Mirroring a Western sunset with Brazilian slate

February 2, 2004
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There's something about the red-orange hues of the Utah landscape that inspired the design team for a law office in Salt Lake City, UT, to use Raja Sunset slate as a backdrop for the firm's waiting area. Creating a focal point for the space, the architects at the Zimmer Gunsul Frasca Partnership (ZGF) selected this material to create a 600-square-foot curved wall, which exudes the glow of the Western sunset experienced in Utah.

The project was rather prestigious, since the law firm of Ray Quinney & Nebeker had been chosen to represent the Salt Lake City 2002 Olympic Committee, and the architects wanted a distinctive design. Overall, the firm occupies three and a half-stories of a 20-story downtown Salt Lake City office.

“We wanted it to look very natural, and the reason for using slate was to pick up materials indigenous to Utah,” said Sue Kerns of ZGF, principal-in-charge for the project. “The selected stone had a variety of color to it. We didn't want it to look too monolithic - the color and texture were very important. It's very natural and random.”

While the designers were adamant about representing the surrounding landscape, they also had to merge a traditional look with a contemporary one. And with a large firm of 80 attorneys and 100 support staff, generation differences were taken into consideration.

“The architects of ZGF were able to capture the goal of designing a space that reflects the stability and tradition of our well-established law firm, while still adding more progressive elements that appeal to the younger members of the firm,” said Eric Visser, director of administration at Ray Quinney & Nebeker, adding that the main objective was to create a fresh, updated image, while still respecting the traditional heritage of the law firm.

A third element driving the renovation was a non-negotiable time constraint. Since the firm was selected to represent the Salt Lake City Olympic Committee, the need to occupy the new office prior to the start of the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympic Games was imperative. The 60,000-square-foot space was ready for move-in only eight months after the start of the design, which began in June 2001 and was completed by January 2002.

“The challenge was finding the right source and enough material within the scheduled amount of time,” said Kerns. “We didn't have a long lead time to wait for the stone to come, so the installer found it locally.”

The design team chose Raja Sunset slate - a Brazilian slate supplied by Contempo Tile & Stone of Salt Lake City - because it seemed to be a perfect match for the look that the firm desired.

Customizing the installation

One of the challenging aspects of the installation process - which was completed by H & P Tile - was cutting the slate, because the wall required a variety of different-sized pieces. To assure the best quality, the installer only purchased 24- x 24-inch tiles and cut them down to sizes of 6 x 6, 6 x 12, 6 x 18, 9 x 12, 12 x 12 and 12 x 24 inches.

The cut-to-size pieces were then stacked on top of each other, creating the random pattern of the wall. A thin-set adhesive was used to adhere the pieces to the cement backerboard, forming a stacked-joint pattern. The joints were very tight, with no spaces between them, which is why grout was not required.

This “stacked” effect required a great deal of planning, according to Homer Prison of H & P Tile. Since the pattern was random, but fit into a 12- x 55-square-foot space, the overall pattern had to meet a rectangular form.

“We counted how many pieces of each we needed, then we determined that we needed a certain amount of each and tried to keep blending them according to size,” said the installer, adding that the blending required not only combination of size but of color as well. “We sorted and did a lot of blending to balance colors from one end to another. We blended before we cut it, taking measurements of what goes where, how many pieces of each color we needed and sorted them that way.”

The lobby wall provides an excellent complement to the firm's 14th-floor view of the Wasatch Mountain range. While clients wait, they can enjoy the scenery or look on meetings in the central conference room, which is walled in by glass only. Shades can be drawn for private meetings, but leaving the room open allows for a more enjoyable view of the natural stone architecture.

“Clients and other visitors entering the reception area are awe-inspired by the beauty of the slate wall and the entire design of the room,” said Visser. “They then are immediately drawn to the spectacular view, which completes the entire visitor's experience.”

To accentuate the view as well as the red-orange glow of the slate, Continental Buff travertine from Idaho Travertine Corp. was used for the countertops of the reception area. Approximately 1,000 square feet of the filled travertine, which was 11⁄4 inches thick, was employed in 72- x 12-inch pieces as tops for cherry wood reception counters.

The subtlety of the travertine didn't detract from the wood and complemented it well, according to the architect. The travertine also highlights the rest of the wall paneling, which was also made of cherry wood, as well as the bamboo floor.

“The new and freshly designed atmosphere makes everyone produce at a better rate,” said Visser, explaining how the stonework has not only attracted clients' attention, but has had a profound effect on the staff itself. “Not a day goes by without getting compliments on how great the firm looks. Both clients and other visitors say that Ray Quinney & Nebeker's space has now risen to become the nicest in town.”

End box:
Ray Quinney & Nebeker

Salt Lake City, UT
Architect: Zimmer Gunsul Frasca Partnership (ZGF), Portland, OR
Stone Installers: H & P Tile, South Jordan, UT (slate); Fetzer's Architectural Woodwork, Salt Lake City, UT (travertine)
Stone Suppliers: Contempo Tile & Stone, Salt Lake City, UT (slate); Idaho Travertine Corp., Idaho Falls, ID (travertine)

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