The Corporate Community

June 1, 2004
While buildings may not create a corporate culture, the recent expansion of the General Mills corporate campus, designed by HGA, Inc., proves that buildings can certainly reinforce a company's commitment to its people and the community they represent.
The expansion of the General Mills world headquarters in Golden Valley, MN, was driven by two circumstances: a history of successful growth meant the company was reaching maximum capacity on its campus and, second, a merger with Pillsbury in October 2001 meant the campus needed to integrate new business units, departments and personnel that were joining the corporate family. Space allocation, organizational goals and personnel requirements had to be met within a framework that supported the company's mandate of being an employer of choice. The solution, initially envisioned and proposed by Glenn Blake, General Mills' chief construction officer, was to expand the campus by adding three new structures. Blake had already been in expansion and planning discussions with the company's architectural design partner, Hammel, Green and Abrahamson, Inc., (HGA). While the team had several facility options, as the Pillsbury merger evolved, Blake and HGA's design team members brought their ideas to the forefront. At its most basic, their answer was to add three facilities to the campus. The construction of a new West Wing would house senior management and various departments and personnel. A second building, called the Champions Center, would become a home base for employees as well as an anchor for the overall campus design. A new parking ramp would accommodate employees, offering a covered parking option for the first time in the company's history. "To maintain our small town atmosphere, we carefully integrated the buildings and parking ramp into the existing campus," said General Mills' Blake. "For our business, we needed the facilities to satisfy current corporate objectives while providing flexibility for future goals and demands."Working with Blake and General Mills' facility team, the Minneapolis office of HGA began the planning and design phases of the three-year project. Led by HGA vice president Anita Barnett, designers Loren Ahles and Tim Carl were cognizant of General Mills' respect for art, the integrity of the campus and the architectural history of the buildings."Our goal was to respect the original architecture while expanding the campus, introducing 21st-century technology, considering employee needs and adhering to the campus environment," said Barnett. "Additionally, it was imperative that our solutions support General Mills' business goals while allowing for the company's continued growth."In the initial planning stage, HGA strove for architectural solutions that emitted a sense of unity and cohesiveness between the new and existing buildings. Locations for the buildings were carefully chosen to create new exterior courtyards where employees could gather to relax and converse."In the early phases, we knew ease of movement throughout the campus would be very important," continued Barnett. "Given the size of what we were proposing, we had to plan for traffic patterns, gauge employee needs in new spaces, and assess how our designs would support the company's culture." With respect for the architecture of the original buildings, HGA reinterpreted certain elements when designing both the Champions Center and the West Wing. For example, the original design of General Mills' headquarters was among the first in the Twin Cities to use glass curtainwalls. The two new buildings are a contemporary interpretation of this original design by using glass, granite and stainless steel to visually blend with the older buildings."The original campus was designed in 1958 and is a great example of post World War II corporate architecture," said designer Tim Carl. "Throughout our planning and design, we emphasized and repeated architectural elements that provided a visual link between the old and the new buildings. Integrating the interior with the exterior was also an important design element. We brought the magnificence of the outside grounds inside every chance we got."The purpose of the 140,000 square-foot, three-story Champions Center was to create a sense of community in one location. HGA also designed the structure to create a physical connection from the existing front door of General Mills' main building to the back of the campus, establishing a central circulation corridor for the entire grounds. The Champions Center, outfitted with the latest in high-tech and wireless technology, includes a "Main Street" with retail, employee services and impromptu meetings; a conference center for small or large out-of-office group gatherings, and an informal, comfortable restaurant that can seat up to 720 people.The Main Street is the heart of the center and serves as the main entry point into the building. As employees enter from the adjacent East parking ramp, a communications wall features three flat-screen televisions and an area to post company information. An assortment of stores and services are centrally located for easy access. Amenities include dry cleaning services, D'Amico & Sons deli (which also offers take-home service), Caribou Coffee, Frossen Flo Juice Bar, Salon on Main, and Consider It Done, a concierge service. In keeping with General Mills' commitment to enhance employee life, Main Street also includes Total Fitness, an exercise center open six days a week, and the company's Foundation for Community Action, which serves to educate employees and increase volunteerism.The campus' North-South corridor bisects Main Street and unfolds into a three-story, sky-lit atrium where employees can either access escalators leading down to the restaurant or up to the third floor conference center.The Champions Center's lower level houses the restaurant—a spacious marketplace that provides personal and group eating and meeting spaces for up to 720 employees. Informal meeting areas near the checkout encourage a convivial atmosphere while private conference areas enable meetings to continue during dining. Three seating choices—high-back cushioned booths, café tables and bar tables with stools, all in muted earth tones—are spread throughout the space.The lower level windows offer views of the Champions Center's exterior reflecting pond and the campus's rolling landscape to the North. Outdoor dining is available on the dining terrace, nestled between the western façade of the center and the West Wing. The terrace features a waterfall that cascades into a 10-foot-wide stream that flows into the reflecting pool, the soothing sound of water creating a contemplative spot for respite during a busy day. Able to accommodate 750 people, the Champions Center's third floor was designed as General Mills' in-house conference center. Features include a formal board room, the Betty Crocker dining room which seats up to 36, conference and meeting spaces and a 400-seat wood paneled auditorium. Rooms are organized around the center's three-story atrium, which provides ample space for informal gathering before and after meetings as well as ideal set-ups for breakfast or lunch buffets. Conference rooms are equipped with state-of-the-art audio-visual equipment, tackable walls and feature wireless "Room Wizard" technology that allows employees to determine the room's occupancy status from anywhere on campus via Microsoft Outlook or by accessing touch-pad screens outside each room.To continue the feeling of connectivity throughout the campus, this level's large windows and unique artwork, such as the glass and mirror design by James Carpenter in the atrium, add a soft touch to the technological atmosphere."The Champions Center is a vast improvement over the common spaces we had in the complexes before; it has wireless capabilities so people can connect without having to 'plug in'," commented Blake. "Now, with the interaction, connectivity and energy the center has, we are seeing far more informal two- to four-person meetings going on—not just at lunch or early in the morning—it's really all day long."While buildings do not create corporate culture, they certainly add to a company's effectiveness by aligning with a corporate culture. "The campus, these buildings and this project are symbolic of how important employees are to this company. It's a huge investment in our people, and it's a commitment to how dedicated we are to each employee," said Mike Peel, General Mills' senior vice president of human resources and corporate services.Mike Nordstrom, vice president corporate real estate and facilities at General Mills, agrees, adding, "This has exceeded our expectations in how it was received by our employees—we knew they'd be happy, we didn't know how happy."

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