Adapting to New Opportunities

Oct. 1, 2007
Modernization Citation of Excellence: Syracuse Technology Garden, Sycracuse, NY

Determining that a center-city business incubator with a technology focus would be desirable, The Greater Syracuse Chamber of Commerce's primary objective in converting a vacant, deteriorating property into the new Syracuse Technology Garden was simple: provide inexpensive tenant spaces and administrative amenities to start-up technology companies by maximizing space utilization. Program goals, however, were much more complex. Physically, the property would be comprised of areas in a variety of sizes (starting at 350 square feet) with shared common services and areas; philosophically, the environment was to encourage creative thinking and foster informal interaction.

But, the 1-story structure, which had formerly supported a multi-level, open parking structure above, was merely a building shell when these plans were conceived. The parking structure had partially collapsed years ago and was removed; remaining tenants had vacated the building, and the first story was cleared of interior finishes and building systems. The former multi-tenant use had also created finish-floor variations, forming multiple depressed slabs. To compound these dilemmas, the design budget severely challenged options with which to address basic building needs while adding interest to attract tenants. As a result, simple, economical finishes and assemblies became the basis of design, while color and nontraditional geometries became the methodology to organize the plan and make visual buzz.

First, the existing slab was overlaid with a new concrete topping that accommodated the varying thicknesses and became the new floor finish. Then, modern mechanical systems were installed that utilized a cost-effective approach of looped water systems and incremental heat pumps to provide the needed flexibility for fluctuating areas and allow for energy-conserving controls.

At the same time, the project team took advantage of the strength and height of the concrete structure. The use of stepped walls; strong, geometric forms; bold color; and strategically placed glass transoms helped humanize the interior scale, which remains comfortable even with 19-foot, 6-inch ceiling heights.

Key to the interior design was a recognition of the need for tenant interaction (shared experiences, transferred knowledge, and serendipity help start-up companies tremendously). The result is a strong, central circulation path, coupled with a series of circulation nodes acting as casual gathering areas. These nodes - expressed as inverted, truncated cones - were nicknamed "teacups" during design and have also become part of the building's wayfinding system. Shared business resources now include a stepped-floor video conference room, central computer servers, shared small conference areas, public display, and an open interior ambience expressed via a fully glazed lobby and reception area.

Today, business is anything but usual at Syracuse Technology Garden. For tenants and customers alike, the facility is a perfect complement to - and inspiration for - the promising up-and-comers in the city's business future. 

Judges' Comments

"The design actually encompasses an instant visual branding, which sets it apart from the typical office. The use of materials was highly cost effective, yet stylized; the imaginative way that the structure now forms a backdrop to future businesses is a testament to its designers. What was once a blot on the landscape is now a vibrant hub in the community. This is a center that will be in constant use for many years to come. ... Syracuse Technology Garden is a model of what can - and should - be achieved in our older building stock."

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