New York-based Teach For America is a nonprofit that recruits and enables recent college graduates to serve as teachers in public or public charter K-12 schools in low-income communities.
Excerpted from Contract:
As the personnel and scope of Teach for America expanded in recent years, the organization’s New York office began to outgrow its space, which had to function as more than just a place for employees to work at their desks. With an eye toward greater cohesiveness, the organization moved further downtown to the Financial District, hiring HOK, in collaboration with Pentagram, to design a more open and collaborative office.
To link the floors both vertically and horizontally, HOK created an open central staircase. With a range of different view corridors and shared program spaces—the entrance lobby, a kitchen and an open gathering area—arrayed alongside it, the staircase operates as much as a communal area as it does as a way to move between floors. A double-height space along the stairway provides a multifunctional area for various events.
“It’s an odd-shaped building,” concedes Tom Polucci, director of interior design for HOK’s New York office. As designers do, HOK transformed this potential setback into an advantage. Erika Reuter, an HOK associate and project manager, says, “the floor plan gave us an opportunity to create different environments throughout the office.” Color codes helped to further organize the interiors, as clusters of different programs became linked by color. Red, for example, denotes informal gathering areas, while yellow signifies audio-visual areas.
HOK designed the interiors through extensive dialogue with Teach for America, which had undertaken its own internal change management process to involve everyone in the transition. “It’s so helpful for the design process to have great client input,” remarks Polucci. The impact of that relationship speaks for itself.