Designing the places we wait

New book on lobbies and waiting rooms explores the creative beauty of spaces for times in between.

courtesy of thomas mayer/harper collins
Double duty: Two walls act as gigantic video screens in the IAC Company lobby in New York.
courtesy of thomas mayer/harper collins
Seascape: Norveg Coast Cultural Center in Norway plays with ocean views and light.
courtesy of adam mork/harper collins
Seascapes: Copenhagen Opera in Denmark plays with ocean views and light.

As frenetic as the pace of our lives has become, we can't escape the often maddening experience of waiting – for hotel check-ins, dental appointments, school registration, job interviews, and more – in public lobbies or waiting rooms where time, to use Shakespeare's pithy phrase, "goes on crutches." Since lobbies and waiting rooms are places of such concentrated, emotionally charged experiences, you might believe architects and their clients would place a prime value on designing them to comfortably fit with our ever-evolving needs. Yet lobbies and waiting rooms are often treated superficially by building owners and architects. Building exteriors capture public gaze first – and glittering iconic facades can easily become budgetbusters, leaving inadequately funded lobbies lackluster by comparison.

"I hope this book will be a source of inspiration and help to those of us who have to spend precious time waiting in these rooms," comments Daniela Santos Quartino, the Barcelona-based writer whose invaluable visual sourcebook, "New Lobbies & Waiting Rooms," was recently published by Collins Design. Quartino's text offers little commentary, but compensates through hundreds of compelling photographs of many of the world's most inviting and functional spaces for prime-time waiting, designed for hotels, sports centers, medical clinics, schools, and museums. Asked about her favorite design, Ms. Quartino notes, "There is more than one: the Copenhagen Opera ... a glass capsule around the wood auditorium in the heart of the building; the Norveg Coast Cultural Center in Norway that makes you feel like you're inside a boat ... the Qantas first-class lounge in the Sydney, Australia, airport with its amazing vertical garden.... But the one that impressed me the most is the lobby of the IAC Company in New York by Frank Gehry, because it combines visual arts with technology and light."

Gehry's IAC lobby on the media conglomerate's first floor invites visitors to wait while sitting on a dramatically sweeping, wave-shaped bench. Two walls do double duty as gigantic video screens, flashing films of IAC's global activities. When films are switched off, these screens revert to walls radiating high-intensity, solid color fields, tinting the lobby with a warm painterly glow.

"A good lobby is one that hooks you," Quartino remarks. Her favorite waiting spaces catch us through offering lavishly changeable sensory stimulation while inspiring us to fantasize even more involving spaces after we leave these anticipatory rooms behind.

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