Corporate Trends: Designers help business create innovative offices - March 2017

By Ruth Simon McRae

Big changes are happening in corporate design. These changes have come on so slowly that we have to step back to see how big they are. Trends in the economy and business world, as well as cultural changes in society-from technology to healthy lifestyles-are all huge drivers of change. Although every client and project is different, there are overarching trends that seem to be common to all corners of the corporate market. In this report, designers shared some distinct trends and influences, such as office size, the role of flooring, evolving technology and wellness initiatives. 

OFFICES ARE GETTING SMALLER
Real estate is getting more expensive. In many cases, companies are choosing to move to a smaller office with the same number of employees, reducing the size of individual workspaces. At the same time, work process is increasingly collaborative, with casual interactions or ‘collisions’ becoming important to the creative process, driving the development of flexible office layouts with multiple types of work and meeting spaces in order to meet a company’s needs. 

“Determining types of workspaces, such as collaborative or private, is specific to each client situation,” says Doris Guerrero, interiors design director at Gensler San Francisco. “The workplace flow is developed with each business unit. Designers must understand the culture and work process of an organization in order to create a plan. Workspace types can also vary depending on the daily tasks of a specific department. HR or legal personnel may have different needs, such as acoustics and privacy. There is a great need for flexibility. Naturally, the space plan also relates to workplace density and projection of density over time. Larger tech companies tend to track usage and density and may quickly implement changes.”

THE IMPORTANCE OF FLOORING
Flooring has developed into a problem solver to help create and define these spaces, and is an important component of interior planning and design. As such, it is selected early in the project. As Deborah Elliott, principal at ID Studios in San Diego, notes, “Many years ago, flooring was not such a key factor. Yet today there are so many innovative flooring options, with more coming out all the time.” In fact, all of the interviewed designers were enthusiastic about the design range in flooring and the overall quality of the available products.

INTERIOR TRENDS
The desire for warm, inviting spaces in office interiors is a theme throughout corporate America. Companies want to create a comfortable yet energetic space. This is almost the polar opposite of the clean, edgy, contemporary corporate design of the past. To meet the goals of their client companies, designers are specifying materials that give a feeling of both comfort and authenticity. This may be seen as a nearly handcraft aesthetic that balances today’s technology-permeated workplace.

Technology influences everything. Now that technology is unplugged, people can work anywhere in the office. This translates to many less defined, more flexible spaces that are both amorphic and connected, giving employees multiple opportunities to meet and interact or just move around while doing private work. 

Attracting talent is a priority. The need to attract and retain employees has been a fact of life for years. Companies are now using their collaborative space for programs to foster and mentor their staff. This is a huge draw for prospective employees.

Fostering wellness is a fundamental principle for companies, and one that has become more clearly defined and laid out in recent years. An extension of sustainable values, emphasizing wellness gives business leaders the opportunity to show that they care about their employees’ wellbeing by encouraging health in a variety of ways. These may include securing healthy local food options within a space that supports physical activity, as well as insisting on healthy materials within the workplace. Nearly all designers interviewed mentioned incorporating sit-stand desks and stairways between levels within offices in their designs.

Biophilia, the affinity of human beings for the natural world, is an underlying principle throughout corporate design. Connection to nature is done in concept, space planning and materials throughout the office environment.

To get a better understanding of these issues, Floor Focus spoke with designers at four top A&D firms-Gensler, ID Studios, Perkins+Will and Hickok Cole-discussing their insights into the process in the context of recent corporate projects. 

GENSLER: Symantec
Symantec is a world leader in cyber security, providing a wide range of services for large corporate and industrial clients. Gensler and Symantec have a long relationship. Located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, a center of knowledge and research-Harvard and MIT, among others, are located there-the office is a bridge to New York, Washington, D.C., Europe and Asia. The workspace was designed to connect the global aspects of the organization with the local cultural flair of the Boston area.

Symantec is proud of its employees, and staffers seem to be inspired by the company’s mission and culture. The culture of this Cambridge office is distinct; it is focused on strategy, while being steeped in history. This is a different approach from a tech company in California.

Reflecting this intellectual approach, Gensler focused the design around a theme of board games and strategy, referencing game boards like backgammon and chess. The overall design concept creates a dynamic geometry that reveals itself as you walk through the space.

