At the offices of gyro in downtown Chicago, the typical ascent into office stuffiness—from hushed reception area to inner sanctum full of computer bays and other high-tech hamster wheels—doesn’t exist. While still far from a wacky startup vibe, the global advertising firm’s offices share an unforced casualness that in the Chicago location, which opened late last year, first strikes you when you see employees typing away on laptops, feet up, commandeering lounge areas rather than grinding away at their desks.
Many offices offer cozy alternatives to the cubicle. The difference, said gyro Chicago’s executive vice president and managing director Mike Hensley, is that here the office environment actually encourages employees to use them. On a recent, bright summer afternoon, employees were scattered throughout the space—in reclining chairs, at bar stools, even in the erstwhile reception area—often working side by side with headphones in, lost in their work and looking comfortable with that fact.
“Everything we do is focused on defining our culture as much as it is on the product that we make,” said Hensley. In addition to motivating employees, that attitude is supposed to woo clients, too. “We want clients to say, ‘Yeah, I’d come here for a 2:00 p.m. meeting on a Friday,” said Hensley, showing off eighth-floor views from Chicago’s historic Wrigley Building. Out the south-facing windows, Michigan Avenue soars over the Chicago River and disappears miles in the distance.
In terms of interior design, “defining culture” means honing in on aspects of each office’s city. With more than 600 employees in 15 cities, gyro has devoted considerable effort to making each bureau feel special (a fitting exercise for a firm devoted to branding and marketing). In Chicago, designers from Perkins+Will acquired old barn wood and charred it black to recall the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Echoing the city’s 1871 tech incubator, the scorched planks are meant to evoke rebirth, as well as the muted color palette shared by gyro offices worldwide.
In perhaps a subtler nod to Chicago history, the designers also created a bookshelf/office divider based on the city’s famously rational street grid. Occasional diagonal lines interrupt a rigid, black grid that is a few feet deep and blocks the reception area from a bay of open-plan desks without sealing either off from the other.
A wood-backed bar area with a geometric drop ceiling projects a speakeasy vibe, winking along with the large glass jars full of black and white candies at the historic building’s roaring twenties origins.
“We were sort of playing on the antiqueness of that period,” said Tim Wolfe, Perkins+Will design director, who describes seating in that space as “halfway between a bar and a conference table.” Management at gyro calls it “The Hub.”
For times when a speakeasy won’t do, P+W’s floor plan also allocates several private rooms for conferences and phone calls, with acoustic drop ceilings deadening the otherwise raw cement ceilings. Two walls on those spaces are full-height glass, and the other two are whiteboards, fully immersing its inhabitants in the office environment even during cloistered meetings. With natural light pouring in from three sides, the office doesn’t feel stuffy in either sense of the word.