Words and Photos by: Scot Zimmerman
When observing architecture, one can see how buildings mix the designer’s concept with the client’s decisions. To really observe a creative designer’s talent, the project has to be one where the client offers complete freedom, or the designer is also the client. Michael Upwall’s new offices in Sugar House afforded that opportunity.
While pleasing and modern, the public face of the building on 11th East in Sugar House is in keeping and in scale with the modest bungalows and one and two story 1950 storefronts along the street.
To accomplish the needed square footage, Upwall extended the building to the back of the lot. A drive finished with paver stones leads to parking in the rear, and stainless steel rose-covered arbors stretch out to visually include the drive in the mass of the building.
The building is a remodel of a doctor’s office, although the some of the elements of the earlier building were past being saved, like the flooring and roof. The new flooring is reclaimed wood to offer a connection with the past. The ceiling is comprised of hand-placed wooden slats with sound proofing behind. The open planned office benefits from minimizing the transmittal of sound; conversations at the central tables didn’t carry to the workstations to the point they would interrupt.
The design complements Upwall Design’s obvious collaborative management style. With the space around the computer desks, there is room to gather colleagues over to discuss something on the screen, or three or four can gather in the common spaces in the center of the room. Michael Upwall is seldom in his own office, but is more often found moving through the space, answering questions and offering suggestions.
Throughout the office are bursts of life: a fish tank, bonsai trees, and Hydrangea, the Chihuahua, who wanders and checks to see whether anyone is in need of doggy love. The plants thrive from the natural light coming in through the south-facing window wall, the glass front entry, and the lift-slide rear doors at the rear, along with the north-facing clerestory and the skylights above the row of workstations.
Downstairs is the break room with all the modern conveniences, while the aqua counter stools and upholstered chairs add a little Bill & Nada’s charm.
The other spot for a respite is the elevated patio on the east side (rear) of the building. The ten-foot fountain’s spilling waters buffer the city sounds, and exquisite specimen trees surround the space, one a 150 years old. In addition to office crew, often neighbors will stop by and pause in the park-like space to absorb the beauty.
Creating something beautiful for Sugar House and to give back to the community were intentional goals for Michael Upwall.
The last man standing, Michael took a moment to say good-bye following the last shot of the evening well after everyone went home. The deep overhang and opening glass of the building connects the office with the patio in keeping with Upwall’s desire (and as demonstrated in his many designs) to maintain connections between the interior and the exterior.
It was interesting to photograph the office, because as I have said before, part of the challenge of architectural photography is to avoid mistakes or incongruence, often because of last minute changes by clients. In this case, there were none to avoid. He had a very good client, indeed.