most are LEDs to meet the strict energy-use standards established by the owners of the Empire State Building. Dropped soffits wrapping the perimeter of each showroom conceal strip uplights and pairs of floods that evenly light pinup space, racks, and shelving. Oversized, bell-shaped pendants hang above the conference tables within the showrooms.
On the opposite end of the floor in the vast, open-plan workspace—which spans nearly an acre—design teams work close to the windows at rows of desks separated by low glass partitions that encourage collaboration. Closer to the building core, standup layout tables are located across from floodlit alcoves for pinning up samples and discussing design work. Nearby, compact storage offers ready access to finished garments. Though much of the workspace is inevitably far from windows, the high, exposed ceiling, illuminated by uplighting, avoids the claustrophobia that workers would feel if ceiling heights were more conventional for an office.
The large, open floorplate allows for a highly fluid workplace and a collaborative environment, which Dabah felt was needed to maintain high standards from conception to sales. Managers can quickly access people necessary to focus a collection rollout or solve a problem. Dabah pointed to a snack kitchen at the center of the workspace: “This is important internally for the message it sends. It fosters collaboration between design, sales, and marketing.”
Li & Fung Global Brands Group
- Design Architect: B&Co.
- Associate Architect: Spacesmith
- Client: Li & Fung Global Brands Group
- Where: New York
- What: 100,000 square feet on one floor
- Cost/sf: Withheld at client’s request
Key Design Highlights
- By leaving ductwork and other infrastructure exposed, the architects emphasize the expansiveness of the 17-foot-high ceilings.
- Canted corridor walls with glass fronts entice visitors to enter showrooms.
- LED lighting meets the building’s strict energy codes and evenly illuminates fabrics.
- In open work areas, desks are positioned near windows, and collaborative work areas are situated closer to the core.