The James W and Lorraine R Watson Department of Design Office
The Art & Design Building was originally built as the Student Union for Central State College. It was between the school's cafeteria in the basement of Murdaugh Hall (a WPA structure from the 1930s) and the football field and stadium. The football field is now occupied by Broncho Lake and the HES Building. The stadium was along the north side, about where the sidewalk is along the lake. The Union had a snack bar (now the Jewelry Studio), game room (now Ceramics), and bookstore (now the Art Department office). Where the Graphic Design room and Painting studio are now was a large ballroom. The Design office, ClockTower Studio, and the MacLab were meeting rooms.
In 1968, the school built a brand new College Center (now named the Nigh University Center) and the old Union was vacated. Art faculty redesigned the Union spaces to serve as studios, classrooms, and offices for the Department of Art. Most art classes had been held in the basement of Evans Hall (where Interior Design classes meet now).
The Department of Design shared an office and a secretary with the Department of Art for over a year. A seldom-used classroom in the Art & Design building was cleared and gutted and construction began in the summer of 2002 to create a new office suite for the Department of Design. Jim Watson, Chair of the department, sought input, did a needs assessment, and designed the layout and interior of the new office. The department saved and put aside $15,000 for the new office. But the school administration took all the money in every department's accounts to cover some shortfall in the university budget. We lost the entire $15,000. Soon after, I was hiking in Red Rock Canyon outside of Las Vegas with beautiful weather and great scenery. Realizing that our new office would be just a used desk and chair in an otherwise empty room, I decided that we would still get our new office - I would pay for it myself. I later called my parents and they agreed to match my donation. We each donated $20,000 for a total of $40,000 to pay for the construction and furnishings in the new office. The university didn't pay a cent towards the new Department of Design office. The office was constructed by Warden Construction of Oklahoma City. It was named the James W. and Lorraine R. Watson Department of Design Office in recognition of the generous donation from James and Lorraine Watson of Dallas. The new office for the Department of Design had its grand opening on Friday, October 11, 2002.
I was asked to give tours and discuss the design concept and rationale for leadership groups and student and faculty groups. The design office became a stop on the prospective student campus tour route. After I stopped serving as chair and moved out of the office, however, some changes were made that didn't quite adhere to the design concepts.
Goals and objectives
Overcome dark spaces, no windows - seek lightness
Use contemporary materials and furnishings
Create a smooth flow from the hall into the office waiting area
Exploit the angled columns in hall as a unique architectural feature.
Not look academic
Be unique from all other offices on campus
Exude design, identify the department visually
Serve as an example of good design: appropriate for the user, attention to detail
Themes throughout the office
Toys and puzzles. Fun stuff to remind us of childlike awe, wonder, and curiosity. Senses we lose as adults but need as designers.
Angle of 30 degrees - standard angle from drafting triangles.
Materials - aluminum, wood, white walls, yellow accent walls and countertops.
Door handles are lever style for easier operation, especially when hands are full.
Electrical outlets and switches are the flat Decora style.
White walls, neutral, light.
Aluminum - industrial tech. exploits the angled steel columns in the gallery.
Light wood - white oak or maple
Yellow is cheerful, the color of intellect and used for mental stimulation. It helps the viewer think more quickly. Good for clearing a foggy head.
An early sketch that shows the beginning of the room-within-a-room at an angle idea. This angle is a result of thinking that the secretary, as the first contact greeter, should face the people entering the office. That necessitated turning the desk at an angle in order to face the doorway. That entry room needed to include space for guest chairs, secretary desk, copy machine, faculty mailboxes, and a work area. I didn't want the copy machine or work area to be readily visible from the guest entry area yet still be convenient to faculty in the office. The Chair's Office at the back of the suite was a given - its walls were existing from a previous remodel. Turning the desk at an angle became the driving point of unity that permeated the entire suite. It led to creating a rectangular room within the suite whose walls were at a 30 degree angle. Another objective was to hide most of the day-to-day office crap behind a low counter wall. That countertop provided a surface for information and additional toy/puzzles.
Initially, I didn't design the Chair's Office, I was just going to move my existing office furniture into the space. An adjunct faculty, viewing the plans, commented that it would be silly to invest in a new office and not include the Chair's Office. The entire suite should be designed to be impressive, not just part of it. He was right. I designed the office to respect the outer office.
Model of the office
I built this simple model out of foam core to help visualize the interior masses, traffic flow, and views from the hallway.
Tour of the office
The original brick walls are painted a neutral grey. The angled columns are highlighted with a coat of aluminum paint. To provide hanging of design work, there are rails that boards can slide within or be attached to. Lights are low-voltage track lights with an accent of blue shades. The chairs opposite the gallery walls are molded plastic with slots in the back to hold magazines.
The entry area
Set at a 30 degree angle to the boxy grid of the Art & Design building, the office lobby and waiting area is a literal example of 'breaking out of the box'. Welcoming to visitors, the entry is double door width. The doors swing into niches in the interior walls and practically disappear as doors and become the walls. The walls (and doors) are covered in white oak veneer to provide a lightening organic warmth.
The actual mail slots are a wood shelving unit with undulating front edges. The organic material and freeform front remind us that these relate to the humanness - the people of the department.
For faculty and staff use, a copy machine, typewriter, fax machine, and bulletin board for faculty notes. The bulletin board is a flat piece of sheet metal - notes are posted with magnets.
This space, to the back of the office suite, carries the same themes as in the outer office. The desk is a large yellow 30 degree triangle. It serves as work space, conference space, and desk. Sitting on top is a 50s era red bicycle. The bike is a focal point seen from the hall gallery and represents that moment in our childhood when we felt free - we could go farther on our own than ever before - and at great speeds. To mask a storage area, a screen of strands of chain hangs across one end. The opposite end of the office is a wall of floor to ceiling shelves.
There was a need for a professional environment for MFA candidate presentations, committee meetings, faculty meetings, student consultations, and ClockTower Studio client presentations. A former faculty office across the hall from the department office was remodeled to serve as the conference room. This space carries the themes from the department office across the hall to create a unified suite of departmental spaces.
Photos of the design office and gallery
The conference room
The grand opening of the new office
Dr. Christopher Markwood, Dean of the College of Arts, Media & Design
Mr. & Mrs. J.W. Watson, Donors to the Department of Design
Dr. Jim Watson, Donor and Chair of the Department of Design, 2001-05
Above: Design Office lettersign designed in 2002. Below: Google's NYC office, 2012.
Design: April 2002
Construction: June 2002
Grand opening: Friday, October 11, 2002
Move out: May, 2006