The Winter Garden and Quirky.Com: Scott Spector Designs New York City
Jotham Sederstrom Jan. 31, 2012, 3:38 p.m.
Since breaking into Manhattan in 1998, the Spector Group has immersed itself in some of the city’s most notable design projects, including a series of assignments for NASDAQ, office designs for Internet start-up companies and some of the area’s earliest initiatives for data centers and telecom hotels, some of which are now being converted back to office use. Principal Scott Spector, 49, spoke to The Commercial Observer about one of his family-owned company’s biggest assignments, rebuilding the Winter Garden, as well as ongoing work for NASDAQ and what may be his most imaginative job yet—designing eclectic office space for Quirky.com with repurposed bowling alley materials.
The Commercial Observer: Buried under news about the rebuilding of Lower Manhattan is the unfolding reconstruction of the Winter Garden at the World Financial Center, which Brookfield Properties tapped the Spector Group to upgrade. How’s that going?
Mr. Spector: We’re working on that initiative for Brookfield and living that dream right now. They’re upgrading the Winter Garden area and creating a new pavilion. They’re creating the pavilion in front of the Garden to accept the traffic from below and tying in the Freedom Towers and the PATH train and all the retail at the base. It’s really the podium at the base. There’s also a market and dining terrace that’s being developed down there. But, I mean, it’s the dream relationship project. It’s so special. It’s going to be spectacular. They’re repurposing interior space and the entryway, so it doesn’t reference anything as it relates to the attacks [of 9/11] but it’s going to be gorgeous.
Farther uptown, the Spector Group just completed what I’ve been told is a pretty unique design for the tech company Quirky.com. How was that?
They literally just moved in this past weekend to the space we designed for them at 606 West 28th Street, the Terminal Building. And they took a nice chunk of space: plus or minus 30,000 feet on the seventh floor. I would say they have the ultimate benching concept. We ended up working very closely with the owner of the company, a gentleman named Ben Kaufman, and this guy is awesome.
Ben is a very hands-on owner.
Hands-on is not even the word for it. I mean, that’s his middle name. And if you know anything about Quirky.com, they basically develop concepts and different products and bring them to market ridiculously quickly with efficiency, and there’s workshops there, there’s an open benching plan and a large kitchen facility, which they use for testing. And they came from a kitchen that was maybe 6-foot by 9-foot in their old space, and this thing is maybe 80 feet by 70 feet now, within the overall zone—with bar seating and double ovens. You name it and it’s there. And the space is exposed—from ceilings to the old plank floors when the building was built in the early 1900s. The quirkier the better.
Was it challenging for the Spector Group to design in the building?
It was interesting. We worked hand-in-hand with the landlord of the building, who was a pleasure to work with, by the way. The space used to be old ministorage space so we kind of didn’t know what we were getting into until the full demolition was done because it’s been that way forever. And, again, with a client like Quirky, the more distressed and the more dinged up, the better. And that’s what he got. We finished it where we needed to finish it, but you had those old steel barn doors from the early 1900s that would close off certain areas, and we kept all of them. We cleaned them up enough to make them work but not enough to where you lost the antiquity of it. The space is absolutely gorgeous.
It’s a big building. How did you bring in more light and air to the space?
I believe we did put in one skylight. There were a few that existed in certain areas. They do have glazing on the perimeter, but not a great deal of it. And the whole interior space is obviously very well lit, within energy code, to make that work out, too, but we used lots of glass. We have lots of interior glass partitions. Every space is open to another space, so you’re borrowing space throughout the entire floor. And it’s a single floor plate, 30,000 square feet, and you can see from end to end.
It must be satisfying to work with tech companies, which seem to have less conventional ideas about office space.
Well, with benching in particular, here at Quirky we recycled bowling alley tops. It’s just that—it’s really cool. I mean, picture the benching being produced by all of the great manufacturing companies—the Herman Millers and the Knolls. We found this material, with Ben, up in either Newbridge or Hudson, N.Y., just in this one major center, and he bought all of the bowling alley tops at pennies on the dollar.
Do you have regular spots where you hunt for this repurposed material?
To a degree. You know, it comes to us, plus we go there. And we have friends in the business who can direct us to places where, say, they’ve just gotten a massive shipment. Also, furniture recycling companies tell us about a few different spots. But this one we discovered together. I think Ben had also been there before.
Is using repurposed material becoming more popular among more conventional clients, like law firms and financial services office users?
I think that as you see the social networking sector much more open and much more comfortable. You’ll also see it elsewhere, so yes—but with that specific clientele. The beanbag is back! In other words, I think the open plan is shifting. The aesthetic is not—or not yet. But some have tried to transition. We’re working with a few different law firms right now and the ratio of paralegal and legal secretary to partner is not 1:1 or 2:1 or 3:1 anymore—it’s more like 5:1 or 10:1 these days. So you have five open work stations for one principal compared with just one before.
The Spector Group has been working with NASDAQ in 2002. What have you done for them lately?
We started with them almost when we broke into the city. We just finished a 60,000-square-foot installation for them in Rockville, Md., in their regional facility there. It’s now the NASDAQ-OMX, since they bought the Norwegian Stock Exchange. We just did an installation there borrowing some of the standards that we created back in 2002, believe it or not. But we did a shift. A lot more people came out of offices in this move than they’ve ever had before. I mean, basically there are no offices there—none. Even their legal group came out of private offices. And it’s been received by their vice president of corporate services and their director of real estate quite well. I think there was the natural pulling people out of offices into the open plan over the process that was challenging. I mean, you had people who had been in offices that were 10-by-20 for 10 years, and they’re going into an enlarged workstation or interior suite setup. It took a lot of education. We installed a lot of acoustics, mini phone rooms and caucus rooms to give that comfort. But once they’re there and they have to live it, it’s been received well.
Is NASDAQ a big office user? People mostly know about them operating in Times Square and lower Manhattan.
They have a tremendous amount of square footage, both in Manhattan, downtown and Times Square, but primarily downtown. In 1 Liberty Plaza, I think they’re on three floors. And we’ve recycled and upgraded that space over the years. And Rockville is very large, and they’re in Chicago and in Pennsylvania. It’s an electronic exchange so it’s all data driven, not space driven.
You’ve done a significant amount of work designing data centers, including at 470 Vanderbilt Avenue, where last year the Human Resources Administration inked one of the biggest leases of the year. It’s no longer a telecom hotel, but what was it like designing that space?
We were the original architect for 470 Vanderbilt Avenue. It was an 800,000-square-foot redevelopment of a building that was in pretty bad shape. It was a collection of five buildings, and we basically created a data center and telecom hotel with all the infrastructure—from generators to everything else. We redid the whole building. We gutted it, repurposed it. There was a common lobby, and any tenant that went in there could tap into risers and fuel and et cetera. It had rack space and access to generator power. And we redid the whole building.
With an assignment like that, you probably always had to keep in mind that, as a data center, it wouldn’t be housing tons of employees.
Absolutely, but it still had to have the egress that it needed. So we had plenty of stairs there—we had more than enough. And even if an office user went in there it could accommodate that. So it was always designed with the intent—with that god-forbidden intent—that if it had to house office users it had that exit strategy. And, in fact, that building was also studied for residential at one point. So that building is a perfect example of something being repurposed, and the Carlyle Group had an exit strategy if that telecom piece died, and it’s worked out pretty well.
You’ve come from a long line of architects.
I’m a lucky guy, right? No, but it’s my father and my brother. My father has retired.
Do you all wear black-framed designer glasses?
I don’t wear the glasses. My father does, and my brother does—but not me.