Hariri & Hariri Architecture Transforms the New York Penthouse Headquarters of SIBA Corp/SIBA Residences into a Multifaceted Gem
Hariri & Hariri Architecture—the firm of Iranian sisters and Interior Design Hall of Fame members Gisue and Mojgan Hariri—began the renovation of the headquarters of SIBA Corp/SIBA Residences, a prominent gem dealer and real estate business in Manhattan’s Diamond District, in early 2020, just as COVID-19 was about to grip New York. The architects designed the 3,000-square-foot full floor during the transitional period when the SIBA office staff, like countless others across the country, started Zooming from home. Like anthropologists unexpectedly equipped with a telephoto lens into the lives of their subjects, the Hariris observed home environments that had become on-screen business backdrops.
COVID taught the architects what now seems obvious: People were in no rush to return to the office because they like the warmth, character, crafted touches, and creature comforts of their homes. Specialists in both residential and workplace, the sisters resolved to adapt domesticity to the penthouse site, balancing the amenities of home with office life in a building deep in Midtown’s thicket of high-rises. “Zoom confirmed what George Nelson advocated long ago,” Gisue Hariri notes: “‘The office should be a daytime living room.’”
The renovation initiated a new era and ethos for the four-generation family business. The third-generation patriarch, Sam Abram, had recently died, and his son Edward, now CEO, was relaunching the company. Three of SIBA’s separate divisions—diamond trading, real estate sales, and building management—shared the floor. Without looking like Fort Knox, the gem side of the business had to be secured away from the real estate and management spaces, which were themselves separate from each other. With multiple zones and numerous dedicated functions—reception and waiting areas, open workstations and offices, a conference room and a jewelry viewing lounge, kitchen and dining—the program presented the organizational challenge of piecing together an intricate puzzle. The existing office looked like a leftover period set from “The Honeymooners.” Cubicles and rooms were grafted onto each other higgledy-piggledy under harsh fluorescents set in a water-damaged dropped ceiling. A large safe was strapped down like an electric chair. The whole place required a gut renovation.
The unsalvageable maze, however, hid two assets. The space had good infrastructure—a wraparound terrace ringed the entire floor, which offered unobstructed, heart-of-the-city views. Then, in and around the principal office, the architects discovered numerous modernist prints and silkscreens that the company had quietly collected, hung up, and left in place for decades, as forgotten as old wallpaper. To their surprise, the Hariris were dealing with a portfolio that included works by Josef Albers, Ellsworth Kelly, Kenneth Noland, and Louise Nevelson. New pieces, including ones by Keith Haring, Andy Warhol, and Alexander Calder, were added to the mix, and the trove became a vehicle that helped the two sisters infuse the project with color and character.
Aiming for a daytime living-room effect, the Hariris avoided a systematic, gridded, modular layout. Instead, the floor is organized episodically along a circuit leading to an unfolding sequence of spaces, each highlighting art or special seating. The unique turns in the plan camouflaged the harsh fact that a corridor, for example, might function as a security lock bordered by bulletproof glass. The Hariri team included pockets as socializing zones for passing office chats and break-out moments. They sited the jewelry viewing lounge among the first rooms, beyond which lies a small open-plan pool of workstations for real estate management surrounded by a perimeter of private offices.
Improvements in technology over the last several decades facilitated domestication. Thanks to the computer, the architects could reduce the number of chilly, metal file cabinets to a minimum. A new ceiling system of parallel aluminum slats set wide enough apart to accommodate sprinklers let them raise the ceiling from 8 to nearly 10 feet. Compact HVAC equipment replaced large, antiquated units that colonized the outdoor terrace, allowing for an alfresco dining setup plus a meditation garden. Contemporary window frames gave each opening a clear view, turning the urban skyline into a sequence of spectacular pictures.
But beyond technology, the Hariris deployed architecture’s traditional tool-set—materials, scale, lighting, and simplicity—to make the HQ homelike. They covered metal access panels with rift-cut oak. Etched glass between perimeter offices and the open work area softly radiate natural light to the landlocked interior. They dimensionalized the floor with patterned carpet tile that creates the illusion of depth, its pile inviting staff to kick off their shoes. Overall, the spaces were kept intimate, with clean planes and edges that defer to the art. The walls, mostly painted white or gray, have the visual clarity of a gallery.
At the beginning of the commission, the architects told their clients that the goal was to build the analogue of a jewel—“something light, airy, and tactile,” Gisue Hariri says, “something small, precious, and special, where every turn is unique.” She and her sister crafted that idea right at the front door by chamfering the reception desk like a precious cut stone—its faceted, sculptural quality a trademark of their work. “From early on, we’ve collected rocks and studied geological and crystal formations, fascinated by the abstract, geometric, asymmetrical forms derived from nature, which are also apparent in both Persian and modern Western architecture,” the architect adds. But even more than a built metaphor, the diamond at the door sets the stage for the multifaceted gem of an environment beyond.
product sources from front
- amerlux; coronet lighting
- b+n industries
- benjamin moore & co.
- bernhardt design
- blondie’s treehouse
- Blu Dot
- c.r. laurence co.
- Eric Laignel
- expert welding gates
- focal point
- hariri & hariri architecture
- herman miller
- icon interiors
- ip group
- Janus et Cie
- Joseph Giovannini
- kilroy architectural windows
- kohler co.
- lighting workshop
- napoleon contracting corp.
- New York
- robert silman associates structural engineers
- SIBA Corp/SIBA Residences
- skyline engineering
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