November 1, 2010
The Super Normal Office
A London firm designs an appropriately understated workplace for Jasper Morrison.
ARCHITECTS: Caseyfierro Architects
Very successful people often mistake themselves for polymaths. Tom Ford thinks he can direct movies; George Plimpton imagined he could play professional football. But when it came time for Jasper Morrison, the British industrial designer, to make a home for his London office from a damp, run-down building in Shoreditch, he had no hesitation in picking up the phone. “I am a designer rather than an architect,” he writes in an e-mail, “and I think it pays to respect the skill of a professional working in his field. I would have made a big mess of it I’m sure.”
The architect he called was Michael Casey, then a 45-year-old with a fledgling practice but hardly a novice. Casey formerly headed Herzog & de Meuron’s London office, leading the team that converted a ramshackle oil-fired power station into the Tate Modern. That’s where he and his wife, Victoria Fierro, a partner in their firm, Caseyfierro, met Morrison, who designed much of the museum’s furniture.
Morrison wanted his new office to express a sense of the beauty of the everyday—a quality that he and his friend Naoto Fukasawa have named Super Normal. The building lies down what Casey calls “a Jack the Ripper–type alleyway,” hidden behind a street of workaday storefronts. Sometime between the world wars, Victorian terrace houses on the site were partly demolished to make way for a horse stable and workshop, which were eventually converted into a photography studio. Traces of the past remained, not all of them cozily nostalgic. “There was evidence of some sort of drainage system for getting rid of effluence,” Casey says.
Apart from making the crude interiors feel more welcoming, the renovation simply needed to maximize space. The office has just three employees apart from Morrison himself, but they tend to sprawl out when they’re designing something large, like a refrigerator. Morrison also wanted a bit of room outdoors, as well as a quiet spot to rest between his frequent trips abroad. The architects cleared out the ground floor and sheared off the corners, creating two courtyards and letting in light. The smaller second floor, which sits on cast-iron columns, was turned into a loftlike studio. The roof was rotten and had to be removed, but the lacy steel frames were retained.
In fact, Caseyfierro reused as many of the original elements as possible and introduced period-appropriate additions. Discarded bricks became facing for a courtyard overhang, and natural asphalt—a common sight in early-20th-century factories—became a hardy, sound-dampening floor. “It’s very interesting when you work with a product designer like Jasper,” Casey says. “He sort of understands architecture in a very simple way—in a way that you just need simple materials: if it’s plywood, it’s plywood, and you don’t really do too much to it. You leave it the way it is and just let it age.”