Communicating Through Architecture

Jan. 1, 2004
A high-tech company finds the collaborative culture it desires in a new unified workspace.
Design FlashCommunicating Through ArchitectureA high-tech company finds the collaborative culture it desires in a new unified workspace.Today's CEOs recognize that corporate headquarters must be more than a place to house employees. Contemporary headquarters must now reflect the corporate culture, reinforce the image that's presented to clients and visitors and fit into the company's overall business strategy.Retek, a provider of technology solutions for the retail industry based in Minneapolis, MN, recognized this need and turned to Hammel, Green and Abrahamson, Inc. (HGA), also of Minneapolis, to design its new corporate headquarters. Retek formerly occupied multiple locations throughout the Twin Cities metropolitan area, moving into vacant offices as the need for more space arose. Consequently, it was difficult for staff members to interact on a regular basis—a critical part of the company's creative process.Working with HGA, Retek opted to consolidate its operations at one location, creating a 250,000-square-foot, four-story corporate headquarters within a new office tower development in downtown. This would provide space for staff communication as well as a reception and visitor floor dedicated to interactive demonstrations and sales functions.In their initial sessions with HGA, Retek highlighted several key elements that needed to be part of the new workspace: gathering points designed to encourage interaction between employees; a fourth floor visitor space; the ability to "brand" both public and private areas; and the Retek logo needed to be included throughout the space.To meet the need for a visitor space, HGA developed an open, two-story gathering place. For client and employee needs, HGA created "activity centers," especially design for interaction."Retek's spaces are excellent examples of how unique client needs are integrated into architectural design," said Rich Bonnin, AIA, an architect with HGA. "Retek wanted to create rooms for employees to enhance the collaborative process as well as to facilitate communication. Their 'activity centers' include a break room, kitchen area, vending area, a lounge, a game room and large, personal conference rooms—all of these are connected in an open, two-story space."Throughout the design and construction, HGA continued to revisit the purpose that Retek's corporate headquarters would serve and continually addresses those needs from a design standpoint."The whole design overview came together in four months or so—it's a process, so quite a bit of time was spent planning and figuring out what departments needed to be adjacent to each other," said Bonnin. "A key point in this success was Retek's collaborative nature. Conference rooms were an important piece since the creative people worked hard and needed to socialize with each other."Another aspect was the technical nature of what Retek does and all the information that came with that. We had to consider how the employees needed to use technology and hardware to support what they do. For instance, the computer server room had to include elements such as double power back-ups, multiple redundant back-up systems and power and fire protection."In addition to the technical requirements, Retek's interior design needed to be contemporary with materials that conveyed quality and strength. Additionally, the marketing and fourth-floor presentation room had special requirements."Retek was completed as the dot-com era was crumbling, so we used materials that are permanent and not flashy: perforated metal, stainless steel trimming and edging, stained concrete floors, clear white maple, mid-century classic furniture, sophisticated lighting," said Bonnin. "And as Retek's clients range from high-end retailers to lower-margin grocery stores, the design needed to be sophisticated, but not ostentatious."Rather than have a committee dedicated to the project, Retek had one person serve as the point-of-contact for the HGA team. Joni Lorenz, director of facilities and planning, was HGA's main and only contact throughout the process.Once Retek employees left their various Twin Cities locations and had all moved into the building, Lorenz encouraged employees to voice any concerns or worries they had during the adjustment period."Her approach was interesting," noted Bonnin. "Change is a hard thing for people to accept, so she encouraged people to tell her what issues they had, with the caveat that she wouldn't change anything for the first few months. After that, she asked people to come back and discuss what issues were still troubling them. By that time, many initial concerns had been resolved."

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