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Perkins+Will's Biggest Challenge For Designing Conagra's New HQ: The Size

Chicago Office

The new year brings a new home, new name and new focus for Conagra. The food conglomerate changed its name to Conagra Brands and moved its global HQ from Omaha, Nebraska, to downtown Chicago.

A rendering of the entrance lobby inside Conagra Brands' new Merchandise Mart HQ

Conagra's offices inside Merchandise Mart total over 168K SF on one floor. That footprint is equivalent to three football fields and enough space to bring together 790 employees in marketing, legal and finance from Conagra’s grocery, frozen foods and snack operations. Perkins+Will associate principal Eric Mersmann said designing an office with such a large floor plate presented some unique challenges.

Mersmann said Conagra wanted to bring together its workers on a single floor while still having everyone commingle in centralized locations. Given Merchandise Mart's design, there are only a few places in the office's north and south ends to penetrate access to Conagra's center, dubbed "The Market." Perkins+Will used pathways on the east and west ends of the floor to provide that access to the middle. Mersmann said the resulting plan essentially resembles a farm plot for office workers.

"It starts to look like rows of grain," Mersmann said.

"The Barn" inside Conagra Brands' new Chicago HQ

The design gives workers reasons to leave their desks and move to the edges of the space, which are collaborative spaces and coffee stations named after places one would find on a family farm like "The Barn," "The Mill," "The Orchard" and "The Land."

A test kitchen, which includes product development, innovation and demonstrations areas, is book-ended by the coffee bar and an open space known as Central Park, adjacent to the reception area, where employees and guests can relax in upholstered chairs or work at raised tables. Central Park can serve as a place for town hall-style meetings.

A rendering of the Founders Wall inside Conagra Brands' new HQ in Chicago's Merchandise Mart

Mersmann said Perkins+Will used distressed reclaimed wood from Midwestern barns to design Conagra's office walls. One wall near the entrance called the "Founders Wall" salutes farmers, bakers, agricultural innovators and, notably, popcorn king Orville Redenbacher.

A rendering of the offices inside Conagra Brands' new Chicago HQ

Mersmann said Perkins+Will adapted Conagra's "one earth, infinite possibilities" tagline for the project: "one office, infinite flexibility." In keeping with the flexibility Conagra desired, every workstation from the CEO to midlevel managers is the same size. Mersmann said this was done so Conagra has flexibility in shifting the locations of work groups as they change in size.

All of the workstations have height-adjustable desks. Breakout and meeting spaces have a variety of sit-down and stand-up workspaces. Conagra also provides additional facilities for workers like shared locker rooms and three separate shower suites so workers biking to the office can enter, shower and change before clocking in.