Case Studies: Floors, Walls & Ceilings Focus

Our selection of nine projects takes you around the world to see how each is a standout, innovative scheme through the choice of surface materials

Crew Collective offices and cafe, Montreal
All Images: Jesús Adrien Williams

Located in the old Royal Bank space on St-Jacques Street in Old Montreal, Canada, the Crew Collective offices and cafe is a project defined by a 1,100 sq m office area for a tech start-up that also includes a cafe for use by freelance workers and the public. The project presented two distinct design challenges: the first originated from the client’s requirements – how to elaborate an architectural relationship and construct boundaries between the various functions. The second became a deeper questioning of how to approach design in the context of a heritage building.

The complexity of the project required a high degree of fluidity between the various work spaces. Part of the floor area was to be designated for permanent Crew Collective employees, and was to contain conference rooms as well as other office standards. Other areas were to be rented to freelance workers either by the month or by the week, with these workers also needing access to conference rooms. Lastly, temporary workers or the public could also use the cafe and the desks for a few hours, have wi-fi access, and lockers for their own computers as required. This environment was meant to create a flow and enable interactions between permanent and temporary workers, nurturing co-working in the tech community.

The design was meant to facilitate this flow by creating transparent and translucent borders between the various office spaces. A complex series of glass walls was erected between the various areas, with a defined access to reflect the degree of permanency for each worker group. Original bank teller stands, dating back from the old Royal Bank, had to be retained. As a consequence they became a natural border between the cafe space and the conference rooms that, in turn, created a separation between the more public spaces and the permanent workers.

Retained teller stands create a natural boundary between conference rooms and the cafe space beyond

The teller stands – as well as the existing building shell – offered a great design opportunity as a rich and textured background; a testimony to another era, which could thrive with a new function redefining its purpose. The 1926 building contained many remarkably crafted elements: an inlay marble floor; an ornate painted plaster ceiling along with custom suspended brass light fixtures; and other brass elements including the teller stands.

Architect Henri Cleinge says: ‘Brass-plated steel was selected for most enclosures to contrast the existing brass teller stands and brass suspended light fixtures. The new brass-plated steel components are simple and geometric; hence, very contemporary. The challenge was to define an intervention that would fit in well, yet offer something new.’ Confronted with this heritage ambience, the design had to be balanced to express, recycle and respect the existing features, as well as simultaneously allowing a contemporary, discreet intervention for the contemporary identity of the firm to exist. 

The new design integrated brass-plated steel throughout, fixed to boxy minimal enclosures, in order to connect yet also add contrast to the existing ornate brass elements. The conference rooms were divided by walls covered with brass-plated steel and enclosed with glass partitions and a horizontal plane of a ceiling. By coincidence they ended up relating to the paper compartments in the old freestanding teller stands where deposits were noted with pen and paper.

Cleinge adds: ‘In terms of other materials, concrete panels, hot-rolled steel, granite and white oak were used. These are rich in texture, pattern, colour and patina. We like using them because they are not static and each piece has its own personality. The forms are contemporary, but the materials are somewhat timeless.’ The new design remains a kind of secondary feature, allowing the original building to be the primary aesthetic. It is only by being in the space for a certain amount of time that visitors can really appreciate the new intervention.

Installation Dance Floor, Museum of Fine Arts, Montreal
All Images: Maxime Brouillet

Architect Jean Verville won a competition to create an urban art project in the city’s Museum Avenue. Installed during the summer just gone, his elegant installation Dance Floor offers a lively landscape animated by an exuberant trompe-l’oeil effect.

With Verville’s design, visitors experience movement, both free and structured, adding an eye-catching component to the external environs of the competition’s organiser, the Museum of Fine Arts.

With 279 sq m of paving made of more than 5,000 metallic gold-painted footprints, the installation’s mosaic – reminiscent of hammered gold – is a nod to the theme of the museum’s recent exhibition Pompeii.

Holiday Inn, Brooklyn, New York
All Images: Inessa Photography

Eschewing a long-standing brand convention, interior designer Andres Escobar and his team at Escobar Design by Lemay, have created a new design platform for a Holiday Inn hotel in Brooklyn. The 14-floor glass-and-brick hotel, featuring 245 guest rooms, represents an altogether different aesthetic for the hotel brand.

The hotel has been designed to appeal to a broad range of travellers, from business to leisure visitors, who regard this area of Downtown Brooklyn as a trend-setting destination. Reinforcing the cutting-edge spirit is an entrance area that introduces a custom-designed mosaic mural of Brooklyn Bridge behind a full-height water feature.

It was important that the design reflects the area’s exciting transformation,’ says Escobar. ‘From the moment guests walk through the front doors we want them to be delighted by the glamour of the hotel, as well as its comfort.’ The lobby walls are clad with natural walnut over floors of macchiato quartz. A reception area is highlighted by a backlit decorative chrome and brass metal grid detail that is carried over to the lifts’ interiors.

