When asked how he kept the offices of the personality-filled online coupon company Groupon from being over-the-top, Dan Kraiss, a principal at BOX Studios, stifled a laugh. “I don’t know. The designers are out-there,” he said, “but they are meant to stand-out and make a memorable impression.”
A giant cat (Groupon’s unofficial mascot) sitting inside a blinking, lit-up UFO now greets visitors who enter the reception area of the company’s Chicago headquarters.
In addition to the cat, BOX furnished Groupon’s 146,000-square-foot space with themed areas for gatherings, meals, and an ample amount of fun time. There is a Tiki Room, replete with wood and bamboo hutches (“meets fire code!” promised Kraiss). The nearby hallway’s yellow-and-black checkered finish line demarcates a tenth of a mile, in case cooped-up workers want to simulate a dramatic finish. The Enchanted Forest provides space for meetings in the round as well as private nooks for head-down work. Its faux rocks are movable seats. In the Fun Zone, swing-seats are reminiscent of a carnival ride and polka-dot walls double as coated marker boards. “These are all functional meeting spaces,” said Kraiss. “They’re not just fluff for design.”
While the themed hubs draw the most attention and double as a color-coded way-finding system, much of the converted warehouse is occupied by muted-gray, open workspaces and 50 conference rooms, many outfitted with video conferencing systems.
The design was partly influenced by Groupon’s desire to drastically reduce paper use. File cabinets, for example, only exist in human resources and the legal department. “It’s amazing in an open office not to have to dedicate any of the floor space to traditional paper functions,” said Kraiss. The slimmed-down, bench-style workstations opened up room for BOX to play with the collaborative spaces, which are outfitted with beanbag chairs and communal standing-height tables. “We did a lot of spit balling with Groupon to come up with these ideas,” said Kraiss.
Each themed area contains break room amenities: refrigerators, microwaves, vending machines, sinks, and dishwashers. There is also a cafeteria with food service, which occupies the largest single room. According to Jenna Rivera, one of BOX’s designers on the project, creating the multi-use areas “was about building space where they can grab lunch or have a team meeting.”
In order to minimize the disruption, BOX had to find ways to accelerate the construction process. “One of the things we did is identify the long lead–time items—light fixtures, carpeting, HVAC, control system,” said Kraiss. The architects ordered these before the contractor handed over a complete budget, effectively shaving weeks off the schedule. BOX is repeating this workflow in its new projects.