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06.28.2013
Interiors> Enova
Brininstool + Lynch crafts a sense of community for a Chicago office with sleek lines and rich texture.
Christopher Barrett

Brininstool + Lynch project manager Pablo Diaz remembers his early meetings with Enova, a Chicago-based online financial service provider: “For the programmers, as people in the technology industry, the joke going around the office was, ‘We just need a pot of coffee and power and we’ll go.’” At the time, Enova’s technology group inhabited one in a collection of dreary floors of a downtown mid-century high-rise. The company thought its tech offices weren’t optimal for openness, communication, and collaboration. While interviewing possible architects, Enova was especially intrigued with one of Brininstool + Lynch’s previous spaces that had a simple, clean, and open feel.

Enova showed Diaz images of desirable office spaces from the web—“wide-open, overgrown college dorms with no source of organization,” Diaz said. He worried that the idea didn’t gel well with the existing footprint, a typical downtown floor plate with windows along the perimeter, workspace on the dim interior, and elevators that open onto a dark maze.

 
 

Enova wanted an environment in which everybody could see each other without getting in each other’s way. Diaz came up with the idea of team rooms; different sized spaces, semi-enclosed or completely enclosed with clear glass, and phone-booth-style rooms that wrap around the core. Groups of staffers can choose one, use plug-and-play technology, work through code on their laptops, or scrawl on floor-to-ceiling glass magnetic whiteboards.

One of the qualities that Enova encourages as part of its corporate culture is a sense of community. To enhance the feel of fellowship, the architects installed long rows of communal-style desks. Nearby one strip of workstations, a 150-foot feature wall became a central focus. The architects covered it with an undulating, custom-formed fiberboard product that dampens the sound bouncing off the office’s glass and reflective materials.

 
 
 

In the elevator bank, the architects covered the walls with backlit blue acrylic sheets that make the company’s brand color a wayfinding feature, drawing visitors into the light. The building’s concrete columns were stripped, sandblasted, and treated with clear sealer.

One of the most popular additions is an open kitchen where staffers can play Wii on a pull-down projection screen or hold an after-hours event. Of course, coffee is still on the menu, but it must go down easier over the large island, under warm light seeping out from behind a suspended aluminum slat baffle system, than it did in the company’s former dreary quarters.

Madeline Nusser