Posts tagged with "Office Interiors":
Chicago-based Cards Against Humanity is not a typical company. And, working with von Weise Associates, the company now has an office space that is anything but typical. For those not familiar, Cards Against Humanity is a party game in which players are forced to match often slightly obscene or risqué cards with other players. Founded by a group of high school friends who still make up most of the company, the simple set of cards became the most popular game on Amazon in 2011, just one year after crowdfunding its startup.
With its success, the original Cards team had big ideas of how not only it could move forward as a company, but also how it could support other young creative people along the way. The first step would be to move out of its small storefront office and into a larger space. Brought in early in the process, von Weise searched for a space with the team, eventually settling on two adjacent buildings just east of the Bucktown neighborhood on the Near North Side of Chicago. Much larger than what would be needed for just the eight employees, the new space is more than just an office.
Closer to a coworking or shared space, Cards Against Humanity lends or donates desks to young people and small business who are working on their own projects. At any given time, it can be filled with over 40 people, sharing ideas and motivating each other. To accommodate the wide range of thought, a diverse set of resources and programs fill the office. In the main work area, a large open bowstring-trussed space, three shipping containers divide the room. Each container offers an escape from the more familiar desk space in the form of a Japanese tearoom, a Moroccan hookah lounge, and private phone booths. “There is a Lego room; they wanted a Lego room,” said principal Chip von Weise. “They also gave us images of Japanese spaces they wanted, and we brought in the idea for the Moroccan room. We had a lot of fun with them.” The rest of the office continues this theme of atypical spaces. A darkroom, a gallery, and studio for recording podcasts can be found. Tying back to the game’s roots in improv comedy, an 80-seat black box theater was also built out. After working with the local alderman, the theater recently received a zoning variance, and can now be opened to the public. Anticipating the long zoning process, the space was originally listed as a “training area” in the initial permit set.
The office does, however, have some more recognizable spaces as well. A kitchen and large dining area were a must, as the office is in an industrial area of the city. A large conference room also plays a key role in the business. Once a month the entire team comes together to write new cards to expand the game around a large table. Locking themselves in the room for a few days, covering the dry-erase walls with writing, they ensure the game stays fresh for its loyal fans.
For a company that has run (anti-)Black Friday promotions—raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for charity—that have included raising the price of the product, selling boxes of sterilized bull feces, and digging a “Holiday Hole,” a typical office was just not going to cut it. Yet the unorthodox makers of an obscene game are not the only ones to see the value in their new office. AIA Chicago awarded von Weise a 2016 Interior Honor Award for the project. And who doesn’t want a Japanese tearoom to unwind in after an intense brainstorming session?
General Contractor Wigmore Construction 312-544-0742
Whether or not we’ve realized it, most of us have bought products through Square, a company that supplies small businesses with the now-ubiquitous square-shaped hardware and software that remotely processes credit card payments. Square’s new offices in San Francisco are meant to be as minimal, clear, and usable as its products.
Located in what was once a miserable, almost completely windowless Bank of America data center, the new 300,000-square-foot, fourth-floor office is just the opposite: an open, light-filled workspace organized by a central “boulevard,” lined with gathering spaces (including a library, gallery, and cafe), and a wide variety of working spaces, including bench-style work desks, tables, and semi-private, acoustically lined “work cabanas.”
To manage the space’s ridiculously big floor plates (100,000 square feet, four times the typical size), according to Bohlin Cywinski Jackson (BCJ) principal Gregory Mottola, the firm studied urban precedents as varied as Dubrovnik and Milan, looking at everything from urban plazas to enclosed arcades. Unifying the office floors is a massive amphitheater stair that cuts through floors six, seven, and eight, and provides zones for individual work, group meetings, and large presentations. The stair is fitted with movable, lightweight powder-coated tables that snake their way down its length to create unique working and relaxing environments. Another office anchor is the eighth and ninth floor “Square Stair,” a floating switchback connecting the office floor to the main dining level.
“You’re giving up rentable floor area, but the payoff is you have these incredible group amenities,” said Mottola. “The key was this idea of creating a really collaborative, transparent company. You don’t want to have one place feel disconnected from the rest.”
Clean lines and lots of white (on steel panels, stretch-fabric ceiling panels, and drywalls) reflect the brand’s identity and lightens the mood, while salvaged wood elements, like the eucalyptus amphitheater stair, Plyboo cabanas, and end-grain woodblock flooring in the lobby, provide warmth and visual interest. Splashes of color demarcate important spaces, provide needed accents, and reflect the locale: Bright orange, for instance, recalls the Golden Gate Bridge, while blue shades evoke the nearby San Francisco Bay. The company installed new windows along the perimeters of the sixth, seventh, and eighth floors, drawing in natural light where there once had been none. Another big aspect of the design within a limited budget was lighting. BCJ employed a variety of techniques, from spear-shaped “light saber” LEDs above the boulevard to indirect lighting in the workstations and sculptural accent pendants in the lounge spaces.
“We tried to make the most of those dramatic moments when we could,” said Mottola, who noted that Square was drawn to BCJ’s clean work for Apple’s stores, but not its purely monochrome palette. As the company grows at an exponential rate, the airy, collaborative, and flexible spaces will no doubt come in handy. “We want them to be able to grow and shift over time,” he added.
