Corporate Initiative -Office Winner: Albert Kahn Building, Detroit

Aug. 6, 2001
Creating – then living – by example

Reinventing interior space is sometimes the final phase of instituting new workplace strategies. Case in point: The offices of Detroit-based Albert Kahn Associates Inc. (AKA) located in the building named for its architect/designer, Albert Kahn.

"We spent the first 100 years [as a company] operating in a very departmental setting. We began as early as 1998 moving to more of a focused group-style setting that integrates team members from different disciplines, and completed the transformation with this renovation project," says Stephen Whitney, president and CEO at AKA.

Constructed in 1931, the building's popular wedding cake-style art deco exterior is a complement to the modern sophistication of AKA's renovated interior. As a progressive, market-based organization, the multidiscipline commercial design and engineering firm occupies just over half of the Albert Kahn Building - approximately 102,500 square feet of office space.

"One of our objectives was to improve communications between the many disciplines here," explains Whitney. Although there was some initial discomfort involved in moving people from windowed offices into an open work environment, the end result has been very positive. He adds, "There is much more information and idea sharing going on than ever before."

Over many years, the perimeter of the building was sectioned off into a circle of private office space, indicative of the nostalgic era when large drafting tables were positioned next to larger windows for the best use of natural light. For AKA, switching from private offices to an open office environment meant knocking down some walls, repositioning filing and storage units, and rerouting traffic from the center to the perimeter of the building. The removal of the private offices bathes the space - throughout the building - in natural light, without distracting staff with glared screens, hot light, and uncontrollable temperature difficulties.

Attractive and adaptable workstations afford all the conveniences of movable storage and easy-to-access power and data ports.Privacy glass panels of varying sizes offer a subtle obstruction of views, yet allow sunlight into the space.

Smooth, modern lines of wood veneer, glass, and metal are consistent throughout the building, giving the time-honored company a modern, cutting-edge look. At the same time, neutral colors and textures in wallcoverings and carpet give the space a clean, contemporary, and professional appearance - a look that reflects the company's commitment to quality and perfection.

These standards are exemplified in the reception area where clients entering AKA are announced at a reception desk made of a unique blend of materials: Angola black granite, Anigre mahogany, brushed aluminum, and glass. Four video screens located in the lobby seating feature cable news and digital studio images of AKA projects. In keeping with a truly working environment, both employees and visitors use this space as a small conference area.

A glass-partitioned executive boardroom serves multiple purposes, including visitor hoteling space for anyone in need of temporary workspace. Artwork throughout the building is masterfully arranged and illuminated for a gallery-style ambience.

Expanding on the visual appeal of the space, AKA converted an existing large conference room into a multi-purpose theater, complete with videoconferencing capabilities and a rear screen projection system with 3-D and virtual reality simulation. The room's custom triangular mahogany table features surface ports and outlets for plug-and-play interaction during meetings.

A blend of new wood casements and modular furniture satisfies the tastes and expectations of the company's administrative staff, while remaining consistent with the quality of furnishings present in the open office environments. The rich traditional look of cherry veneer, coupled with technology, make administrative office space more versatile than ever.

Designers also saw the renovation as an opportunity to use preexisting high-quality furnishings in a new way. Included in the augmentation and redistribution effort was a collection of designer furniture pieces owned by AKA. Albert Kahn's original ebonized oak desk was carefully cleaned under the instruction of a local historic furniture expert and relocated to a glass-enclosed boardroom. The desk, a selection of artwork, and historic photos bridge together the history of AKA's tradition of excellence with the vision of today's progressive and redefined firm.

It's a new game plan for AKA and the beautiful space that the company occupies is a bold statement about its commitment to improving communication, strategic planning, and team building.

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