When Eaton’s electrical division began the expansion of its Moon Township, PA-based headquarters, it carved out space for an executive briefing center (EBC). This 3,875-square-foot environment hosts current and potential customers, educates electrical engineering consultants, and leaves those who enter with a lasting impression of the products and relationships Eaton builds.
While the project is small in terms of size, Eaton’s list of requirements for the space was anything but
small. Unlike traditional corporate real estate, this space had to impress and
educate. “The executive briefing center differs from other types of corporate space. Not only is it branded space, but it acts as a high-level sales tool,” explains Roseanne Bell, vice president and director of interior design, The Benham Cos., Tulsa, OK.
The Discovery Process
To design a space that truly personified the Eaton brand, The Benham Cos. (the architecture firm) embarked on a unique discovery process that revealed more than the space’s function. “It’s similar to architectural programming, but it goes beyond that,” explains Bell. “We question the client about the brand, brand attributes, their place in the market, competition, differentiators, vision, and future. The space, equipment, and the message are all designed at the same time to reflect and support those things.”
By conducting a series of interviews – one-on-one and in groups – the design team can gather information about the wants and desires of all stakeholders, as well as the functional requirements of Eaton’s executive briefing center. “In the very beginning of a project, we’ll develop three different levels of questionnaires for different groups of people. In Eaton’s case, one group was the executives, another was the sales team, and the third was the people who were actually going to run the briefing center,” says Bell.
Once interviewing is complete, the information is combined in a report that is presented to the client to sign off on. “That information acts as a compass for everything we do thereafter,” explains Bell.
Armed with information on the Eaton brand, customer, and functional requirements of the space, it was time for the design charrette. The team drafted the floorplan along with the messaging and audiovisual direction simultaneously. The executive briefing center would be divided into a tiered presentation room that seats 50 people, a meeting room for 14, a dining room for 30, private restrooms, private customer touchdown spaces, and a reception/entry area.
The customer experience was carefully planned. “As we looked at the layout and how folks were going to move through the space, our job was to develop a choreography for the customer visit and then work with the sales and marketing teams on the kinds of messages that they wanted to engage customers in,” explains Tim Larson, owner and design principal, Downstream LLC, Portland, OR.
The Integration of Messaging and Technology
The information Eaton hopes to convey to customers is strategically placed throughout the space. “[The media-design professionals] have a strategy about how they do messaging. They want to [present] more of a high-level overview in the beginning when people first walk in, and then get more and more definitive and detailed as people get into the space,” says Bell. Customer tours begin in the entry portal where a recessed LCD screen provides a customized welcome (e.g. “Eaton Welcomes Home Depot”), plays a loop about Eaton’s brand and products, and provides other dynamic content, such as weather, time, or news.
Visitors get a glimpse at Eaton's legacy when they view the facility’s patent wall. “One of the things we found in our discovery process was that [Eaton] literally had invented lots and lots of things. The entire wall prior to entering the EBC is filled with representations of the patents it has been awarded over the last 100 years or so,” says Larson. “It allows people to recognize the innovation that the company is really founded on.”
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Just inside the center’s glass entry doors, customers are greeted with a large video wall. Comprised of four 50-inch Margay cubes stacked in a two-by-two configuration, this 100-inch display showcases Eaton’s PowerChain Management. “We used the Margays because they don’t have any mullions. They’re really seamless, so it looks like one large video surface,” Larson explains. The entire wall is covered in smoked glass.
Rather than merely show customers information, the display was made interactive. “We worked with a touchscreen foil that was squeegeed on the back of glass to make a large-area touchscreen with multiple rear-image projectors. That gave the user the experience of being able to touch the glass and have the content change as they went through different portions of the presentation,” says Robert Dagostino, president, Dagostino Electronic Services Inc., Pittsburgh.
In a corridor just before the presentation rooms, four 40-inch LCD screens (also interactive) provide yet another chance to engage customers. “Those monitors allow people to get a broader context for the Eaton brand, over and above a typical visit where they’d sit in a conference room and have a salesperson talk to them,” he says. This grouping of monitors presents a history timeline, product information, and sustainability messaging.
Even the center’s dining room received the high-tech treatment. Customized content is displayed on two recessed 65-inch LCD screens.
Rear projection presented the ideal low-profile solution in the center’s tight space. “We didn’t have the room to hang projectors,” explains Larson. Another advantage was that users’ shadows would never block the content and prevent people from interacting. Concealing the technology so that it would not detract from the architectural features of the space or AV presentation was a priority.
Project Team Award Winners
The Benham Cos.; Dagostino Electronic Service
To accommodate the small footprint and tight deadline, the team worked collaboratively and increased communication. Meetings occurred three times a week, e-mails numbered in the hundreds, and Share Point offered a means for team members located throughout the United States to post and project drawings. “One of the key ingredients to making a successful project is total collaboration among everyone. There was no fingerpointing going on,” says Dagostino. “People just worked together as a team.”
When the project was completed in September 2008, everyone was impressed. The executive briefing center was more than a space – it was an experience. “In the past, when visitors came to these centers, I think their initial impression was that they’re going to go to a place and sit in a conference room to watch PowerPoints,” says Larson. “We wanted to make sure that they were able to engage with the products and services in ways that they wouldn’t typically be able to.”
Jana J. Madsen is a Cedar Rapids, IA-based freelance writer with nine years of experience in writing about the commercial buildings industry.
Credits: This material is approved by AIA for earning one AIA/CES Learning Unit, and InfoComm for earning one RU unit.
Roseanne Bell, The Benham Companies
Steve Rynbrandt, The Benham Companies
Robert Dagostino, Dagostino Electronic Services
Tim Larson, Downstream
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