Office in the Clouds

by | Dec 15, 2020 | News

Photography by: © Jason O’Rear

Located in San Francisco’s tallest building, the Covington San Francisco office is an “office in the clouds.” From its seductive curves to its stunning views, this expansive and bright office transports office goers to a futuristic dimension. Four lighting designers from Fisher Marantz Stone—Paula Martinez-Nobles, Kathryn Czub, Amy Leder, and Charles Stone— took advantage of the ethereal space when working on this project, working with the architect to really bring their joint vision to life.

Photography by: © Jason O’Rear

“There were some existing curves to the floor plate, so, wanting to take advantage and play off of it, we actually developed some curves with the architectural team,” said Martinez-Nobles, “It was especially important for us to be able to successfully highlight the architect’s finishes and curves, making sure that the coves look just as good. You can imagine how precise we needed to be in order for the coves to look continuous and seamless and to not have any interruption despite the curving nature of the tower.”

Photography by: © Jason O’Rear

In order to accomplish this, the lighting designers needed to be very precise in their placement of the fixtures, even getting onto lifts with the contractors in order to play around with setting them at different distances. They wanted to make sure to complement the architecture and views, not distract from them. “We highlighted the architecture and let that be the main speaking point,” said Leder, “That allowed for a clean work environment that doesn’t distract your focus and allows you to be as productive as possible in an environment that you feel comfortable in.”

Photography by: © Jason O’Rear

Of the views, Martinez-Nobles said, “The feedback that we’ve gotten from the architect and the owners is that the view is the most important thing, and we weren’t competing with the view.”

The designers also had to be mindful of perimeter daylight harvesting. On bright cloudy days, this can result in the creation of a dead zone at its inner boundary. “Especially with San Francisco, on these floors you have heavy fog. What we wanted to avoid is putting too much light at the perimeter; we didn’t necessarily need it,” said Martinez-Nobles, “But when you are using daylight harvesting, you know that your lights in the interior are getting dimmed down especially at the perimeter, so we played with the coves and allowed those to sort of bounce off of the glass and also allowed some of that special sparkle at the perimeter. We didn’t want everything to fall away with a cloudy day.”

Photography by: © Jason O’Rear

She also added, “I think another thing to point out with working with daylight is being especially mindful of the vertical surfaces. One way that you can combat the falling off or falling dark is if, when you are looking out the window, when you turn around and your eyes have adjusted to daylight, there’s still some vertical surface that’s illuminated.”

Even during “white-out” daytime weather conditions, the office creates visual interest through high contrast ratios and a balance between interior and exterior views. The designers accomplished this through highly luminous and “graphically assertive” coves and accents. “I think that the key was really using the volumes in the space and using that to guide where light lives,” said Czub.

Photography by: © Jason O’Rear

Stone also added, “The challenge of daylight is everywhere. You have plenty. It’s abundant; it’s free. So much so that our design reaction to the curving coves, the strong moves, lighting surfaces in the lobby, the choice of downlights, the refined details, they all contribute to having no distraction from the space you’re in and to provide luminosity. It is really extraordinary at sundown, where you just can’t believe you’re in an office building.” Impressed by the highly refined details of the complex space, the National Lighting Bureau (NLB) awarded the Fisher Marantz Stone team with a Tesla Award. Created with the intention of celebrating collaborative, high-benefit lighting projects and showcasing the best practices in lighting design, the Tesla Awards had 9 recipients in its inaugural year. Fisher Marantz Stone took home five of them.

The Covington San Francisco office — with its soft light embracing, rather than fighting against the building — was certainly deserving of this award.


Fisher Marantz Stone

Paula Martinez-Nobles, IALD, IES, NOMA, LEED AP BD+C

Kathryn Czub, IALD, IES, LEED AP BD+C


Charles G. Stone II, FIALD, IES, LC LEED AP BD+C


Lehman Smith McLeish (LSM)
80,000 sq ft
3000K, 80+ and 90+ CRI


Uplight and downlight cove: Ecosense

Recessed downlights: USAI & Reggiani

Recessed linear downlights: Gammalux

Decorative Lights: XAL

Flexible linear LED strips: Q-tran

Preset Dimming Control System: Lutron

This article originally appeared in the December 2020 issue of designing lighting.