By John Rufo
When one thinks of a great second floor office lease to complete the picture of a vibrant retail center, you couldn’t really ask for better than the Examity space at Newton Nexus. The existing second floor shell, recently retrofitted by Form + Place and Construction Coordinators Inc (CCI), spans the entire second level of the endcap building above Boston Ballet and Boston Ski & Tennis and now serves as a catalyst of visual interest and light to and from Newton Nexus. The space itself is long and very narrow in plan and the strip windows perched above the retail center show it off from the ground as well as provide a panoramic view of Nexus and ample natural light for Examity employees.
The long proportions and potential for significant natural lighting of the space informed the character and design resolution of the project. In some places, however, the existing shell posed challenges that required team decision making on the fly. Some days we were literally designing as we stood in the space with Examity, CCI and Crosspoint Associates - the landlord and developer of Newton Nexus. It was quite a collaborative effort!
From the start Examity conveyed that they wanted a very open environment with a central focus on food offerings throughout the day for employees. Michael London, CEO of Examity asked for a “great café feel” when you enter the space; something welcoming with a hospitality focus. This presented the opportunity to create real synergy with Newton Nexus as the feel of wide open and inviting experience continues up and into the Examity space.
A critical piece to creating an airy and dynamic environment was to design an open ceiling in as much of the space as possible. The existing hung ceiling was 8’-5” above the floor and made for a pretty oppressive environment, but demolishing the ceiling wasn’t possible until the lease was completed, and by the time it was finally executed, the schedule was tight in order to be open for Examity’s busy season. Once the ceiling was opened, the design changed radically to accommodate the existing HVAC and cable trays, gain more headroom and highlight other “latent features” such as the unique grid of concrete beams supporting the roof. Despite the tight timeline, Examity asked us to continue to explore the potential in exposing more and more of the ceiling, which in the end, makes for an edgy and fun space to be in.
Another existing condition that turned into an opportunity was a hidden structural wall with a long window opening that was tucked into the middle of the space. When the first addition was added to the building several decades ago, this piece of exterior wall was simply framed over and left concealed in drywall partitions. Since we couldn’t just remove it without causing structural issues, the project team decided to keep the wall, open the old window, and capitalize on the condition by creating a bar area for gathering and socializing. Examity celebrated this idea further by displaying vintage liquor and wine bottles at the sides of the bar to increase the sense of placemaking and respite from the work day.
As previously stated, the parti for the plan solution is mostly driven by the existing building context. Because of the high clerestory-like windows on the “back side” of the space overlooking the Boston Ballet roof, the logical space planning diagram was to gang offices, conference rooms and other enclosed spaces primarily along the back edge and allow the larger windows overlooking Nexus to flood the open office areas with light. The larger context of the retail center and activity of Needham Street, seen from these strip windows, further sets the mood of a vibrant and active setting for Examity. Mixed-use synergy across the continuum of placemaking is a great plus for any working environment, be it office or retail. Not too long ago these kinds of stories did not exist along Needham Street and the N-Squared Innovation District, but now, with thoughtful panning and programming, we are beginning to see a variety of placemaking efforts and a synergistic mix of uses that make this regional node a desirable place to live, work and play.