Agencies have always led the way in office design: from the Mad Men 1960's era of “open office” design with no dividers among pools of typists, to the TBWA/Chiat/Day attempt at the “virtual office” of the 1990s where no one had their own desk space and were instead issued laptops and mobile phones for the day and could work from anywhere, to the current millennial fetish for “dorm room” work spaces featuring bean bags, foosball tables, and play ground slides.
The need to foster productivity, creativity, and collaboration—all at once—while balancing the values of openness and privacy, liveliness and quietness, in an environment that pleased both visiting clients and residing employees has led to both bold innovation and failed experimentation.
Workplace: The Connected Space Documentary, a video directed by Helvetica filmmaker Gary Hustwit for Film First, reveals the agency R/GA New York headquarters move into its new space on 10th Avenue and 33rd Street—10,000 square feet where all 800 of its people can share the same floor—from its old location, R/GA founder and CEO Bob Greenberg's Bauhaus-inspired building that grew to acquire adjacent buildings and transform into a disjointed campus on 39th Street in Hell's Kitchen. R/GA vice chairman and global CCO Nick Law recalls, “From a practical point of view, it’s too broken up.”
Through experience, R/GA found that the agency works best in teams of 100 to 150 people comprising complementary disciplines: technology, media, advertising, and marketing.
The video documentary narrates how Foster + Partners architectural firm crafted a creative solution to Greenberg's challenge—combine the digital and the physical world.
The documentary juxtaposes the process of creating Greenberg's vision with the history of offices themselves, from the white collar factories of endless rows of desks, to Robert Prost's “action office” that created cubicles with modular dividers, to R/GA's new office as the culmination of hard lessons learned through more than a century of office culture.
The architectural savants of Foster + Partners reveal their creative process. Arjun Kaicker recalls, “We started off by talking about the physical space and talking about digital space, but very quickly, it would sort of converge. We were looking at how it wasn’t two parallel things happening, it was one that’s supporting the other.” Chris West pondered, “The space influences the technology. So, the website should be more like visiting the space. How does visiting the space influence how you do your website?” Barry Wacksman explains, “There are two different dimensions: how do we create the right environment so that people can be productive, feel happy, and then the other side of this equation is what’s the external experience of someone who’s maybe coming here because they’re a client that’s interested into maybe hiring us, or they’re someone who’s interviewing for a job here, and that’s where this whole integration of the website into some sort of an app experience, into the space itself.”
The solution was an office lit by angled overhead screens that can display video, data, or simply ambient light, as well as Ketra intelligent lighting that creates consistent and natural ambiance, adjustable desks that can accommodate both standing and seated positions, and the greenscaping and creature comforts that provide R/GA employees a variety of curated office environs to choose from.
The R/GA office successfully marries the digital and the physical world with an office that is intuitive and adaptable, efficient and minimalist yet warm and humane, and thoughtfully designed with future compatibility, successfully fulfilling Bob Greenberg's vision of a connected workplace.