Inside Job

This month we decided to profile four uniquely and thoughtfully designed office spaces in Fort Worth.

One consistent theme was each office’s design reflected the occupants’ work philosophy. A triangular conference room and table reflected a democratic approach to working with their colleagues. Or old wood removed from 100-year-old walls in a building were repurposed to keep the building’s story alive. Almost every detail, down to the color of exposed wiring, was thought about, and every space was designed with the type of work each company performs. First, these brilliant architects consider what makes the space function as an office. Then, the architect considers what type of work the company practices making each of its ideas come to life in design. All of these offices were created to inspire not only the employees, but also the clients.

iProspect – Sloan Harris, AIA, VLK Architects iProspect’s President of the Americas and Global Chief Marketing Officer Misty Locke said when brainstorming with architect Sloan Harris at VLK Architects that her office space must stimulate innovative thought, promote creative conversation and nurture collaboration. The 25,000-square-foot office does just that. It has an open concept, high ceilings with brightly colored exposed wiring, “seated pods” for the separate teams to work together and a massive kitchen filled with snacks and food where colleagues congregate.

Each “team” sits in this shared desk-like space designed to fit their personalities. One team had a laser disco ball shining lights onto their desks. Some employees bring their dogs to work. A few of these dogs cuddled up next to their parents as they worked away.

Common spaces such as their vast “home-style” kitchen support interaction among various levels of the company. The ceiling is made into vaulted bays like the Kimbell Art Museum to create a dialogue with the city. Harris said these vaulted arches were made of brick because this company (Range) started in the Fort Worth Stockyards meatpacking district before the international firm iProspect partnered with them. 

The company’s entryway is a full mural of the Fort Worth Stockyards, again, where the company was originally based. Conference rooms are shielded with old barn doors as another nod to the stockyards. “Power pea green,” maroons and reds catch your eye everywhere you look, all colors of Range (maroon and red) and iProspect (green) again reflecting their partnership.

Every employee got to contribute his or her ideas for what the office should look like. Their “Brain Room” — a circular room within a larger room including writable walls and a projector to create a place for teams to brainstorm — won a national office design award.

“Our goal was to create an office that inspired, a space that not only reflects our open and collaborative culture, but allows it to flourish. Together with VLK, we created a unique environment with nods to our Fort Worth roots while reflecting the international aspect of our business and our clients. A thoughtful mix of lighting, breathable materials and open areas infused our brand into the space,” Locke said.

Nearly the entirety of their back wall is made of glass garage doors they can open on beautiful days. More interior walls made of rocks and held together with a “steel cage” lend to the breathability of the space. Light softly peaks between the rocks.

But one of the aspects Harris is most proud of is how the furniture design is consistent with the office design. They all allow for collaboration while bringing the creative mind to life.

Tailwind – Gary Cunningham, AIA, Cunningham Architects The typical office space for private equity firms and financial or real estate advisors can seem dated with things like leather chairs, dark rooms and cherry wood furniture, but Tailwind is far from that cliché. They wanted to make the statement that they have new ways of thinking where to invest money.

Now one of the most innovatively designed offices in Fort Worth, just a few years ago it was a roughly 100-year-old rusted, dome-shaped shell that housed an industrial company. Tailwind’s real estate advisor, J. Searcy, called Dallas-based, renowned architect Gary “Corky” Cunningham to design at the antiquated space. It was a complete mess, but Cunningham said he knew it would be “kick ass” the minute he saw it.

“People should scrap less and use what is there,” Cunningham said.

They gutted the shell while still keeping the old cranes and wooden rafters. Tracing the interior of the steel dome are pale wooden planks. The architect loves that while perfectly parallel, they are uneven because of the ripples in the old steel roof, which creates a dialogue between the old and the new. If you haven’t guessed by now, architecture and design is about figurative dialogues between the old and new, the buildings around it and the city it exists in.

Between the wooden planks is insulation to absorb sound since the floors are polished concrete. Light strips are also arbitrarily yet intelligently fitted between the wooden planks to work with the natural light allowed by frosted-glass skylights.

The landscaping plays a big part in Tailwind’s office as well, as it does with all architecture. A bubbling, square pool brings the calming element of water at the entrance. Just think again of the Fort Worth Modern Art Museum or the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth and how those famous architects, Tadao Ando and Louis Kahn, used water to create serenity in their design. Cunningham continues this dialogue not only with the water, but a lone mesquite tree and native grasses echo the Texas ranch heritage. Beauty lies in bringing nature into the design since they all have a symbiotic relationship.