“You could say we were the underdogs,” Blitz principal and CEO Melissa Hanley said about being selected to design Microsoft’s flagship office in one of San Francisco’s most notable buildings, 555 California Street. “Microsoft challenged a lot of things with this project, from hiring a tiny little baby firm like us to selecting a transparent site in San Francisco.”
Aside from facing the obstacles of being a small architecture firm tapped to create an office for one of the largest technology companies in the world, Blitz had to work within the restraints of 555 California Street (formerly the Bank of America Center). Art Gensler was brought on to design the tower’s indoor space when the building opened in 1969, and he’s credited by some as the inventor of commercial interior architecture. “There was a great deal of responsibility to not mess it up,” Hanley said.
Hanley and her team treated working within the iconic building’s structure and Microsoft’s “global design guidelines” (hundreds of parameters for everything from the conference rooms to staff algorithms) as a huge, complex puzzle. To take the stakes one notch higher, the office was downsizing from a 90,000-square-foot space to a 43,500-square-foot space, and employees were understandably concerned.
In an attempt to solve all of these challenges with one elegant solution, “We really focused on the idea of neighborhood design,” Hanley said. “We broke up a sea of desks into groups of 18 to 30 users, and every ‘neighborhood’ has familiar touch points such as lockers for flex employees, water, trash, etc.” Each neighborhood is a different bright color, which offers easy wayfinding and furthers employees’ sense of home. The layout offers equal access to front-row views of the cityscape from the 265 windows on the site.
The office also showcases Microsoft’s latest technology to customers. Upon entering the lobby, visitors walk up a 30-foot-tall staircase to a landing featuring an interactive, virtual moss wall. “It is technical, fun, and childlike,” Hanley said. “It’s a place where people can pause and think about their journey into the space.” Blitz echoed the moss wall with real living walls throughout the space, a slightly surreal move that blurs the borders between reality and technology. The firm extended the outdoor, organic aesthetic with textural flooring and canopies wrapped in a bleached-cork covering that resembles birch.
Although the project was a game changer for Blitz, which now has three ongoing projects with Microsoft in addition to work for Comcast and Yahoo, it was also pivotal for Microsoft. “Before this office, Microsoft was located in the outskirts of the city; it was almost like a castle in the sky,” Hanley said. “Now it is downtown, it is transparent, it engages with the city, and all the stuff that goes on outside its windows influences it day-to-day.”
As Chicago-based Partners by Design nears its 23rd year of interior design, the firm has branched out into into architecture, spatial branding, and other building services. Its recent office design for financial tech company Enova brings those years of experience and diverse expertise to the table—producing a workplace in which color, graphics, materials, and varied spaces come together in one unified environment.
When Enova wanted to consolidate its Chicago offices, it hired Partners by Design (PBD) to create a bright, flexible space. “PBD was challenged to enable greater communication, collaboration, and continuity across the organization, no matter the function,” said Cathy Grable, Partners by Design’s project designer for Enova. Coming from offices spread through nine floors of another downtown building with an offsite call center, the new three-floor South Loop office brings everyone under one roof and makes communication among departments simpler.
Working with Enova’s CEO and facilities director, Partners by Design kept the palette refined with splashes of color and graphics. “They expressed that they wanted the place to be playful, yet still techy,” Partners by Design architect Sara Gotschewski told AN. “And they love color.”
As a result, three commissioned graffiti pieces demarcate the center of each floor and the main gathering spaces. Color is also injected into the project in the form of bright lime-green workrooms and elevator banks painted Enova’s trademark blue. The rest of the office is finished in white with warm plywood accents.
It was important to the client to have a variety of workspace configurations to match the variety of tasks performed by different workers. Employees who need to be on the phone require more private and quiet, while software development teams need larger, focused team rooms. Some positions require low-walled workstations, while others need space to sketch, diagram, and collaborate. Partners by Design used material choice, organization, and a mix of open and closed spaces to achieve the diverse spaces requested. Graphic carpet covers much of the workspace, while polished concrete floors are used for common spaces. Meeting and team rooms are separated with glass walls that double as writing surfaces, while keeping the office as transparent as possible.
One of the reasons Enova decided to invest in a newly designed office space was to attract talent in the highly competitive tech industry. “Recognizing Enova’s goals to foster a young dynamic culture that prizes innovation and new ideas, Partners by Design created a hip corporate space that brings a “wow” factor perfect for employee development and recruitment,” explained Grable. Since young workers often judge their workplace by amenities and environment, it is important that the office provides a space that is both efficient for the job at hand, as well as appealing to the intended workforce. Partners by Design was careful to meet the set needs of the established company, while injecting some new functions to bring the space up to the tech world’s expectations. Socially, communal eating areas provide space for worker interaction and informal collaboration (a beer keg fridge helps facilitate the discussion). Central break areas on each of the three floors let workers get away from their desks, while anchoring each of the floors.
As might be expected in any tech company, the entire project is wired to facilitate fast communication among departments. This ability was a major incentive for moving the call center to the same space as the rest of the company.
With the tech industry making up more and more of Chicago’s economy and young workers demanding to live in the city, the city’s office landscape is quickly being rethought. The bright graphics and carefully detailed material palette Partners by Design brought to the Enova project, along with the functional, yet varied work environments, stand as an example of how Chicago does tech. Resources
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