NEW YORK – For 120 years, New York-based, non-profit Van Alen Institute has hosted numerous awards and fellowships to promote visionaries within the fields of architecture and design – including the Chrysler Building architect himself after which it was rechristened in 1995. One of the organisation’s most recent competitions, 2013’s Ground/Work, sourced a design for its own new space on the ground floor of 30 West 22nd Street where it would relocate its full operation. Collective-LOK – a collaboration between Americans Jon Lott (PARA-Project), William O’Brien Jr (WOJR) and Michael Kubo (over,under) – designed the winning submission, selected from over 120 entries by 1000 public voters and an official competition jury. The concept is entitled Screen Play and employs sliding partitions, as well as an unusually-shaped floor plan to create a flexible space for Van Alen’s diverse functions. Jon Lott explains more about details of the design and Collective-LOK.

This interior has a warm, off-white ambience thanks to some really subtle textures. How did you develop the material palette for this project?

For us, the building’s materiality was in service of our broader concepts about its urbanism and spatial character. We wanted to empty the space, to allow for the kinds of flexibility that the Van Alen brief required. This meant using the walls, ceiling and floor to screen or reveal the secondary elements that provide that flexibility. A luminous, gauzy ceiling of oblique grids absorbs – but also gives physical and visual access to – the infrastructure above. These surfaces give the ceiling the consistent character of an ambient, cloud-like light-source. The accordion wall is clad in a lustrous, rippling, grey fabric – giving a rhythm to the space and allowing the support spaces to be open or closed freely within a continuous surface. The texture of this wall is also set against another blank, white wall and a simple, wood floor. Outside, we bracketed both ends of the space with perforated, metal screens that extend the interior of the project into the city. In the end, we are hoping that the combination of materials produces a character that is simultaneously comfortable yet institutional – utilitarian yet refined.

How did you determine the bow-tie shape of the partition and organisation of spaces?

The bow tie in the plan creates a continuity with the urban context on the one hand, while producing a bottleneck to offer some separation between more public, street-oriented activities and more private areas of the space as needed. It functions as a poché zone to collect all of the smaller secondary spaces — conference rooms, library, storage, bathrooms — within a continuous figure that gives a strong definition to the main space. We set the dimensions of the bow tie according to the sizes of these secondary spaces – particularly the main conference room, which occupies the curve of the bow tie at its narrowest point. The flexibility of the accordion wall allows for any combination of these spaces with the main event space.

How did Collective-LOK come about? Is this a collaboration that will persist through multiple projects?

We actually came together to form Collective-LOK specifically around this project. Since winning the competition last year, we’ve extended our shared interest in the curatorial and cultural spaces in which art and architectural discourse takes place. We were finalists in the Young Architects Program at PS1 this past year and recently completed an entry for the Guggenheim Helsinki. We’re hoping there will be many more opportunities to come.

Photos Cameron Blaylock