What completes this impeccably designed office is that the front glass doors, which make up most of the building’s façade, can slide open to bring that water and Texas ranch heritage inside. Oh, and for fun, there is a putting green on the side of the building in case an employee needs to knock a few golf balls around on a stressful day. I know I sound like a saleswoman, but I am seriously impressed with these structures.

The Starr Conspiracy – Michael Bennett, AIA, Bennett Benner Partners As soon as their lease was up on Magnolia Avenue, these urban pioneers wanted to be one of the first to move to the next hot spot—South Main Street. Their 9,400-square-foot space used to be a cavernous nightclub. All sorts of unspeakable things were left behind as if the previous tenant just ran out one day and never looked back.

However, with the help of architect Michael J. Bennett, AIA, and registered interior designer Emily Gilmore, RID, they brought in light and openness that lend to the firm’s creative and collaborative nature as a strategic marketing and advertising agency. A skylight brings in natural light, which is reflected off the white walls and ceilings. Industrial light fixtures hang from the ceiling to, again, bring that perfect marriage of natural and artificial light into the space. Bennett and Gilmore painted the walls white so they become luminous reflectors of that light.

The “crown jewel” of the space is a large poplar wooden wall that bisects the building from the front to back, reaching from the ground floor almost to the ceiling. This divides the bottom floor in half.

“One side is the quieter side, where writing, web development and creative design take place, and on the other side are the accounts teams, who are on the phone most of the day with clients,” said Dan McCarron, The Starr Conspiracy Partner and COO. “It’s funny; we fought Michael and Emily on this one for a while, but they said ‘Trust us.’ ”

Bennett said they chose the honey-colored poplar wood because it added a warm element to the concrete floors and drywall. Between the wood strips is an acoustic material that absorbs the sound. And they purposefully chose wood that had graining and texture.

The previous nightclub had a mezzanine where partygoers could watch dancers on the floor below. Bennett and Gilmore incorporated that space into the design by adding offices on that top floor that overlook colleagues working away. Don’t get me wrong; you still may find some dancing in The Starr Conspiracy on a Friday afternoon. This internationally successful firm is known for being a “fun” group. When you walk in the glass front door that allows for more natural light, a bar filled with adult beverages, complete with a Kegerator, greets employees and clients alike. That’s a refrigerator for a keg, folks. Bennett said their design reflects their clients and “this is a fun group of guys.”

The clear glass garage door on the building’s façade faces South Main Street, which can be opened on pretty days. They wanted a dialogue with South Main because they said that’s the next big “thing” in Fort Worth.

“We see Fort Worth as a world-class city in the making and wanted the new office space to contribute in some small way to that vision,” McCarron said.

PAVLOV Advertising, LLC. – Quorum Architects Pavlov got lucky 14 years ago when they landed their industrial space in the now hot redevelopment just south of downtown. Principal Allen Wallach spent more than a year trying to find the perfect office space that would stimulate the employees at his advertising agency. When he walked into an old warehouse with dirt floors on Vickery, it was true love.

“Typical office design with walls, doors and low ceilings seems stifling. That type of office is kryptonite to me. Conversely, open offices without doors, high ceilings, natural light and work station ‘pods’ can foster socialization, communication, positive energy and creativity,” Wallach said in an email. “Ours is a fast-paced, deadline-oriented business, so the fewer roadblocks to productivity the better.”

Wallach, together with Quorum Architects, created a democratic atmosphere to make everyone feel like an entrepreneur. For example, their custom-built, triangular conference room and table have no true head like a traditional conference room table. And Wallach said it is “unexpected and a break from convention.” There are also no doors on the offices and very few walls, which suggests that anyone is welcome into anyone’s office to collaborate over ideas or ask questions.

Other favorite features are their massive steel and glass entry bay door, the natural light, high ceilings, acrylic translucent walls similar to Plexiglass that carry the natural light into other rooms, and bright colors that “punch you in the eyeballs,” as Wallach said, the exposed wiring and sandblasted brick from the original warehouse.

“The overall design concept is what I call industrial chic or brutal chic. It’s the juxtaposition of old and new and refined and rough. There is a sense of controlled chaos to our space, much like the creative process itself,” Wallach said.