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22 Jun 2010

Mono HQ by Chris Lange and Charlie Lazor

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  • Architect: Chris Lange and Charlie Lazor
  • Client: Mono
  • Location: Minneapolis, USA
  • Cost: $800,000
  • Duration: April 2008 - April 2010
  • Floor Space: 975 sq m

Decamping to a derelict screen-printing warehouse in arty uptown Minneapolis represented something of a homecoming for local firm Mono. Company founder Chris Lange had spent his adolescence rocking out in a garage band in the building’s basement, so when an acquaintance took over the lease, Lange set about convincing him that Mono was the perfect tenant.

At the time (2008) the company was expanding at a fairly rapid rate and its old building, a converted industrial shed, was starting to bulge at the seams.

“When we started there were three of us and by the time we left we had about 25 people,” says Lange.

The swelling ranks forced Mono into exploring some fairly novel ways to deal with the overspill.

“We only had one conference room so we put a silver airstream trailer in the yard and used it as our second conference room,” he says. Despite scoring maximum cool points, it was clear that the company needed a more permanent solution.

The new HQ had lain dormant for some 20 years, but Lange was quick to see the building’s untapped potential.

“We are very collaborative so we wanted to create a space that encouraged that collaboration”

To realise his vision for the space, he teamed up with architect and interior designer Charlie Lazor, one of the founders of Blu Dot furniture. Lazor was already on Mono’s radar, having friends in the company, and seemed a natural choice. What followed was not a typical architect-client relationship. Lange drove the main thrust of the design, while Lazor provided the expertise when it came to materials and space usage.

“We are very collaborative so we wanted to create a space that encouraged that collaboration, not only philosophically but also architecturally,” says Lange. “Charlie has a unique way of looking at materials and we wanted to do something away from the norm, so it seemed a good fit.”

To encourage Mono’s team-based nature, Lange settled on the idea of a central common area.

Dubbed the piazza, the skylit space houses all the paraphernalia with a common use (printers, copy machines, kitchen and meeting points), thereby coercing the residents to leave the comfort of their desks. The piazza is flanked on all sides by stand-alone glass walls on which staff scribble down and hang ideas. Adhesive tape dispensers on the walls allow for even greater spontaneity, making sure scraps of paper can be fixed up and not lost.

“With a traditional tape roll you spend half the time looking for it and by the time you found it you’d forgotten your idea,” says Lange.

Away from the piazza the office breaks down into various formats. The open-plan workspaces are arranged around the building’s perimeter, but for more solitary working staff can inhabit one of the many wheeled work pods rolling about. Resembling something you might find in an army field hospital, the pods are powered by “umbilical” electrical cables that dangle from a track on the ceiling. Potential incumbents are able to unplug and move them with ease, and in a growing company like Mono their flexibility is invaluable.

Despite the collaborative character of much of Mono’s work, the need for more privacy occasionally pops up. To this end the company created what they call getaway rooms, smaller spaces where the workforce can escape the hullabaloo of the office. Hidden behind a blue sliding door simmers the conference room, and a library is also on hand for quiet research. Carpet is used to delineate the freewheeling open-plan office and the quieter, more focused private areas.

“Charlie and I wanted to create these areas that were architecturally understood, as once you enter the space is has a different function,” says Lange. In contrast, the rest of the office retains the original concrete floor that dates back to the early 1900s, when the building was a Ford motorcar garage. “When we moved in the floors had years and years of junk on them,” says Lange. “We stripped away all the dirt and grime to reveal the concrete, but also a whole bunch of interesting ink spills from when it was a screen-printing shop.”

Immediately falling in love with this detail, Lange covered the floor in epoxy resin, entombing the spills as a permanent link to the building’s history.

In fact, he was keen to preserve as many of the original features as possible. Most striking of these was a large arched window, which he persuaded the building’s owners to restore. Elsewhere, the clay brickwork was undisturbed save for a layer of light paint. To curb the project’s overtly industrial look, Lange felt something a little more organic was called for.

“Charlie came up with this barn door idea, taking a large piece of rough sawn lumber and nailing it together – almost like you would find in a barn. We really wanted to play up the feeling of something being handmade,” he says.

A peculiar aspect of the project was the budget. Buildings from the 1920s may have a certain retro charm, but in turn are not usually so conducive to 21st-century technological demands.

“The place was completely raw,” says Lange. “It didn’t have updated electrics and there was no plumbing. So a lot of what you see are building improvements that needed to be made.”

Seizing on this, Lange negotiated with the owner to fund the infrastructure repairs, freeing up the necessary dough for the fit out. It’s certainly a nifty manoeuvre and one that allowed Mono to continue developing its identity. “It has allowed us do more, to let us grow and continue to work the way we work,” he says. But what happened to the airstream trailer?

“Actually, we thought about putting it on the roof,” chuckles Lange. “It would be pretty cool to have it up there, but I think I pushed the owner too far on that one. He thought I was a little cuckoo.”

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