Designer Forum: ID Studios incorporates San Diego’s roots into the design of Marsh & McLennan’s headquarters - Nov 2020
By Deborah Elliott
Imagine living through a complete renovation of your existing office over 18 months, having your work station moved six times during five phases of construction. This scenario can be one of the most stressful and taxing experiences any team of employees can go through. Successfully planning such a project requires intricate scheduling, immediate positive response to daily “people issues” and flexible collaborative solutions between all parties to stay on target. To have a client just as happy and excited at the end of the project as the day they started is the ultimate achievement for a design team, and this was the outcome of the renovation at Marsh & McLennan Agency’s La Jolla, California headquarters designed by ID Studios.
Marsh & McLennan, an insurance broker agency, approached the designer for the renovation of its 85,000-square-foot office, spanning four floors of a midrise building in the business-centered hub of the La Jolla/University Town Center area. During the visioning process, Marsh & McLennan revealed a desire for the local office to reflect its San Diego roots, dating back to 1909, as well as the local Southern California environment.
The office wanted employees to feel like they had a “place” within the larger Marsh & McLennan structure. Its employees’ homes were spread out in different neighborhoods across San Diego, each one having unique physical and environmental attributes. With that in mind, the designer centered the inspiration on San Diego County, which the Nature Conservancy calls “the most biologically rich county in the continental United States.” In a place where temperatures, landscapes and wildlife can all vary greatly across the region’s four corners, the designer took cues from the layering of materials, textures and environments to embody five of the most iconic habitats within San Diego: wetlands, farmlands, beaches, mountains and desert.
One of the designer’s favorite details is the flooring, which creates paths that connect the five habitats, guiding the viewer on a journey through the space. The designer found the perfect specification that exemplifies the concept in pattern, texture, color and, sometimes, in name. The Shaw Contract carpet patterns that make up these paths of travel combine the collections A Walk in the Garden and Off the Grid.
From the Tijuana Estuary National Wildlife Refuge near the international border to Batiquitos Lagoon in Carlsbad, these marshy stretches of land-where tall grasses, silt and water constantly interact with one another-are bustling with life. The lobby reflects San Diego’s wetlands with its use of organic textures expressed through live plants, pebbles and natural wood tones. The vertical, linear lighting abstractly expresses a textural field of grasses and brush wildly growing at the banks of a marsh. Warm lighting plays up these textures through highlight and shadow.
Between Vista, Fallbrook, Alpine, Valley Center and even Oceanside, San Diego has more farms under ten acres than any other county. Taking inspiration from farmlands, the designer conceptualized graphic lines of new growth and bright colors layered with soil, minerals and earth. That vision was realized in the new indoor/outdoor amenity space where a farm-to-table café feel was created. Luxury vinyl flooring from the Core series in Distressed Pecan by Bentley Mills looks so similar to layered earth the viewer almost has to look twice to realize it’s a durable product and not an outdoor field. The café has become a popular space where employees hang out, work and meet throughout the day, bringing together employees and departments that might not otherwise interact.
Famous destinations such as Ocean Beach, Coronado, Pacific Beach, La Jolla, Sunset Cliffs and Carlsbad make up San Diego’s most well-known shoreline habitats. Tide pools, cliffs and sandy beaches dot unique micro-climates in the 70 miles of shoreline stretching across San Diego county. The designer took the ideas of driftwood, polished stones, jagged rock, ebbing sand and rhythmic movement and reflected them in the materials used in Marsh & McLennan’s new Community Conference Center.
The center is utilized in-house and is also available to the public as part of its community outreach program, so it’s a heavily used part of the office. In the space, a local beach is prominently depicted by an internationally renowned and local photographer, Aaron Chang. His photo titled “Black’s Beauty” is displayed on one of the conference room walls, while the stone countertops and textured carpet provide organic shapes in beachy tones to further enhance the shoreline habitat feel. Shaw Contract’s Beyond broadloom pattern in Coast, from the Off the Grid collection, is constructed of beautiful yarns with deep colors and luster to make this space come alive.
San Diego County’s mountains offer some of the most surprising landscapes. The high peaks provide commanding views across the county and beyond. Mountains bring to mind shifting cracks and crags, vistas with sweeping views, rugged rock and wild brush. The boardroom is an excellent expression of this habitat. Surrounded by glass and unobstructed views from the top floor of the building, this room feels like standing on a mountain peak. This is where perspectives are gained and decisions are made. The intersection of organic and structured forms reflects that grand feeling with the layering of weathered wood and stone juxtaposed by refined materials, such as white leather chairs and a solid-surface conference table. The use of the Shaw Contract’s Off the Grid carpet collection is reminiscent of escaping to the mountains.
San Diego’s deserts feature washes of wildflowers, cacti and sweeping vistas. With a bright splash of color, the collaborative islands sprinkled throughout the open-office workspace provide a perfect representation of desert oases, which can be seen across the office horizon, beckoning to those in need of a break from their desk. These vibrant islands wait patiently to nourish and inspire those who visit. Furthering the idea of the desert, Shaw Contract carpet-Gravel in Stone from A Walk in the Garden-appears exactly like the whips of sand blowing in the wind.
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