Jennifer Barnes 2017-09-14 13:36:45
american greetings: building the next generation office When American Greetings decided to relocate and construct a brand new 650,000-square-foot, build-to-suit creative studio and headquarters, they wanted a work environment that would inspire their business partners, transform the creative process and carry the company into the next generation — literally and figuratively — to match their mission of being a “world leader in the creation of innovative social expression products.” American Greetings is in a state of transformation — both in terms of the products they create and the work process that enables employees to create them. With this facility, senior leadership envisioned a creative community that would celebrate innovation and embody the diversity of their products, customers and associates. The company’s new Creative Studios headquarters is the result of a highly collaborative design process with their architecture and design firm. American Greetings developed a clear vision of “what” they wanted their new Creative Studios to be, and the design team’s creativity provided the “how.” CHALLENGING THE STATUS QUO The new headquarters is located in the mixed-use community of Crocker Park, Ohio, just west of Cleveland. The area was developed with unique site zoning and building orientations — such as a commitment to walkable areas and indoor-outdoor event space and shopping — that better fit the desired culture, creativity and community that American Greetings’ employees were looking for. Through a detailed analysis of the urban fabric of the area and initial program understanding, the design team developed a “square doughnut” design with a courtyard at its center. The courtyard faces an urban plaza with an enclosed pedestrian bridge that links to an adjacent parking structure. The planners embedded an observation team within American Greetings that studied, analyzed and documented the inner workings of the company’s workflow and employee needs. Through this investigation, they developed an understanding of the organization—who they are, how they work and what they want to become. Based on the observation team’s findings, they recommended strategies to bring efficiencies and optimization to the space, such as shared and well-distributed common spaces, and flexible product-development areas integrated with creative workspaces. Stakeholders at American Greetings didn’t subscribe to the notion that one size fits all and opted to provide specific work station types that aligned with job function. Modular planning principles and common component types enable the organization to easily convert the three modular variants as the need arises. A 1:1 desk ratio supports their creative and highly collaborative work process; however, more activity-based work is encouraged in the new facility thanks to several shared and collaborative spaces. The design promotes dual-use spaces and furnishings that are suited to multiple purposes. The open office environment is intended to support focus work, so a consistent panel height was used to provide seated privacy while maintaining views to natural light. Active collaboration zones are easily accessible from anywhere in the facility, but they’re unobtrusive so as not to create distraction. CONNECTING PEOPLE AND PLACE The idea of “connections” is a central theme in American Greetings’ business model, and by extension, in their Creative Studios. Creative connection is the impetus for how the building is organized. The diversity of spaces and the creation of a layered experience take a relatively structured layout and to infuse it with surprise at every turn. For example, while every lounge is unique, they all share common details that provide economies to construction and maintenance. Light fixtures, millwork design, finishes and all “hard” surfaces are universal, but furniture configurations, accent colors and wall graphics are unique to each setting. The design team developed predictive planning metrics to provide the proper efficiency and location of specific departments, collaborative work areas, pantries, stairs and elevators. The goal was to create a building where synergies occur through the natural pedestrian flow. This led to a reduction in the number of elevators, an increase in the number of toilet fixtures and a variety of design techniques where wellness is encouraged through the thoughtful placement of critical program elements. A unique aspect of the facility is how vertical connections — stairs and elevators — are designed to encourage impromptu interactions and foster a healthier work environment. A monumental stair visually and physically anchors the building, reinforcing wellness and connectivity through all five levels. By minimizing the number of elevators and providing oversized and open egress stairs with engaging wall murals, the facility naturally encourages walking between levels. The result is subtle and may appear effortless, the underlying analysis was quite intensive. CREATIVE WORK IS DIFFERENT From the outset, American Greetings engaged all levels of the organization using interviews and focus groups, and they invited employees to aid in the creation of interior graphics and wall murals as well as a facility wayfinding app. The organization dedicated a core internal team to oversee the project from design through occupancy. This level of employee engagement is rare in modern organizations and demonstrates American Greetings’ commitment to their associates by ensuring their new headquarters would truly express their brand and culture. The use of internal and external teams to evaluate and quantify the internal workings of Creative Studios has led to a facility that was specifically tailored to American Greetings’ mission. One particularly unique aspect of the American Greetings workflow is the amount of support and workspace that is needed in their production processes. A typical office environment would be two-thirds staff space and one-third support. For American Greetings to meet its mission, it requires approximately 75 percent of its space to be dedicated to support and workspace. This is driven by their creative process, which requires large planning rooms, mock-up spaces, showrooms, photography studios, A/V suites, proto-typing areas, computing centers and collaboration spaces. For this reason, the building is known as a “Laboratory for Creativity.” The benefit that creative designers brought to the Creative Studio project was the ability to translate the company’s operational analyses into a holistic design concept that captures the company’s aspirations for a cultural environment that celebrates creativity and community. To this end, the design was organized around a central courtyard surrounded by shared functions, such as dining, showrooms, café and conferencing. The courtyard level is the heart of the building, providing places for informal encounters and public activity, with a century of American Greetings’ extensive art collection on full display. Located on the third level, this courtyard is not only the central focus for the project, but it was designed to be used throughout the year for both reflective and collaborative work. Rigorous analysis of daylighting, wind and noise implications were considered in the design to ensure that these spaces would offer an inviting and pleasing experience through all of Ohio’s seasons. THE TAKEAWAY One of the key aspects in the realization and success of American Greetings’ Creative Studios facility is how the architectural design team successfully integrated the organization’s vision to create an inspiring work space, while also ensuring future flexibility and operational efficiencies. The human experience is central to every facility, and creating a positive, productive and ergonomic environment is one of the main goals for all FMs. Rethinking traditional strategies such as building configuration and circulation can have a huge impact on how occupants interact with their environment, reinforcing wellness and connectivity. Communal spaces, like lounge areas and conference rooms, can offer diverse and engaging settings that serve dual purposes. Design features — such as accent colors that reinforce wayfinding, unique wall graphics that communicate corporate culture and offer inspiration, as well as varied furniture configurations that support different work modes ranging from active to contemplative — can all be implemented without sacrificing economies. By embracing a participatory design process that engaged every level of the organization, American Greetings worked with their architectural design team at CallisonRTKL to reinforce their mission, vision and values through all aspects of the building design. The organization’s internal Corporate Services team was central to the process and served as the bridge between all parties and occupants throughout all phases of the design, construction, relocation, and ongoing into occupancy. Facility managers’ jobs will continue to grow and change as the desire to use well-designed offices to attract and retain talent is deemed an essential business tool. They make themselves invaluable by thinking about how to create spaces that fuel creativity, community, wellness and brand. Creative facility solutions such as the ones implemented at Creative Studio are essentially about maximizing assets and return on investment. With amenities, thoughtful design and office culture, spaces like Creative Studios are designed to attract top talent and to foster innovation and market leadership. Facility managers can look to replicate some of these ideals by promoting participation and inclusivity, acting as brand ambassadors, enabling creativity and encouraging wellness. Higher job satisfaction, productivity and worker retention may be a direct result of facility managers and the work they do to maintain and improve offices and office design. JENNIFER BARNES, IIDA, LEED AP, is a senior associate vice president at the global architecture, design and planning firm CallisonRTKL. She is a leader in interior design focusing on large corporate clients and public institutions and specializing in creating successful workplace environments that address clients’ unique and evolving needs.
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