• An underutilized delivery dock was transformed into a conference and presentation space. Photo by Scott McDonald, Gray City Studios.

By the 1950s, the typewriter was ubiquitous, so it made good sense for entrepreneur Bobby Roberson to launch a typewriter repair company out of his garage in 1956. Southwest Typewriter Company evolved as technology changed, entering the imaging business two decades later with the introduction of analog copiers. Copiers soon advanced into multi-functional devices in the 1990s. When scanning capabilities were added in the 2000s, ImageNet recognized the potential impact on business processes and began offering electronic document management. Today, the company has diversified further, offering consulting services, integration, and even 3-D printing technology. Their nimbleness, foresight, and willingness to evolve in a field of rapid change has contributed to their success.

ImageNet’s bold business approach is evident in their architecture. Rand Elliott, FAIA, of Elliott + Associates Architects (E+A) in Oklahoma City has designed several locations, each one an out-of-the-box solution that has garnered a few raised eyebrows. The Carrollton location, renovated in July 2015, was no exception. The client identified several project goals that became the design inspiration for the project. They wanted to tell their company story, share their philosophies, and demonstrate to potential customers their vast capabilities. How could they break down the complexity of technology into a simple concept people could grasp? In response, E+A devised a design that transformed the existing space, a boring tilt-up warehouse, into a visually compelling exhibit.

Spaces were carefully organized into a choreographed procession for potential customers. Each room tells a part of the ImageNet story. Tours begin in a renovated loading dock that now serves as a meeting and presentation room. The space is spare, with concrete walls and floors exposed, the ceiling left unfinished. Above the conference table, an array of suspended painted filing cabinet carcasses dangles from bar joists, drawers replaced with light fixtures. The installation represents the transition from paper-based systems to digital information storage in “the cloud.” Opposite the cabinets, an illuminated orange cube with a large question mark prompts the question: What is the right solution for you? These are just the first of the follies visitors will encounter as they tour the facility. The exhibits act as prompts for the sales team and provide visual references to help explain complex technology that often can’t be seen or touched.

Repurposed technology waste was used throughout the building. Elliott confided that, early on, the design team went dumpster- diving in the warehouse for inspiration. The owners have confronted head-on the reality of the enormous amount of waste generated by the technology they sell. The company recycles everything — from cardboard boxes to foam packing materials. It was fitting for the architecture to follow suit. E+A held nothing back. Foam packing materials adorn walls everywhere from the lobby to waiting areas to the break room. Each painted foam piece is like a thumbprint, formed to fit specific equipment. Collaged together, their shapes create a sculptural and tactile presence. Near the waiting area, a partition wallpapered with old toner cartridges sits opposite a large window overlooking the lawn, alluding to natural versus man made forces. Pointing to a glass panel swaddled with blue plastic wrap that serves as backdrop for a 1956 typewriter, Elliott says, “Every time we had an opportunity to use something that was really simple and off the shelf, we did it.” Not only was it good for the bottom line, it also leveraged everyday objects to illustrate the company’s do-good philosophy. 

The utilization of these recycled waste materials generated unpredictably sublime environments. The training room fully immerses visitors in the technology waste. Inhabitants are surrounded by walls lined floor-to-ceiling with aluminum bubble wrap. A suspended grid of recycled toner cartridges forms an ethereal ceiling plane overhead, blotting the otherwise shiny wall surfaces with shadows. A pair of 30-ft-wide doors on one wall slides open to reveal an orange glow beyond. Beckoning like a mirage, the room engulfs you in orange, one of the company colors. Every surface is rendered in bright orange — ceiling, walls, floor, furniture — even the kitchen appliances. “Doesn’t it feel like orange sherbet?” Elliott remarks with a smile. The experience is so exotic that visitors forget the drab industrial surroundings.

The architectural solutions are brilliantly simple. E+A employed a straightforward palette of drywall, glass, and concrete, then inserted pops of color and texture with recycled waste products. The quirky exhibits or follies elicit delight, and experienced together, tell a clear and compelling tale about ImageNet. “It’s the notion of taking something that isn’t precious — a tilt-up concrete horrible building — and recycling it and reusing it in a way where the technology — the innards, if you will — are where the excitement lives,” Elliott explains. The building leaves a memorable impression. It’s a surprise — and that, according to Elliott, is exactly the point.

Audrey Maxwell, AIA, is a principal at Malone Maxwell Borson Architects.

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