Building on a strong portfolio of higher-education design and a reputation as masters of detail, internationally renowned architecture and interiors firm Spacesmith has announced it will deliver a full furniture, fixtures and equipment (FF&E) package for a major East Coast university’s new mixed-use building, designed by Davis Brody Bond and KieranTimberlake. The 750,000-square-foot building is due to open in 2022.

Spacesmith brings unmatched knowledge and expertise to this project – an entire campus in and of itself that includes performing arts and academic spaces, housing for freshmen and faculty with respective study and practice rooms, an athletic complex, and a large collective commons for the “campus without a quad.”

In accordance with the client university’s own climate action plan, Spacesmith’s FF&E team has ensured that only commercial furniture made from sustainably sourced and nontoxic materials will be used throughout the building’s workspaces, lounges, cafés, classrooms, housing, public spaces and lobbies. All furnishings are certified by independent groups to meet or exceed environmental guidelines and building standards such as LEED and WELL, and are also compliant with the national ANSI/BIFMA e3 Furniture Sustainability Standard — a voluntary benchmark that takes into account related social actions, energy usage, material selection, and human and ecosystem health impacts.

Spacesmith has honed its approach to sustainable design and project management over two decades working across retail, civic, nonprofit and academic sectors. “We started by closely studying the intended use of each space. With 1,200 students navigating the building every hour or so, durability was of utmost importance,” says Ámbar Margarida, CID, IIDA, LEED GA, WELL AP, a principal at Spacesmith.


FF&E Strategy

According to Margarida, furniture selections are evaluated based on a building-wide strategy: How long will users be encouraged to stay in the space? Does the area and furniture arrangement lend itself to focused, concentrated work or fluid collaboration? Is it adaptable for impromptu activities that encourage social connection? How might the furniture arrangements impact noise levels, encouraging or discouraging conversations?

“With these questions in mind, we selected – or in some cases designed – custom furnishings which match both the needs of the occupants and the intended use and scale of each space. For example, in one lobby with a large skylight we designed a custom lounge unit with a sloped back at the perfect degree to look up through the glass,” Margarida explains. “That same unit rolls apart easily so the area can clear out for student move-in day. The focus on multifunctionality was central to the design of FF&E for the building,” adds Margarida.

To address various classroom needs, Spacesmith researched new pedagogies as well as active learning and teaching strategies in order to specify furniture that will accommodate a wide range of uses. For the residences, the FF&E team ran a trial program using an existing university residence hall as a “test suite” where custom and off-the-shelf furniture was tested by students for a year to ensure durability. The best-performing furniture pieces will be installed in 400 new student units in the building, located in Lower Manhattan, New York City. Spacesmith also worked with fabric mills to incorporate variations on NYU’s signature violet color into the upholstery, ensuring the school’s brand appears subtly throughout the building.


High-Performance Design

“Knowing that this hyper-urban building is going to be occupied around the clock, we specified furniture pieces that aren’t just colorful and comfortable, but also extremely high-performance,” said Margarida. “We specified pieces which complement the facility’s crisp, bright atmosphere with some strong pops of color and clean geometry.”

The building’s design by architects Davis Brody Bond and KieranTimberlake aims to foster a sense of community among its diverse user groups and academic disciplines. Communal spaces include outdoor roof gardens, a sky lobby, cafés, and a fitness center and pool. The mixture of collaborative and solitary spaces is elegantly furnished and wrapped in a high-performance transparent envelope that showcases its bustling activity to the neighborhood and city beyond.

“The juxtaposition of the outward-facing circulation space running along the transparent exterior and the more private classroom and amenity spaces inside is beautifully expressed in the architecture,” said Spacesmith’s founder, Jane Smith FAIA, IIDA.

Spacesmith has previously worked for major universities on the East Coast, including projects at Columbia University’s Chandler, the School of Visual Arts (SVA) photography facility, and new interior renovations for a university library designed by Philip Johnson. Other recent higher education projects by the firm include new admissions offices for The Cooper Union, and ongoing work for the School of Visual Arts on their Lower Manhattan campus.


Illustration by studioAMD, courtesy the architects KieranTimberlake and Davis Brody Bond.