New environment serves as an “exploratorium” for reimagining how the firm works
Workplace design experts at SmithGroup announced that the top-ranked architecture, engineering, and design firm has relocated its Chicago operations into a new 21,000-sf workspace on the ninth floor of the historic Jeweler’s Building downtown.
Through an open studio and free address seating, the new space supports two key objectives for the firm. It bolsters the company’s market expansion strategy through built-in flexibility for growth and helps to attract and retain top-tier talent by creating a vibrant work environment.
Offering a wide variety of enclosed rooms and various desking solutions, the firm can readily accommodate changing staffing needs. The transition away from fixed, assigned workstations reflects feedback from a space utilization study conducted at the project’s onset. Data confirmed that at any given time, 30 percent of employees had no need for a physical desk. This model allows the team, currently numbering 81, to grow up to 40 percent without adding additional square footage.
Active project areas for impromptu collaboration promote the cross-pollination of ideas while designated quiet zones ensure a balance of focused work for the staff. The new space also creates a dynamic and flexible think tank, where interdisciplinary groups can investigate office trends and test emerging technologies that are transforming clients’ business models and real estate needs.
“The worlds in which our clients work, regardless of the industry, are changing rapidly,” said Office Director Tim Tracey. “Our goal is to help them reimagine how they want to work in the future, and then design a space which supports that vision.” Therefore, it was essential that this new office “be a place where teams can ideate and test everything from ‘what if’ design scenarios to new devices that promote the latest in mobile work solutions,” Tracey adds.
A centrally located makerspace provides a hands-on experience for enhanced design visualization. It includes 3D technology, which allows staff to prototype conceptual ideas and build design consensus rapidly. Moveable project pin-up space promotes flexible and efficient collaboration. Each team member has a firm-issued lightweight laptop that includes PC-based softphone applications for voice and video calls and other communications tools that aid mobility and seamless connectivity.
SmithGroup’s Chicago office is the first of the company’s nine domestic locations to pilot a concept where employees are open to select a workspace that best suits current activities and tasks. Staff may choose from standing desks, bench-style seating, conference and huddle rooms, and teaming areas with an array of reconfigurable furniture. A spacious lobby and café provide additional options for breakout or large group activities. For tasks requiring more privacy – or for individuals that prefer customary office seating – enclaves, phone rooms, and a handful of traditional desks have also been incorporated into the available options. Ample daylighting and unobstructed city views add to the energy of the office. The new environment better supports flexibility, interaction, and change – something the firm’s employees stipulated through surveys and user group meetings in the research and conceptualization phase.
“Certainly, we are proud of the work we produce,” says Tracey. “But it was just as important for us to give visitors a feel for what it’s like to work with us, too. Our new space is a physical expression of our design culture: dynamic, open and transparent, and flexible.”
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