Architecture, Projects /

A Whale Tale

No, this is not a story about “the one that got away” or a close encounter with humpback whales while aboard a zodiac raft in Kauai (which actually happened). It is a humble story about a reception desk.

Lawrence Group was engaged by to design a new 29,000-square foot interior satellite corporate office space in New York City. The client envisioned a space that integrated interactive media with a progressive design. The energetic and vibrant location in the heart of Midtown suggested a signature presence.

The schematic design process commenced with an analysis of the city landscape and overlooking building views that were offered throughout the floor in coordination with the client’s space needs program. The floor was a blank canvas with the exception of the elevator and restroom cores present. As a result, we had the ability to define the elevator lobby and common area corridors thus controlling the circulation and experience to the new office entrances.

The preferred entry sequence into the office space resulted in designing around an existing passenger elevator core. The reception desk offered the first impression upon the floor’s arrival and would serve as the anchor and a critical design element. The desk design would evolve as the countertop folded and transitioned into an amorphous curved ceiling feature creating a physical connection to the public activity spaces (reception and pantry).

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During the design development phase, building materials were studied and supplemented with 3D modeling to determine how the ceiling element would warp into the desk. Several different options were investigated while also considering construction and assembly best practices. Detailing required a conscious effort as the desk would be constructed offsite, requiring disassembly to fit the components in a freight elevator to reach the designated office floor for final assembly.

As the desk was in the fabrication stage, it took on the moniker of the “Whale Tail” from the millwork contractor team due to its similar shape and characteristics. It became common practice to hear the name referenced during the remaining construction period.


Finally, the Whale Tail was realized as a result of the client’s vision, the design team’s creativity and response to context, and the contractor’s precise execution.

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Greg Trost