Behind the runaway success of its innovative “tech suites”—special showrooms calibrated to draw tech firms to high-vacancy Class-A buildings—BOX Studios is blazing the local corporate interior design scene with several high-profile commissions recently completed or on the boards. The still-small firm is suddenly working with companies like Groupon, Lightbox, and ZipCar. This May, the studio completed a clean, uncluttered call center design for global digital media giant Getty Images.
“We inherited a blank space, and so were able to do our work impactfully with an eye for branding,” said BOX principal Ferdinand Dimailig. It starts with a reception area that is opposed to traditional “receiving.” A call center and marketing office has few visitors; Dimailig asked why this space should be limited by visitor check-in. With Getty’s blessing he set it up as a gallery using semi-transparent screen-printed hangings, and, as a bonus, social space for visitors and workers alike. “We loosely conceived of the whole office, in fact, as an art museum,” said Dimailig.
Spare furnishings with muted tones work to this effect, but BOX Studios’ decisions were also driven by budget and an acute need for spatial efficiency. Getty’s Chicago call center downsized from more than 27,000 square feet at nearby 122 South Michigan Avenue to 16,300 square feet at 55 East Monroe Street, without trimming staff. Digitizing the firm’s photo library freed up quite a bit of space. And yet a surplus of private offices caused a cramped environment for the common staffer.
“The onus was on comfortably accommodating the same-sized office on nearly half the floor plate,” said Fiona Carey, facilities manager at Getty and the point person during the design process. Enlightened workplace design was a lesser concern, although trademarks of that trend are everywhere.
An L-shaped open work floor wraps a buffet of miniature break rooms with blown-up Getty photos, a nursing room, and informal workspaces. The blow-ups alternate with walls painted in bright solid colors. “Value engineering said we couldn’t put graphics everywhere,” said a mildly remorseful Dimailig. The office’s private spaces encourage workers to “break out” in unstructured ways when they might be feeling overexposed. “The small quiet rooms help a lot,” said Carey.
Ceilings were left unfettered by drop panels, favoring instead a white-painted ductwork with interwoven lights. This textured, exposed ceiling gives the space a lofty feel. Office noise is cancelled by softer flooring and furniture, acoustic panels, and by hi-tech digital phones and headsets that enable calls to be conducted in a whisper.
A diversified portfolio not only helped Box Studios weather the economic slump, it allowed the firm to “cross-reference solutions through design,” said Dimailig. “If we learn aspects of design from other sectors—health care, education, government—we may arrive at unexpected solutions.”
Box Studios beat out Gensler to win the commission in the final bid stage. “We were impressed with Ferd’s vision for the space and his commitment to the details,” said Carey. “And we’re elated with the results.”