Other custom-design elements include several large, crystal prism-shaped, pendant chandeliers that refract light throughout the lobby space. Another unusual element is a fully landscaped greenhouse off of the lobby, with an atrium that is partially covered by shades to create a soothing, ambient light.

Escobar has also designed a dark azure pool with a waterfall and glass wall overlooking a fully equipped gym. The Holiday Inn Brooklyn was the first of five of Escobar’s hospitality projects to be completed in New York this year.

Tokyo Sushi restaurant, Barcelona

Tokyo Sushi is the oldest Japanese restaurant in Barcelona, Spain. With a history spanning 36 years, the restaurant recently sought to update its interior design with a style that would combine traditional Japanese aesthetics with a modern touch. KOBFUJI Architects specified Formica Group’s Terril with Matte 58 finish to clad the 10m-long wall behind the sushi bar. Terril was used in square panels to create an interpretation of the classic kimono stripe pattern from the Edo era – capturing the Japanese heritage integral to the restaurant’s identity.

Architect Yoshihide Kobanawa says: ‘The decor is almost as important as the food itself, as it is a reflection of the restaurant’s essence. In order to visually portray the concept of fusion kitchen, linking traditional and contemporary flavours, special designs are required to offer a visually inventive fusion of traditional elements and new technologies.’ The panels, made by Medio, are composed of modules that follow a sloping, perforated pattern. Joints are invisible so that the panelling is perceived as seamless. It also features a hidden LED lighting system, which highlights the graphic pattern designed as the brand image of the restaurant.

Tano Cucina Italiana restaurant, Grand Hyatt, Rio de Janeiro

Italian culture and gastronomy have been a big part of Brazilian life ever since the first Genoese sailors and merchants set foot there during the Renaissance, and the team from Studio Arthur Casas built on this heritage for its design for the Rio Grand Hyatt’s Italian restaurant, Tano Cucina Italiana.

‘The restaurant was a wide open space and we had decided on minimalist, modern furniture and a solid wood floor, from Hakwood. That’s why we needed to create some fixed partitions to make it more intimate and cosy,’ says Casas. ‘We created solid wood shelves, displaying selected objects that bring to mind the greengrocer shops and grocery stores typical of the Italian community in Brazil.’ The chosen textures and colours reference the ‘old country’ too.

Says Casas: ‘The green and earth colours of the tiles and fabrics are explicit references to the colours of the Italian flag. But there are subtler hints as well, such as the choice for an open kitchen, where you see the chef and his team prepare fresh pasta. It gives the place a warm feel.’ As well as its Italian aesthetic, the scheme has been created to also give a very real sense of place. Casas adds: ‘In Tano Cucina Italiana we used a lot of solid wood, a common material throughout pre-industrial Europe as well as in colonial Brazil. The natural character of Hakwood’s flooring resonates strongly with that theme.’

Novotel Madrid
All Images: Jesús Granada

Introducing nature into the hotel was the premise of design practice International Hospitality Projects (IHP) for the renovation of the Novotel Madrid Center. The four-star hotel is in one of the most central, best-known parts of Madrid, adjacent to the Salamanca district and close to the El Retiro Park. It is the world’s largest Novotel: 790 rooms and almost 7,000 sq m of common areas. The remodel covered the building’s entire interior space, including lobby, bar/restaurant, conference rooms and guest rooms, as well as the new nature-inspired foyer (pictured above).

With the primary objective of reorganising the space to make it more functional, IHP made the most of the large area that was available to create many more open zones, updating the interiors to give a sensation of spaciousness. The challenge was a vast 360-degree remodel that gives the hotel an attractive, contemporary image. An architectural plaza invites guests into the hotel, through a forest of trees made of steel, topped with foliage of green crystal. This bright and airy structure covers the majority of the plaza. From here, guests enter directly into a warm, harmonious setting that evokes nature in the form of a green wall. The main floor is designed to highlight the fluidity of the space and to orient the hotel’s visitors.

The view of the main lobby is made of six large Hi-Macs pillars with backlit rhomboid patterns that portray a geometric abstraction of the tree trunks and their leaves. These epic structures, in the form of asymmetrical prisms, are the focal point of the lobby and the backbone of the hotel. With the aim of giving the hotel an updated, contemporary image, three straight structures with diffused underlighting were chosen for the reception desks, given even greater emphasis by the presence of three large ‘smokestacks’ hanging from the ceiling above and illuminated at the base.

All of these elements are made of Hi-Macs in Alpine White, in contrast to the back part of the desk, which is printed crystal. A new side entrance for groups was also created, where a large trapezoidal structure lit from within – also made in Hi-Macs – defines the space between the staircase and the ramp. In its lighter tones, Hi-Macs possesses a notable translucence when backlit, for luminous effects with a high visual impact, coming directly through the material. IHP’s project designer Paolo Mauri says: ‘We needed to be able to create something that would have a real impact, from a visual and aesthetic point of view.

