Design

No Nap Nooks, No Slides: Building a Workplace for Grownups


Credit Google with turning the workplace into a gigantic dorm room. After the tech giant opened its Googleplex in 2006, seemingly every startup and creative agency tore down walls and installed a foosball table. But does an office have to look fun to be a fun place to work? Not according to Wieden+Kennedy, which took a decidedly different tack for its New York digs.

Wieden+Kennedy office in Lower ManhattanPhotograph by Bruce DamonteWieden+Kennedy office in Lower Manhattan

The agency, best known for its work on Nike (NKE) campaigns, has also earned a reputation for daring interior design. A human-size bird’s nest in its Portland, Ore., home earned it a Portlandia spoof. Its New York HQ has none of that whimsy; it is more upscale loft than romper room. Open-plan desks remain, but so do a diverse array of conference spots that accommodate meetings of different styles and lengths—from small, intimate “phonebooths” to large “wide-n-long” conference rooms.

Photograph by Raymond Adams

There are ample spaces suited to impromptu collaboration: Creative teams can stand at a 10-foot-long steel table, chat in communal lounges, or gather in the kitchen for working lunches. For the introverted, a bamboo-clad library and a Wi-Fi-connected terrace provide spots for solitary thinking. The most conspicuous feature—and biggest engineering feat—is a wide walnut-clad “coin” staircase puncturing two of the three floors, where employees sit bleacher-style for officewide announcements.

Photograph by Bruce Damonte

“Our belief is that creative work is play already,” say Amale Andraos and Dan Wood of Workac, the New York firm that designed the three-story, 50,000-square-foot office in Lower Manhattan. “As such, [it] does not have to disguise itself to become a playground.”

Photograph by Bruce Damonte

Employees have been encouraged to personalize the workplace—even if it means that the foosball table remains a stubborn feature in the space. Despite the designers’ concerted effort to ditch the playground aesthetic, they say they don’t mind the hint of Google. “As architects, we shy away from dogma,” they say. “We embrace the resilience of the foosball table.”

Lanks is the design editor of Businessweek.com.

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