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The Workers Will Always Dictate What Makes An Office Creative

Chicago Office

Creative office is still a young sector, but it's matured in a short amount of time to meet the demands of a workforce spanning three generations. The workers will continue to drive innovation in the sector, and that often means designing with a little childishness.


Nearly 500 people attended our creative office event at 311 South Wacker to hear how experts are tackling the segment.

Nelson design director Theresa Williams (left, with HOK global director of interiors Tom Polucci) said creative office for her means taking you back to being a kid and re-creating the experience of being in school. Even crazy demands can serve a purpose. One of her clients wanted a treehouse built in its office as a meeting space, she bought a camper on eBay for another client to use as a meeting room, and she designed phone rooms on stilts for a third client that workers zipline out of when their calls end.

The school analogy is shared by Polucci, who said the mix of work and resting spaces in today's modern offices is reminiscent of being in college. It's all about being flexible and allowing workers to function across multiple teams. Polucci warned about the "HGTV effect" when it comes to today's office furniture, though. He said that designers need to convince clients that furniture budgets need to be higher because the furniture is shaping the office space, and you can't cut corners on that just because you saw a chair or a couch at a rock-bottom cost on a design show.


Sonoma Construction president Jon Runquist II said the pendulum swing from total open office layouts to a balance between open and private space is a result of the influence of Millennials that are new to the workforce and Baby Boomers re-entering it. Now that the two groups are sometimes working in the same environment, what one group sees as the standard, the other views as a distraction.

Another change in today's offices is a reduction in "fun corners" like game rooms and entertainment space. Runquist said contractors were called back to redesign these spaces shortly after their delivery, because they were layabout corners where productivity ground to a halt.


Builtech Interiors Group president Anthony Iannessa said general contractors want to be a greater part of the design process and can help clients stretch their budgets in the most important areas. Iannessa, who led construction of Builtech's HQ at 1021 West Adams, said that with rising construction and materials costs, it's important to get the right subcontractors involved in a build-out who can understand and satisfy the needs of the clients.


Our owner/developer panel had different approaches to underwriting and buildout. R2 Cos principal Matt Duhig said that R2 asks, "do we want to work here," as it develops creative office, an approach that served R2 well when it housed its offices at Madison and Sangamon for two years. Condor Partners partner Michael McLean Jr. said Condor underwrites an asset based on what it might look like to the surrounding community. Condor purchased the Sangamon Square development in Pilsen from residential developers, but viewed it as a loft office play, based on the activity along 18th Street.

The panel did agree that amenities are important outside of a building. Duhig said R2 loves the West Loop because the restaurants and retail are a draw for companies that want to lease in the market. Zeller Realty design director Sam Zeller said the ability for tenants to extend the office environment outside their walls will drive leasing.


Centro CEO Shawn Riegsecker said real estate remains the scariest aspect of starting a business. In the past decade, Centro has moved to five different offices, each with different lengths and terms, which makes little sense to him. He would like to see a future where Centro and other companies can sync their growth with their office needs.

Riegsecker isn't fond of the open office concept, although it is a part of Centro's offices at the Sullivan Center. A good office design serves as the foundation to a winning workplace culture, and Riegsecker said his employees are ecstatic that they overbuilt on private spaces and huddle rooms.