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Nancy Hill, CEO of the American Association of Advertising Agencies (the 4As), was ready for a change. She wanted the organization’s new home at 1065 Avenue of the Americas in New York City to be filled with warmth, bright colors and, most importantly, no private offices.
With the only concession being an office and adjoining private room for human resources, the 4A’s headquarters is completely open plan.
“They were in a very closed environment; it was very siloed,” says Lawrence Berger, TPG Architecture’s managing design director, of the 4A’s former location in New York’s Chrysler Building. “Each department was a department unto itself. There was very little interaction among their different groups.”
According to Berger and Fred Strauss, TPG’s principal-in-charge, the move to the open plan not only promoted collaboration—its intrinsic purpose—but also created a more united front amongst employees.
“It really did change the way they interacted with each other,” says Berger. People previously were unaware of what others’ roles were. With the atmosphere more open and honest now, with conversations being had and heard freely, “they know now what benefit each employee brings to the organization and have a sense now of how it works as a whole,” Strauss adds.
Of course, such a dramatic environmental change doesn’t come without a certain level of culture shock. But both designers say that’s something 4As employees are embracing. “That type of environment has a level of buzz about it, both visual and acoustic, and we have found with our clients, both advertising and non, that that buzz has become a very desirable element in the new workplace. It helps to keep people connected, helps them to collaborate and it’s viewed as a positive.”
Carpeting from Interface was used in workspace areas to combat acoustic intrusions, and a series of heavy draperies close off some conference areas, absorbing sound and providing a baffle between spaces.
“When everyone is in an open plan, the key to success is to really provide a lot of meeting spaces. We did that here in a variety of small- and medium-sized conference rooms that were both table and chairs and living room-style soft-seating,” Berger says. “So there was not only a variety of size but a variety of feeling.” All meeting areas are glass-fronted, so employees can quickly see if one is taken or not.
The workstations are not purely rectilinear, explains Strauss, so voices are projected at different angles. As a result of that and the use of varied ceiling heights, there’s a level of “acoustical canceling” that occurs, helping to break up the sound that is transmitted throughout the space while still keeping a level of “buzz.”
The new office was meant to serve not just as a home base for employees, but also as a resource for the organization’s members, who are free to use the research library and the meeting spaces for seminars, lectures and more. There’s also an outdoor terrace and connecting café perfect for events, but they weren’t located off the elevator lobby. This posed a challenge to the design team on how to separate the visitors headed to that space from working employees.
By creating a defined and engaging path alongside the meeting rooms and past the open workspace area, which includes low files with bench cushions on one side and graphics on the glass walls of the meeting rooms on the other, the public is able to cross the space on the way to the café and terrace without disrupting employees. They do, however, still get a view of the inner workings of the 4As.
Another particularly unique element is the tech lab—a type of space in high demand by many of TPG’s advertising clients as of late. Many of them, however, are still being defined in business terms and are continually evolving, according to Strauss and Berger.
“There are so many ways to deliver technology. So advertisers are following those technological changes both in terms of hardware and software, and they need a place to demonstrate how a message is delivered on these varying devices,” explains Strauss. “It’s a very interesting business and design challenge for us.”
TPG started its design process with a visioning committee session, made up of approximately 12 members of the 4As who were able to direct the design team toward a space that fulfilled their needs. Not only did the group request a more collaborative and connected environment, but they also wanted a bright, lively space. This resulted in a bold color palette that utilized oranges and reds, and achieved the energetic, cheerful feeling the organization was looking for. Materials such as the reclaimed wood behind the reception desk complement those colors, softening the space into a warm, yet rich statement.
And sitting at the helm of it all is CEO Nancy Hill—literally. Choosing not to shut herself away in a big fancy office or executive suite, she’s decided to embrace the new normal and place her desk right out in the open, next to a communal wood veneer tabletop that acts as the heart of the office. Inspired by the traditional office water cooler, it’s a place for staff to have impromptu meetings while they print and collate documents or take a load off. Placing herself nearby allows Hill to always have a finger on the pulse of the office.
“This has been a dramatic, positive change for them,” Strauss says. And they have TPG to thank.
“We got hugs and kisses, and they said we actually accomplished it,” Berger says. “They couldn’t believe we were actually able to translate their vision.”
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american association of advertising agencies (4As)
1065 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10018
360 Park Avenue South
New York, NY 10010