Hi-Macs gave us the ability to create impactful elements, while still being a material that is neutral, long-lasting and easy to maintain – all of which were characteristics that the client required.’ The Alpine White colour of the solid surface material also complements the original marble flooring, which was retained to create an elegant space full of personality. ‘The choice of Hi-Macs was a step forward,’ adds Mauri. ‘We moved from a classic, traditional material such as marble to an innovative one with many different aesthetic possibilities and which is also very hard-wearing.’ On the same floor is the bar and restaurant. The 6m-long bar is a single piece of steel fronted in backlit Alpine White Hi-Macs, with changeable lighting that, combined with the large video wall, enables the atmosphere of the space to be altered throughout the day.

Amanhã Museum, Rio de Janeiro

Corian has been used to create the dramatic backdrop and furniture for the permanent collection of the newly opened Amanhã Museum in Rio de Janeiro, a facility that is part of the revitalisation of the city’s docklands. With the museum’s main exhibition Cosmos, designed by American exhibition designer Ralph Appelbaum, it features huge monolithic areas inside that provide visitors with their first immersive experience on entering the museum. With space for 200 people, Cosmos enables visitors to experience a sensory journey through the universe, based on a virtual tour in a 360-degree dome.

One of the highlights of this first immersive experience is Cosmic Horizons, a series of six interactive tables in a cup shape measuring 130cm in diameter and 80cm tall. Again fabricated in Corian Nocturne, the tables include built-in monitors, allowing visitors to interact more deeply with aspects of the universe. The pieces are moulded using a vacuum technique and have tops with precise oval cuts. One of the key features of the design is the bevelled finishing, which allows for the installation of monitors and reading slots. The Tomorrow’s Tables feature has been fabricated in a similar way.

The three geometrically shaped tables each have different dimensions and are the focus of the ‘tomorrow’ theme that unfolds in an origami-shaped area in the museum. The tables have a metal frame designed to support each element, in Corian, and the multiple monitors, which alternate between showing a series of trends and scenarios and interactive activities that place the visitor in charge of constructing the world’s future. Located in the ‘We’ space in the museum, Churinga sacred objects invite visitors to reflect on what we will leave for future generations.

The Churinga base has a flattened circular design with different radii and angles, and measures 240cm in diameter and 55cm high. It was fabricated in Corian’s Rice Paper colour and then treated by artist Mana Bernardes with raw clay painting and handwriting to create a more rustic effect. In addition, embedded floodlights that illuminate a traditional Brazilian elders’ oca house. More than 400 signs and identification icons feature throughout the museum.

One of the most striking is the main logo, inspired by a ‘sticks’ game, which is composed of more than 300 pieces of Corian in Glacier White, decorated with 11 colours of automotive paint. The museum building itself was designed by Spanish neo-futuristic architect Santiago Calatrava.

Simmons & Simmons offices, Milan

For the new Milan headquarters of international law firm Simmons & Simmons, Massimiliano Locatelli of CLS Architects created a project intended to blend soft Italian elegance with clear modernist style. The contrasts unfold between tones of grey, white and black, contemporary and high-tech – such as FENIX NTM and Plexiglass – precious materials like marble and brass, and attention to detail throughout the spaces and on furnishings.

A key thread of the project, in an area of some 2,000 sq m in Galleria Vittorio Emanuele, one of the city’s most exclusive locations, is the seminato marble aggregate flooring, which has been conserved and enhanced with contrasting inserts in pale cement and black marble, suggesting the image of elegant carpet.

Doors and the arches above them are painted iron-black, creating a striking perspective effect through the contrast with the white walls. The entrance to the offices features a large reception desk in brushed brass, below a dramatic brass chandelier with handcrafted blown-glass luminaires.

The toilet facilities also have floors in seminato, joined by large-format tiles that inversely echo the colours of the floor. Elsewhere, tables of different sizes with tops in varying types of marble, with supports of iron and brass, stand in a large meeting room lit by transparent fluorescent prisms.

Waters Technologies, Wexford, RoI

FORMICA laminate has been specified by O’Driscoll Lynn Architects for the wall panelling of Waters Technologies office, meeting room and reception area as part of a renovation project at its site in Wexford, Ireland. The final phase of the 7,500 sq m manufacturing facility’s expansion required an elegant material for the interior to reflect the nature of the company. In designing the building, there was a conscious effort by the architect to employ simple, refined and hardwearing materials both for the internal and external finishes. Formica Ligna Grigio Fino in chiselled finish was selected in part for its natural-wood look aesthetic.

Architect Brian O’Driscoll says: ‘The building’s interiors were designed around a natural, subdued colour palette with carefully chosen highlight areas and furniture items. Ligna was an ideal fit since it complemented the existing porcelain tiles, simple white ceilings and monolithic white reception desk, while offering a textured wood look and durable finish.’

Unlike real wood, Formica Ligna has the advantage of having surface properties that include being impervious to liquids and being easy to clean and maintain. The material was also selected for its sustainable and environmental-friendly credentials as an alternative to solid wood. O’Driscoll adds: ‘The sustainable properties were a good fit with the project brief, which called for a LEED-certified building.

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