Open Lobby by Lindsey May / Anna Knoell
Identify a public space
It is easy to walk through the city without seeing the corporate lobby.
However, with renewed awareness, it quickly becomes wildly clear and glaringly frustrating that these spaces have an overwhelming foothold in Manhattan’s ground floor–some of the city’s most precious real estate. And though they sit just next to the sidewalk, they are off-limits to the public. They are largely empty around the clock–hermetic vivariums of marble, glass, and security.
Currently, the lobby projects an outmoded corporate image of stability and security. Today, traffic and corporate identity are managed by web presence, not architectural articulation. The lobbies of East Midtown are empty symbols of an corporate regime that has come and gone, and the preservation these spaces is an offensive underutilization of rare urban space.
Free speech has many forms. Commonly understood only in terms of protest, the concept should encompass all the ways people express themselves freely, including their day-to-day work. This proposal addresses the inclusive and open practice of coworking which enables independent work practices free from traditional structure and oversight.
Within East Midtown alone, there are hundreds of thousands of square feet of underutilized corporate lobby space. This emptiness begs for reconsideration and reuse. Sitting idly at the intersection of the public sidewalk and the private office tower, this precious real estate is tantalizing site of overlap. The lobby is perfectly situated to be the intersection of public space, free speech, and the emerging culture and practices of coworking.
Today, we are more mobile, agile, and connected to each other than ever before. Our new technologies and capabilities have enabled us to work in expanding ways. However, we still demand to meet and work in public or social settings, tacitly acknowledging the importance of face-to-face interaction. Working alone or in teams, we continue to seek out shared spaces to feel productive. In New York City however, where real estate is the ultimate premium, this is a challenge.
The city lacks open, accessible, inviting public space, because we continue to accept urban space as a system of inside/outside, private/public, personal/shared. But just as we have started to dissolve these binaries in other realms, urban space demands to be reconsidered. The inventive architect and planner can take up this charge.
Open Lobby is a public-private partnership between the city and property owners which develops an open, affordable, and comfortable network of coworking spaces. As a decentralized system, Open Lobby can evolve and grow. As a public program, Open Lobby is diverse and inclusive. As an affordable workplace, it combats the expensive and exclusive coworking models that currently dominate the market.
As the way we work changes, the city–both in its policies and built environment–must change with it. The goal of Open Lobby is to provide a progressive form of public space through tactical transformations of existing lobby components in order to support a new entrepreneurial and independent culture of work.
Open Lobby coordinates the exchange of urban-scale benefits and contributions in support of a new public program. This program structures mutually positive exchanges for its three stakeholders: the city, the property owner, and the public. The system is self-financing and self-sustaining only with the crucial involvement of each stakeholder.
At stake for the city is the creation of a new public amenity that responds to the changing culture of work and attracts both new residents and global travelers. At stake for the property owner is ability to continually monetize the square footage of the lobby while also reinvigorating the corporate connection to the public realm. Through development incentives and tax abatements, property owners are compensated for their willingness to host Open Lobby. Lastly, the public is provided with an accommodating, inclusive, and affordable workspace.
Alongside the structuring of existing, but disparate, incentives, this proposal puts forth design criteria which dismantles the most alienating and hermetic aspects of existing lobby spaces in order to carve out generous public work space. This proposal outlines design strategies for the corporate lobby’s principal components: Security & Circulation, Structure & Flooring, Materials & Acoustics, Lighting, and Facade & Thresholds.
Lindsey May & Anna Knoell
Lindsey May is a Masters of Architecture candidate at Princeton University. Lindsey developed the policy and planning structures integral to this project. She also analyzed the existing and latent lobby systems and proposed the Open Lobby design criteria.
Anna Knoell is an architectural designer working in New York City. Anna has a Masters of Architecture from Princeton University. Anna developed the identity of Open Lobby and the strategies for communicating its operation, scope, and context.