Security is at the heart the company and is supported through a light and transparent environment composed of transparent and semi-transparent materials, such as glass and perforated metal screens. The design strategy was intended to create a balance between the natural world and the technology produced by this end-user. Patterns in the space also relate artisanal handicraft of textiles with the mathematical designs relating to the engineering group. Additionally, offices and meeting rooms feature angled patterns made up of solid colors combined to relate to their brand graphics.

The design focused on comfortable and authentic materials, color and brightness. As Guerrero notes, “Business leaders want warmth, texture and honesty in materials. To express this, we prefer carpet with tooth and texture that also has environmentally ambitious qualities.” 

The floor design was used to define functional areas. Concrete floors define community zones, and carpet defines collaborative and work zones. More boldly patterned carpet adds detail and interest to a long conference room. Stained, sealed and polished concrete floors were used throughout the space. Although literally a hard surface, designers often consider concrete a material that provides warmth, due to its distressed and blurry look. Guerrero notes that concrete creates visual warmth, with a natural-looking aesthetic similar to materials such as raw steel, and exposed brick. She is seeing much more interest from clients in these types of materials. In this case, the concrete is stained black; the staining technique tempers the severity of the color.

Symantec has carpet in strategic areas, such as in the collaborative space know as Think Tank, some focused work areas and a B2B conference room-using two styles from Interface. On Line, a textured loop carpet, is installed in the Thank Tank. Turkish Blend, a contemporary pattern of black, white and grey, is featured in a long conference room. This carpet has a contemporary approach to a traditional motif, seeming very appropriate for Cambridge. It can be seen while walking down a corridor with a vibrant red graphic wall on the left, through a glass wall screened by a semi-transparent geometric pattern.

“Interface designs fantastic carpet,” says Guerrero. “They also have a great sensibility about adding new accent carpets frequently in order to stay on trend.”

From a color perspective, Symantec has a cool-based palette with warmer color accents, creating an ambiance that is both warm and high-tech. This palette was also used to support branding by incorporating Symantec’s brand colors of yellow, black, grey and white. Designers limited the amount of yellow used in the interior in order to maximize its punch.

Furniture also supports the push and pull between technology and warmth. Intriguing yet familiar furnishings, such as a tufted Colonial-influenced sofa, coat of arms and artisanal poufs, are highlights in the space, relating to the culture and history of Cambridge as well as the global nature of the organization.

Messaging-both internally and externally-is a key component of the design. Graphic words featured on walls are inwardly focused, intending to create pride in the work being done. Gensler’s interiors and environmental graphics teams worked closely together on this project, both in crafting the verbiage with Symantec and providing a toolkit to guide Symantec’s visual messaging overall.

ID STUDIOS: Tealium 
“Clients need to optimize real estate,” says Elliott. “The cost of real estate is rising. As a result, offices are getting smaller and workstations are getting smaller. More collaborative and meeting spaces are needed due to the reduction of personal space. The topic of workplace trends and their relationship to floorcovering is interesting, because today flooring is such an important part of our designs. We are using a variety of floorcovering materials to create those spaces, combining soft and hard surface.” 

The majority of ID Studios’ clients say they want their offices to feel warm, comfortable and relaxed. Today, spaces are all about having areas for both privacy and planned or impromptu collaboration. “We often have to be heads-down, but we want to connect when we are heads-up,” Elliott adds.

Tealium is a technology company located in San Diego, California. When the company decided to expand into a new corporate headquarters, Tealium enlisted ID Studios to design a unified, creative space that would inspire and motivate its diverse team. The design solution incorporates sit-stand desks for all, social hubs, a deli and areas for playful activity.

Tealium utilizes three primary types of flooring: polished concrete, carpet tile and LVT. Open areas are soft surface, either an area rug made out of carpet tiles inset into hard surface flooring or an expanse of carpet tile. 

Designers created a huge amount of booths, resembling restaurant seating, but with floor to ceiling vertical dividers, throughout the whole office. These areas usually have hard surface or resilient flooring. 

Polished concrete is used widely throughout Tealium’s workplace, establishing the mood of a raw, collaborative space. Although concrete is physically hard, ID Studios designers feel the material expresses a casual warmth, appreciating its natural warm grey color and mottled texture. Concrete is also nearly maintenance-free, with a character that seems to be enhanced by wear.

In food service areas, ID Studios designers typically specify LVT or porcelain in addition to concrete. Porcelain is often used instead of natural stone due to its design options, durability, cleanability, ease of replacement and lower cost. Modern Wood, an LVT from Tarkett’s Contour series, is installed in Tealium’s executive break room.

