The Great Outdoors: Driving Organizational Success Through Meaningful Office Design

Photograph courtesy of SmithGroup. © Dave Burk Photography LLC 2018

Photograph courtesy of SmithGroup. © Dave Burk Photography LLC 2018

As designers and architects, it is important to understand each client and their unique project and business drivers. Organizations are focusing on a new set of metrics for measuring success– metrics that focus on their people; shifting away from traditional measures of return on investment such as cost per square foot or first cost and turning to new measures that focus on wellness, retention, engagement and productivity. Employees comprise 80 to 90 percent of a company’s operating expenses which builds a strong case to create space that first and foremost supports an organization’s most valuable asset – it’s people. These new measurements of success that have helped to define key business drivers for organizations, often suggest a better connection to the outdoors in order to promote wellness and wellbeing, increase productivity and attract and retain top talent.

SmithGroup recently designed a new corporate headquarters for The Chamberlain Group, one of the world’s largest manufacturers of residential and commercial door operators and products, in Oak Brook, Illinois. The site design rethinks the suburban corporate campus as a habitat for collaboration, employee wellness and ecological health. A key mission for the new 20-acre campus is to attract young tech talent by offering an amenity unavailable in downtown Chicago – the opportunity to work in a robust and restorative parkland directly integrated with one’s workplace.

Focusing on employee wellness, the landscape and site design of the new headquarters brings outdoor experiences into close physical and visual proximity and ties them programmatically to the interior work environment. These spaces include a shaded lakeside dining terrace, wildflower gardens, and a looped trail network that connects to the building at multiple points and levels. The trails link employees with outside amenities designed for a full spectrum of uses, active to passive, and gathering spaces sized for a range of employee, family, and corporate gatherings.

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The layout of the site and amenity spaces center around user experience and focus on how people can encounter the landscape at different points throughout the workday. These experiences are wide-ranging and shared by employees at all levels. They vary from the drive into the campus, finding space for team meetings, having a quiet one-on-one conversation, alone time walking or running, or simply looking out a window. These experiences are coordinated with best practices for ecological restoration and stormwater management, creating a rich environment that fuses mental and environmental wellness and sustainability.