Tags: Cathy Marchio , Haworth Marketing + Media , Jodie Leppa , Jonas Hauptman , Kirby Rea , Kristin Willardson , Liberty Diversified International , Nelson , Paul James , Seeyond Architectural Solutions , Walter Zesk
Ordinary office cubes look outdated compared with those employing Seeyond’s products, which look like something out of “The Jetsons” — futuristic spaces where not every surface is flat and where its creations, at least, seem to float. (Submitted photo: Seeyond)
Seeyond creates undulating walls, clouds and modules
The design for the new Haworth Marketing + Media office in Plaza Seven in downtown Minneapolis called for a stairwell in the lobby to connect two floors.
The industrial-style staircase created a two-story wall that served as a blank canvas available for an intriguing artistic feature. The Minneapolis office of interior design firm Nelson decided to fill the space with a striking three-dimensional white wall specifically developed for the project by Golden Valley-based Seeyond Architectural Solutions.
“Haworth wanted a central lobby that was all about communication and connectivity, and it wanted the space to be alive,” said Jodie Leppa, senior project manager at Nelson. “We wanted something artful because the stairs were more industrial looking, and we needed something more refined for the wall.”
Seeyond’s wall is “beautiful,” she added. “It’s just a simple thing in its concept, but as an architectural element it offers something dramatic and unique.”
Seeyond makes such innovative products as undulating walls, “enclosures,” clouds that hang from lobbies or conference rooms and facings that decorate columns or interior walls.
Ordinary office cubes look outdated compared with those employing Seeyond’s products, which look like something out of “The Jetsons” — futuristic spaces where not every surface is flat and where its creations, at least, seem to float.
Seeyond’s unusual portfolio has prompted the design industry to take notice; the company won a 2012 Silver Award at Neocon, North America’s largest design exposition and conference for commercial interiors, as well as a Gold Award and Innovation Award in 2011. Seeyond’s creations have been enthusiastically embraced by design industry publications such as Metropolis.
Seeyond, whose name truncates the phrase “see beyond,” has completed more than 18 installations in offices, restaurants and hotels, largely on the East and West coasts, according to Seeyond General Manager Kirby Rea.
Completed projects include a wall in an Omaha steakhouse; a 27-foot column in a Long Beach, Calif., hotel; and a 30-foot-long ceiling cloud in a Las Vegas casino.
Movable walls are set up for display at the New Hope facility of Liberty Diversified International, the parent company of Seeyond. In the photo is Anne Berg, of Vyway Market & Brand Strategy, and Kristin Willardson, who works in Seeyond’s marketing department. (Staff photo: Bill Klotz)
Most of Seeyond’s architectural products are composed of cellular resin, a material common to the packaging industry, Rea said. The resin is durable, lightweight and can be manufactured in a variety of shapes. It is so translucent that designers can install lights to create a glowing wall or cloud, he said.
Who is the target audience for Seeyond? Rea points out that many modern offices have floor-to-ceiling windows and not much more, allowing companies to design space based on their needs.
The “loft” look of high ceilings is particularly popular in New York and the coasts, allowing some of the company’s more innovative designs to stand out, Rea noted.
“The loft space concept is, in theory, very inviting. But in practice it is not,” he said. “We need definition in interior space, but you don’t want to block the light from windows. Since most of the installations are in the cellular resin, natural light is transmitted through it, or the installations can be internally lit.”
Seeyond’s “self-structuring enclosures,” as they are called, offer igloo-shaped office spaces for meetings or work areas. Curving walls can be employed to separate work spaces or meeting areas. If they wish, tenants can even pull out a module to create windows, Rea said.
The enclosures and walls are light enough that they can be moved with ease, he said. In that way, an office can adapt to a new design without having to hire carpenters and bring down walls.
Nelson’s Leppa said the Haworth wall “was so simple to install it was unbelievable.”
“There are always a lot of things that can go wrong, but this was done overnight and there was no heartburn involved,” Leppa said.
Seeyond is funded by Liberty Diversified International, a New Hope, Minn.-based holding company that owns nine entities in the packaging, machinery and paper industries.
The concept for the company came from collaboration among University of Minnesota architecture professor Jonas Hauptman, industrial designer Paul James and computational designer Walter Zesk.
The three men developed a software system based on Zesk’s work that allows designers to “tessellate” surfaces by adding curves and sharp or soft patterns and diamond reliefs that bring dimension to office walls and ceilings, Rea said.
The result is a series of individually designed and manufactured modules created in a Golden Valley plant leased by Liberty Diversified International. The modules can be assembled as either freestanding objects or placed into a grid, Rea said.
The process begins on a computer screen, where a designer can tessellate each module on a software grid, pushing them up or down, adding a wave or a raised linear line. The shapes take on an organic, honeycomb quality.
Almost every day, Rea said, Seeyond designers offer potential clients free teleconferencing sessions that allow them to see precisely what a project would look like before it is built. They receive a 360-degree video of the design later in an email, Rea said.
What makes Seeyond’s products even more attractive to designers, he said, is the lack of hardware required to assemble: The 10-inch-by-15-inch modules are held together by magnets and, in some cases, grids. No screws or bolts are required. It’s a bit like assembling a Legos project, only magnets hold everything together.
“We’ve eliminated the need for structural hardware,” said Rea. “The pieces mechanically fasten together. You can build and dismantle the products easily, and we do the complete package — we design it with architects and designers input and directly manufacture it.”
Seeyond’s product line can be shipped in convenient, flat packaging and weighs less than more conventional products made of aluminum and steel. Since they come in modules, they can be transported by the small elevators that are sometimes found in the buildings of New York clients, Rea said.
“There is a great savings on shipping because you’re not shipping air,” he said. “You end up using a lot less fuel for a whole installation.”
Seeyond has other green credentials. The cellular resin, which is composed of polyethylene and polypropylene, can be recycled, said Rea. Waste is minimal in the manufacturing process and generally gets reused. The installations are 90 percent lighter than competing systems, he said, and they require fewer structural elements.
The result is less energy spent in production, distribution and installation of the products, according to Rea.
So, what’s the cost of installation? Typically, in the tens of thousands of dollars. Smaller projects could cost under $10,000, larger ones much more. The pricing includes design and installation in most cases, he said.
Seeyond is in its startup phase so far, with 10 employees and a plan to grow the company quickly. It has signed up sales representatives around the country to call on the nation’s 35 largest markets for architects and designers.
Kristin Willardson, who manages marketing for Seeyond, said the company “is happy with the pace” of the business. “Our pipeline is looking healthy,” she said.
Many potential clients like the company’s desire to build something novel that is customized to each office environment, she said.
That’s what Haworth liked about Seeyond. Cathy Marchio, vice president and director of human resources at Haworth, said her company is now adding light to the wall. The business sees the Seeyond creation as “an art installation — a giant origami that reflects the image we want to project perfectly.”