On the soft surface side, Elliott is a big fan of modular carpet due to its design range and flexibility, adding, “Many carpet tile product lines have eight to ten options and layout configurations. This can make custom carpet unnecessary, as you can find what you want or create the desired effect by designing the floor.” There are some reasons to do custom carpets, like when a client wants something no one else has or needs a design that specifically supports their brand, possibly working with a special logo or colors. The carpets featured in Tealium includes Mannington’s Bouclé and Shaw Contract’s Color Frame, along with an area rug of Milliken’s Fixate.

Elliott is also seeing carpet with a hospitality or residential feel being used to enhance a feeling of warmth and connection. ID Studios specifies broadloom carpet primarily in projects with private offices, areas that get less wear and tear and where the installation will not create too much disruption.

Unlike other designers interviewed, Elliot sees faux materials such as LVT as great design tools. For example, she may specify a wood-look LVT in an application where she wants the warmth of wood without the sound. The graining of the wood look hides soil and wear, and has lower upkeep. She also appreciates the faux material looks available in porcelain tiles. One exception to this is in law offices, which generally have a preference for natural wood flooring.

Sustainability is approached as a given. ID Studios provides sustainability on every project, whether or not it is LEED certified. “This is the lens,” she says. “We just do this. It is not optional.” It is also helpful that sustainability has become more affordable. In some cases, such as government, sustainability is built into the spec. For example, government projects in California are all mandated to be LEED.

PERKINS+WILL: Nixon Peabody
Nixon Peabody, LLP, a global law practice with offices in major cities around the world, wanted its new Washington, D.C. office to be contemporary, highly efficient and flexible. The firm also needed to significantly cut down its overall space requirement by reducing support functions as well as private office sizes. Located on three floors of a newly renovated downtown office building, the project area was reduced from 92,000 square feet to much more efficient 66,000 square feet.

The design by Perkins+Will integrates Nixon Peabody’s new branding strategy, which promotes communication, collaboration, and cross-over between practice groups, and it also challenges many of the typical law firm design characteristics, such as large corner offices, massive wooden doors and the segregation of lawyers from staff. In the new plan, all the attorneys were given the same sized offices, regardless of tenure, and corner offices were eliminated, a radical departure from years past. The reduction in perimeter offices allows for more public spaces along the window, benefiting all employees. The traditional corner office space is given up to collaborative team rooms for all to use. 

Describing the approach, Ken Wilson, design principal at Perkins+Will’s Washington, D.C. office, says, “For law firms, the private office will be around a while, as a lot of legal work is done privately in a quiet space that supports focused work. Although with focused work sometimes it helps to be able to take a break, pick up your laptop, move to a different place, and maybe get a latte and chat with a colleague. Of course, the organization’s culture has to support this flexibility in order for it to work.”

The design of the Nixon Peabody office expresses many of trends that have been affecting corporate office design for a number of years. However, these trends are very new, if not radical, for the legal community. For example, a large employee café is positioned right off of the main reception area. In the past, this space would have been buried within the center of the floorplate and only used by the support staff.

Nixon Peabody has quite an open, contemporary feel, with light to medium toned wood and transparent blue glass in varying shades defining the office space. Prima white oak from ReSawn Timber Co. is the wood flooring, used in the lobby and most public areas. Carpet is used throughout the workspaces. Shaw Contract’s Fringe Tile is installed through corridors and offices, while its Angle Tile defines conference rooms. Interface’s Human Nature carpet tile is used in the reception area as “rugs” that define seating areas over the natural wood flooring, as well as in the cafe lounge.

Biophilic strategies include the liberal use of wood in a natural state, distant views, abundant natural light and quiet space when needed. The space is very transparent and filled with natural light. Legal assistants who never had views to the outside now have wide views of the city through the clear glass walls of the perimeter offices. A three-story living wall, equivalent to five 14’ tall trees, is the backdrop to a central stair that connects all three floors of the office. 

Wilson takes an eclectic approach to carpet selection. “I think we are living in a time where anything goes, as long as it is appropriate,” he says. “I like to mix up the carpet where it makes sense to do so. At Nixon Peabody, we have shag area rugs that define seating areas on hardwood flooring, and durable loop carpet tile in the office corridors.” At the same time, he notes that Perkins+Will primarily specifies modular carpet for most projects for countless reasons, including the vast array of styling choices. 

