As financial markets scramble to realign themselves, a financial trading firm in Chicago has opted to regroup under one roof and provide its staff with a calm, Zen-like working environment. The firm enlisted Perkins + Will to consolidate its IT, administrative, and trading teams into a single office to the west of Merchandise Mart. “Though it is a high-energy, high-performance industry, the client wanted to provide restful, soothing spaces, instead of super high-tech ones,” explained Tim Wolfe, Senior Associate at Perkins + Will.
The 75,000-square-foot space was tailored to the client’s desire for a calm working environment by employing natural materials and using organic forms throughout the scheme. Entering the second floor 75,000 square foot office, one is confronted with a long, skinny reception area—once a retail space—with an 18 foot-long desk fronting a limestone weeping wall. It is a powerful gateway into what unfolds as a sequence of calm spaces off curvaceous corridors. To the right is a koi carp pond and to the left a Zen garden in the corridor. “One of the big planning gestures was the large, organically shaped corridors, which act as connectors at the north and south ends,” said Wolfe.
Along the north corridor there are punched out windows along the perimeter. “The corridors offer a visual access to the light,” said Wolfe. Indeed, the architects have tried to bring in more natural light into the space, as in the case of the re-shaped skylight in the reception. As with many interior projects, the designers were limited by elements they inherited in the building.
“The regimented grid of columns was something we had tried to avoid,” said Wolfe. “We wanted a free-flowing plan; we couldn’t get rid of the columns but we could shape them.” Curving upwards, the columns were envisioned as trees extending to the sky, a concealed light source in the ceiling. “It’s not just a decorative element,” confirmed Wolfe. “It provides around 75 percent of the lighting source for the trading floor.” Here they have added curling wooden panels, which peel away from the ceiling to emphasize this effect. To further its unique office design, the traders’ workstations were designed in non-linear shapes that allowed for a more fluid workspace and accommodate up to six colleagues to cluster together. The fifty IT and thirty administrative desks along the south and east, however, are straight, fit for individual tasks.
Branching off the corridors are amenities and conference rooms, spaces that create pockets of tranquility and focused work. Materials play a significant role in creating this effect; walls are made from a concrete and plaster mix, which speaks of durability; while bathrooms use materials like hickory veneer to offer a spa-level of design; and raw steel lacquered panels are used as a way-finding device to the conference rooms. “Everything has been done with a purpose,” said Tom Kasznia, account principal at Perkins +Will. Indeed, spaces such as a lounge area where informal meetings and presentations can take place, or workers can just relax, have the generous feel of a private members’ club, with Knoll leather chairs and a custom bookcase. The fitness center, which features a series of tube-like lights peppering the ceiling, is also integral to the overarching concept to deliver comfort for employees.
“Light was a main driver in the design,” said Wolfe. “We brought in the light fixture in the main conference room early on and as we built a rapport with the client it hit home and drew our design ideas together.” The curling outline of the fixture can be seen in the shape of the corridors and similar overhead light features hung in the other conference rooms. “It’s not trying to be ostentatious. It’s not reckless spending, just creating a comfortable workspace,” said Wolfe. “It’s the opposite of a mobile work force here. The client actually wants people to be there, using the office during working hours.”