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Best in Show

By Judi Ketteler

When the Antron Resource Center was built 16 years ago, the idea was to create an evolving showroom, redesigned for NeoCon each year to reflect market trends and reinforce the Antron carpet fiber brand. In 2004, the Antron space was picked as the Best of Competition winner in the 31st annual IIDA Interior Design Competition.

Redesigning the 3,000-square-foot interior each year means continually looking at the space with fresh eyes, says Eileen Jones, Principal at Perkins + Will/Eva Maddox Branded Environments, the firm charged with re-imagining the space each year. As the Creative Director, Jones spearheaded the project. “We have to continually look at what is most crucial to the audience being served, and that changes from year to year,” Jones says.

Though Antron sells fiber to carpet mills, the audience extends beyond just mill representatives. Designers, architects and end users, such as building owners and managers, all come to the center to learn about the Antron carpet fiber. It serves as an educational facility for fiber seminars and a product showroom is an adaptable space, charged with communicating Antron’s brand image and serving as a creative environment for brainstorming sessions, marketing, conferences and Invista (Antron’s manufacturer) corporate purposes. This multifunctional use means the design must accomplish several things seamlessly. “As a fully branded environment, it has to blend architecture, environmental graphics, products and communications into a seamless story and customer experience,” Jones says, “without crossing the ‘Disney’ line.”

Though the basic architectural shell stays the same each year, the configuration of space changes. New pieces of furniture, graphics, finishes and floor coverings tell part of the design makeover story. Above all, Jones and her team work to find new ways to interpret the Antron brand in a three-dimensional environment. “We always challenge Eileen and her team to come up with something fresh, bold and dynamic,” says Georgina Sikorski, Commercial Marketing Director for Antron. “We bring the business perspective, and she brings the design perspective.”

“The inspiration really comes from the brand itself,” Jones says. New product offerings or trends often are a good place to start. Last year Antron wanted to spotlight a new type of yarn that blends several colors into a solid. “This got the design team thinking about the best way to display it,” Jones says. “Ultimately, they decided on a vertical display methodology and created a round fiber sculpture that portrayed the blended color.”

The project designers sought to make the space interactive. “We needed to make the fiber tangible,” Jones says. To that end, the firm came up with two interactive ideas: the fiber “car wash” and the “honeycomb.”

The car wash — positioned toward the back of the space — was a display of hanging fiber that visitors could walk through. Toward the front of the space, the honeycomb displayed all 360 colors of Antron, DSDN and other fibers from Invista in tubes. By placing chunks of the fiber in the recycled cardboard tubes, visitors could pull out the fiber and touch it.

To create a sense of composition so that the strongest colors had a chance to pop, Jones incorporated size and scale changes, varying the sizes of the tubes throughout the display.

Though the honeycomb display was one of the most visually striking elements of the Antron space, it also was the most challenging. All 360 cones of fiber had to be unwound. At first, the design team did it by hand, which ate up valuable work time. They soon found an ingenious solution: Hook the cones up to drills and put the drills in reverse.

The color story is carried throughout the Antron space, informed in part by the Antron Color Point of View, a book produced and designed by Perkins + Will each year. Antron Color Point of View isn’t a color forecast; it’s based on trends and tropes in culture that drive perceptions of color, from fashion to bioengineering to spirituality. The book is handed out to Antron visitors during NeoCon each year. Visitors can vote on their favorite colors, which Perkins + Will later reports in survey results. For the purpose of the Antron display, the design team picked 10 colors from Antron Color Point of View to emphasize. They placed those color fibers in large plexi tubes to create a strategic focus and to connect Antron to a larger design context. “The team does a great job understanding what the latest colors are and how that fits into our business,” Sikorski says.

Though they wanted to make the space live large, Jones and her team didn’t want to clutter it. Overdesigning can be a temptation in a showroom designed for other designers. “We really learned how to work with minimal display components to maximum effect,” she says. “We only employed three materials for product display: cardboard tubes, plexi and wire grid. The fiber does the rest.” Keeping the space clean served both a practical and an aesthetic end. Practically speaking, it allowed large numbers of people to circulate through the area and learn about the fiber. Aesthetically, the uncluttered space allowed the strength of the product to speak for itself.

Building simplicity into the design solution also allowed Jones and her team the chance to experiment with the space. In designing showroom or retail environments, the sense of balance often can be thrown off by attention-grabbing products placed incorrectly. In the Resource Center, the symmetrical organization in the front portion of the showroom is counterbalanced by the asymmetrical fiber display placement in the center and rear spaces. “That creates some degree of tension, and therefore interest,” Jones says. “It also creates secondary and tertiary focal points that draw you in and keep you moving.”

In addition to the central color message, the design team created a sub-message of sustainability. Antron was the first fiber to be certified by the Scientific Certification Systems and recently was recertified. The Antron carpet fiber also earned certification as an Environmentally Preferable Product. “Our goal is to reduce our environmental footprint,” Sikorski says. “That doesn’t mean, however, that the brand’s captivating array of color can’t live large in our minds.”

School's in Session

Re-imagining the Antron Resource Center every year is one of many projects shepherded by Chicago’s Perkins + Will/Eva Maddox Branded Environments. Eva Maddox, FIIDA, Principal, also founded the city’s alternative design school, Archeworks, along with architect Stanley Tigerman, FAIA. Focused on teaching students to take a broad, socially responsible view of design, Archeworks uses a multidisciplinary approach to create design solutions for social concerns, says Molly Baltman, Executive Director of Archeworks.

Students — all working professionals — come from various fields, including architecture, design, law and business. Ninety students have graduated from the design school since its founding in 1994. Admission is competitive, Baltman says. “The main thing we’re looking for is passion and dedication to socially conscious design,” she says.

A stint at Archeworks allows students to study an issue intensely for nine months. Maddox — who is involved with Archeworks on a day-to-day basis — often will come up with project proposals, which may range from neighborhood revitalization, public and community health projects to investigations into good design in areas of social need. This year, the team will be partnering with international office design-and-manufacturing firm Haworth Inc., to develop strategies for extending the life of office furniture and finding alternatives for its end-of-life use. “We selected this prototype project to build a case for the design industry and to command valid design solutions for furniture sustainability,” Maddox says.

Though expansion always is tempting, for now Archeworks will remain its current size, working with about 20 students a year. “We feel we can make some of the biggest changes on a small scale,” Baltman says.