In general, Wilson uses a variety of flooring materials to define spaces and create different environments. Perkins+Will is specifying hard surface flooring such as wood or sealed concrete more than it used to. Designers often use concrete flooring both with new or existing slabs. “Exposing a concrete floor is one way to create a space that looks basic and real,” Wilson says, adding that he prefers the look of authentic materials. “The choice between real and fake is an easy one. The integrity of materials in very important to me.”

Nixon Peabody wanted a design that embodied its values on sustainability and social responsibility-including promoting human health and wellbeing. An open stair connects the three floors of the space. It acts as a light well, encouraging staff to be active when moving between floors. The design of the space incorporates many sustainable strategies and has been awarded LEED-CI Platinum certification.

The Nixon Peabody project has won several major awards for both sustainability and office design. It was recently named the winner of the 2016 Shaw Contract ”Design Is” Award in the Large Office Market Sector and Large Office Global categories.

HICKOK COLE: Children’s HOSPITAL Association 
Children’s Hospital Association (CHA) is an organization that speaks for more than 220 children’s hospitals across the nation in order to advance children’s health initiatives. The association was faced with a big transition as it planned a move from an introverted, private office-centric space in downtown Alexandria, Virginia to a smaller workplace and more urban location in downtown Washington, D.C. Hickok Cole, a multi-faceted design practice based in Washington, D.C., was brought in to design the new offices, guiding this transition.

CHA wanted a comfortable space with opportunities for people to connect in an authentic, organic way. The client also needed to maximize the smaller workspace, including areas for each type of work and activity. 

“Today, everything is about offering choice,” notes Jessica Maples, associate principal at Hickok Cole. “The aim in this project was to remove formalities to make way for fluid work. The client wanted to make spaces inviting and comfortable enough to make people want to stop and connect within the space. Every area down to the reception space became a place where people could connect together.” The concept of choice seems to runs parallel to trends in health and senior care. 

Taking inspiration from a classic children’s game of jacks, the design team abstracted that shape to create a unifying architectural canopy and screen element that spans the shared spaces. In addition to the having the literal look of jacks, design elements in the flowing architectural screen also look like children holding hands or references to the Children’s Hospital Association logo. The screen provides a layer of privacy to select meeting areas while connecting a series of spaces along the main circulation route of the space. 

A long area of glass-enclosed conference rooms, “The Hive,” separates two areas of open office space. The Hive provides space for face-to-face and virtual meetings as well as impromptu collaboration. Naturally, acoustics between offices was a high priority. Designers selected carpet for the flooring in this area to enhance acoustics, and chose a Teknion system designed to give visual transparency while offering acoustical privacy. Specific furniture was also used in certain open areas to absorb sound. 

“Designers need to decide early on in a project which flooring will be used to define and articulate the spaces,” Maples notes. Two flooring types were used in this project, in part due to its relatively small scale of 15,000 square feet.

For the carpeted areas of CHA, Hickok Cole selected Interface’s Urban Retreat carpet tile, due to its overall organic feel and its gradated ‘blurry’ edge pattern. The edge of the carpet provides a transition between the darker grey carpet and a light-toned porcelain tile, as well as defining the transition when going from one space to another. Urban Retreat in a tonal, all-over design is also used throughout private workstations and some seating areas. 

“Urban Retreat has an organic, natural pattern that feels graceful,” explains Sean Wayne, director of interior design at Hickok Cole. “Organic no longer means swirly or curved motifs. The term is now being used to describe a more subtle mottled effect.”

Porcelain tile was installed in the main circulation path, organizing the space and helping visitors find their way. The porcelain tile, Stone Source’s Resorts, has a subtle pattern that refers to stone yet is not literal. Designers chose this material for its warm feeling, its consistent, refined look and its matte finish. The product looks like natural stone, without the implied opulence. 

Wellness is a driving force for CHA and is naturally expressed in its office design. Maples adds, “We are talking more about wellness in the workplace. CHA is setting a great example as they promote health and wellness in their space. They serve healthy foods, and cater breakfast. They also promote an ‘agile work form’ that encourages people to move around to interact, getting out of their spaces, using the stairs, etc.” 

Blue, turquoise and cyan accents seen throughout the space refer to the Children’s Hospital Association’s logo, but with a modern twist. The overall color scheme is built around warm and cool white, dark grey and the blue accents. In addition, photographs of the children, doctors and families from CHA’s member hospitals are placed along a main circulation route to remind employees about the mission they serve.

Copyright 2017 Floor Focus