Studio Expansion

Doors Open Up Design Strategy for Nissan Design Studio, La Jolla, Calif.

by Scott Blue, president, Door Wilson

From Architectural West Nov/Dec ’11

Good design requires open minds, and San Diego-based architect Jennifer Luce, principal with Luce et Studio, recognized this mission for the redesign and $2.5 MM expansion of the 9,000 sq. ft., Nissan Design Studio in La Jolla, Calif.  “We specifically selected Jennifer for her creativity and nontraditional use of materials,” according to John Parry, the director of the Nissan Studio.  “This was important to us as a design company looking to energize and inspire using the space our designers work in.”  It takes a design-conscious architect to understand the needs of the designers of some the most innovative cars on the road.  An understanding of materials and detail fuels Luce’s passion.  This approach is visible in her ground-breaking buildings.  

         The studio is home to a large group of designers for Nissan Design America (NDA), who create the leading-edge designs that provoke imagination and intrigue for Nissan on advertising pages and at auto showrooms around the world.  The question of how the process would proceed inside the design center is unique as the building itself.  Since first establishing operations in 1980, NDA has been responsible for the designs of several significant vehicles, including the 350Z, the original Xterra, the original Pathfinder, the Infiniti J30, the Nissan Quest, and several concept cars.  Their designs continue to play a pivotal role in Nissan operations.

         “We understood the studio needed to reorient itself to promote improved visual and verbal communication,” said Luce.  That process involved the meeting rooms, design stations, and the library that are on opposite sides of the building; in between are the Nissan models they work on, separated by an open court. 

         Luce took a unique approach to the project.  Her team documented each employee by marking his or her spot on the floor with an X and then measuring eye level from the floor, conceptually mapping individual perspective and vantage points.  She then marked each spot by positioning a stock automotive rear-view mirror hung from the ceiling at the eye level of each designer.  The rear-view mirror conceptually collects the image of the past while simultaneously allowing the viewer to see what lies ahead, and this serves as a metaphor for the design process at Nissan.  Attention to each designer and the presentation of the collective created the ground from which discussion could begin regarding private and public space.

         Luce et Studios produced a design that mediates the industrial and the sophisticated.  With great attention to the control of natural light, essential in viewing form and color of the car designs, Luce worked out design spaces such as the presentation room, which opens itself to the loggia.  This room contains the leading-edge technology to connect Nissan studios across the world and a screen that can project a full-size car design into the room.

         Knowing that this courtyard would be a prime feature of her design, the challenge was to find a door that would fit in with the doorway and the walls around it.  It was important that the door not be intrusive to the area around the doorway, which is not especially generous.  Luce happened to think about the doors used on airplane hangars, and contacted Wilson Doors after an internet search.  Unlike many hangar door manufacturers, Wilson offers the Premier door with the flexibility to fulfill the design criteria of the project.  To provide the studio with abundant sunlight, Luce was able to specify ample windows in the door’s aluminum laminate frame. 

         “The Premier doors open up to the courtyard,” said Luce, “which affords the designers the opportunity to view the car they are working on in daylight and from a variety of perspectives.”  The Premier door’s bi-fold operation requires minimal space around the doorway and allows total access for moving cars in and out of the courtyard.  Along with offering a nine-foot clearance, the vertical bi-folding design provides an unobstructed passageway. 

         One of the benefits of the Premier drive system for this project is that it can be located practically anywhere near the door.  For the Nissan Studio with its limited side room, Wilson mounted the drive on the door.  This option enables the doors to fit into the limited wall area and provides easy access when service is needed.  The door is very quiet, fitting in with this creative environment.  The variable-speed Ascent AC drive provides a smooth, soft start and stop for low-noise operation, while minimizing the wear on the motor and components.  The single-phase, 230-volt drive also significantly decreases the opening/closing time of the door, important for a door this size and for the design staff that wants to access the courtyard.  The control box features three-button Up/Down/Stop operation, which can easily be operated by anyone on the Nissan staff; it has been covered to match the décor in the area.

         The Premier door’s design enables it to make the transition from the hangar to the aesthetics of a design studio.  Based on the parameters Luce communicated to Wilson Doors, the company was able to customize the Premier’s lightweight 6061 T6 aircraft aluminum frame to the facility’s overall design.  The surrounding walls have aluminum panels and the transom above has windows and panel, and Luce was able to specify aluminum laminate cladding to go on the Premier’s frame, which has a brushed aluminum finish.  Because of its light weight, the door puts minimal stress on the building’s supporting members.

         About the project Luce noted, “It was incredibly challenging, the timeline was extremely short, a year of planning for six weeks of construction, and we had everything prefabricated.”  This included the Premier door.  Installation of this door was one less worry for Luce and the general contractor.  The door arrived on a Wilson truck, and a Wilson employee supervised installation, including the rigging and erection of the doors.  To minimize hassle and eliminate field welding and job-site errors, the door has a simple modular, bolt-together design that assembles 75% faster than similar steel doors. 

         Attention to light (particularly natural light), attention to detail, and materiality all play into the design process when it comes to the studio turning out the stylish yet affordable vehicles on which Nissan has built its reputation.  Surrounding the creative team with thoughtful, intelligent design facilitates this process.  According to Parry, “The design has worked perfectly for us as we were enclosing part of our interior courtyard.  The door allows us to open up the room in order to still feel part of the outdoor space, get natural air conditioning, and add to the collaboration aspects of our whole studio.”

         “The Premier door plays an important role in the overall design scheme,” relates Luce, “by providing a transition between the inside of the building, where the specifications reside, and the outside, where the ideas happen.  It is fascinating to look at someone’s process and then devise an imaginative and inspiring environment to make them the most creative they can be.”

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