Appetite For Destruction
Ruth Lopez -- Interior Design, 5/1/2008 12:00:00 AM
When advertising behemoth Leo Burnett decided to condense its creative department on two floors instead of three, the mandate for VOA Associates involved a change likely to put a slew of talented noses out of joint: Perimeter offices had been taking up a sizable portion of each 25,000-square-foot floor plate, and their walls were about to come tumbling down.
Getting honchos who'd been used to private spaces comfortable with a less conventionally corporate open layout—and warding off a potential workplace revolt—required design principal Nick Luzietti and senior designer Sowoon Park to reinvent the agency mindset as well as redesigning the interior. Their concept went something like this: Rather than loss of privacy, think ownership of the entire 26th and 27th floors.
Furthermore, if the whole office belonged to the employees, then they would have a say in the outcome. "Mostly what they talked about was freedom," Luzietti notes. And more storage.
Feedback resoundingly called not just for big but also for flexible. It took several rounds to realize that the staff was after "space they could destroy and rebuild," Luzietti continues. "There's kind of a moment when you get it right. That moment for us was when we realized this office was going to be dynamic, not static." He and Park embraced constant flux along with an industrial aesthetic.
They started in the elevator lobby by replacing the concrete floor. Inside, they tore down the neat drywall ceilings and spray-painted the exposed beams, mechanicals, and fireproofing white. Since it doesn't get much more raw than plywood, that humble staple became the primary material—lightly sealed to prevent splinters. Vertical panels, installed between the windows on all four sides, pitch slightly outward to accommodate shelving hidden behind. Dividers are made of plywood, stainless steel, and cork, all surfaces that invite improvisation.
With the perimeter offices removed, natural light is a big bonus—no ceiling fixtures were needed. As for desk lamps, employees insisted on choosing for themselves. Aluminum gooseneck fixtures, mounted like sconces, supply additional illumination.
As a secondary mission of the redesign was to ease the flow of communication, VOA added homey spaces to facilitate informal meetings. Park calls them "livingrooms," and they're furnished to reflect Leo Burnett's sophisticated agency-wide image—in contrast to the stripped-down environment here.
When the 270 staffers moved back in, management handed out scooters to encourage mobility across the vast, open floors. High-energy playfulness is now the order of the day. It's expressed aptly in a pair of kitchen-lounges, both of which offer foosball tables for blowing off steam. And hanging on the wall of one kitchen-lounge is a 1950's-style neon sign beaming out the words "Leo's Roadhouse."