Designer Forum - March 2011

By Jeff Taylor

 

Interior design is at its best when we use our skills as designers to innovate and create an environment that improves the way a company works, interacts and goes to market. This describes the unique opportunity that Arris, a Design Studio, Inc. was given when asked not only to design a new headquarters facility, but also to create a new culture that would cultivate inspiration, encourage creativity and promote collaboration. The design is rich in layers of form, function, color, drama and nature, and the flooring was designed to be an integral part in anchoring the space and achieving a successful end.

The client is Firaxis Games, a leading video game development studio responsible for industry favorites such as the Sid Meier’s Civilization series. The company works in teams, developing several games at the same time. The design process of a single game can take years to complete and involves a team of artists, software designers, animators and producers. These large teams of creative talent need quiet spaces for intense focus as well as large, open spaces for collaboration and various sized meetings. As hard as these designers work, they also desire fun spaces to decompress both quietly alone and through group play. To a gaming company like Firaxis, play is their work, so play is an important part of their daily routine.

Arris started its design process by looking at how the built environment could better support Firaxis’ design process. The company had originally moved into an abandoned office space that required intensive build-out on multiple floors; the location was not conducive to employee and team interaction. This lackluster space with its vanilla box finishes did nothing to inspire or support the company’s process and goals. 

After studying the function and work process of Firaxis, Arris held a design charrette to leverage the talent of the team and generate innovative ideas. In the end, Arris created Idea Banks that house two to four people working toward a similar goal. These Idea Banks offer small team spaces and also give each member private focus space for their “heads down” work. The Banks for each product development team were collated around war rooms for collaboration of up to 16 people and open team areas. The glass façade of the war rooms opens to engage the adjacent team areas to accommodate the entire Firaxis team. These concepts were just the beginning of creating the new culture Firaxis required to remain an innovation leader.

With the balance between private focus space and team collaboration achieved, the design team began to look at the other spaces required to improve productivity and creativity.  Break out spaces and play areas were added to the requirements. The break out spaces were to be informal areas with lots of unique character to provide a small “getaway” from the intensity of the work process. Meanwhile, large group play areas were also required. A break room filled with various games and a television lounge area was added to the mix. 

The client also wanted exercise facilities and showers to support both indoor and outdoor activities. Other required amenities included a press conference room, library and a multipurpose room. The multipurpose room is good for everything from yoga classes to model sketching, an important part of modeling characters and their movements in the video games. These amenities are not looked upon as nice to have; rather, they are an integral part of supporting the best practices of the creative process. 

Once the program and the process were defined, the focus shifted to the built environment. The client selected a 35,000 square foot, single story warehouse space for its headquarters. The design team decided to create an interactive experience throughout the space that mimics the games being produced. The goal is to take an employee or visitor on a journey through the office space, not just a walk to the water cooler. The design also reflects the company’s talent with cutting edge technology, as well as its penchant for nature and outdoor activities. Clusters of Idea Banks with large custom made barn doors were turned askew to create surprise around every corner. Walls were kept relatively neutral intentionally, with magnetic whiteboards to showcase current art and design from games under construction. 

The flooring is the key element that holds the design elements together. The team designed a serpentine pattern that leads through the space as well as elliptical designs that reflect the ceiling elements above. The floor plan was zoned into three team areas with the use of color in the flooring. The colors included an earthy orange red, a grassy green and a sky blue, continuing the natural theme concept.

The ceiling and lighting contribute to the sense of mystery. The exposed ceiling is painted black with suspended elliptical elements to provide interest and improve acoustics. The ceiling elements fluctuate between being grounded by architectural details and floating in free space. Lighting fixtures act as sculptural pieces. This leaves the main expression of color and texture for the flooring surfaces.

As the design team contemplated the materials for flooring, the use of stained concrete seemed the perfect choice. Early on, Firaxis leaders, Steve Martin and Sid Meier, had visions of staff maneuvering around the large floor plate on rollerblades and skateboards. Stained concrete—a natural choice, with a unique industrial texture that could not be accomplished with other hard surface materials—was selected for the serpentine path that leads through the public areas from the vestibule and press room through the library and ending with the break area and play room. The hard surface was low maintenance and ideal for the high traffic zones. 

The team wanted the concrete imperfections to show, even the diamond patterns that appear around structural columns. The existing concrete floor was kept in its original condition as much as possible. Repairs were made only to divots that posed a safety concern. The designers worked closely with the flooring contractor to test the flooring stains; this was key to achieving the proper colors. Since the concrete existed long before this build-out, the absorption of the stain was unpredictable. This process, including preparation, treatment and final buffing, were key to the overall success of this installation.

Carpet tile was chosen for the offices, work and collaborative areas, for a variety of reasons. Color, pattern, acoustical properties and maintenance advantages all made carpet tile the ideal candidate. As the team researched options, Shaw’s Dressed to Kill collection stood apart as the best choice for this project, capturing the essence of the design concept. The crisp colors, natural elements and large scale graphics perfectly fit the design criteria. The 100% solution dyed, multi-level loop product provides durability, a key to managing space on “day-two.” The deep colors and patterns also help to disguise stains in high traffic areas between proper maintenance cleanings. The random tile patterns contribute to a sense of arbitrary order, organic nature and fun. Facility and maintenance concerns are key to creating successful designs that look good and function well for a long time after the designer leaves and the client is left to inhabit and maintain the space. Although function and culture are key factors for this innovative project, ease of maintenance and durability are always required for long term success. 

So often, designers create spaces and move onto the next project, never seeing how people really use what they create. Due to the strong relationship forged through the process of defining the Firaxis corporate culture, Arris has been able to observe the transformation that has occurred. Each Idea Bank has been themed, like a dorm room, to reflect the individual creativity of their inhabitants. Touchdown areas are filled with creative ideas and artist renderings plastered across whiteboard walls. Play areas are filled with folks having fun and interacting. Outdoor volleyball tournaments occur regularly. The space, its layout, function, finish and flooring all contribute to a culture that cultivates inspiration, encourages creativity and promotes collaboration. In their words, “The space has improved overall communication which has led to enhanced productivity throughout the studio.” Mission accomplished. 

Copyright 2011 Floor Focus 



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