In spite of users’ grumbling about noise, distractions, and lack of privacy, the open-plan workplace—in its post-cubicle incarnation, with flexible, casual seating, and ample places to commune and play—continues to gain dominance in office design. Recent studies on productivity, however, advise companies to gear such schemes only to specific business cultures, preferably those of tech or media services firms, and where millennials are in the majority. (Apparently that cohort has a special ability to concentrate anywhere, anytime, and churn out work while playing Ping-Pong.)
Horizon Media fits this profile well: 70 percent of the high-octane media planning and buying agency’s staff is under 30. Founded in 1989 in New York, the firm, whose clients include Geico and Burger King, now has over 1,200 employees.
A few years ago, the privately owned company, which occupied offices in several buildings in Manhattan, decided to concentrate its operations in an old printing plant downtown. With the help of Architecture Plus Information (A+I), established in 1996 by Brad Zizmor and Dag Folger (who both trained at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation), Horizon began to incrementally renovate the 14th to 16th floors of a concrete-frame structure, each about 66,000 square feet.
The first build-out was completed in 2010, with the second phase of expansion in 2012. The third phase, finished in 2015, brought the total occupied space to 195,000 square feet, and now A+I is adding workspace on the 11th and 12th floors. In order to connect the employees across those spaces, A+I first carved out a central interior hall for a large, open steel stair: from the reception area on the 16th floor, you can see to various functions on the two floors below, including the assembling area called “the Dunes,” a series of platforms on the 14th floor. Then the architects cut out smaller rectangular openings between the floors to allow even more visual permeability, and added another connecting stair in the northwest end of the triplex.
In the way that the stairs act as a vertical connectors, an engineered-wood boardwalk runs across the middle of the 15th floor as a horizontal link, on and off which glazed conference rooms, seating areas, telephone booths, and vending machines are located. By edging the boardwalk with sea grasses, the architects evoked a sense of the outdoors, echoing the open terrace on the 14th floor, planted with birches, boxwood, and pachysandra.
Taking a cue from the exposed columns, beams, and floors of the existing building, A+I created concrete plinths and platforms for impromptu meetings, which recall Carlo Scarpa’s Olivetti showroom in Venice (1958). In addition, spalted maple dramatically defines the geometry of built-in booths, linear seating, and the main conference room’s dropped ceiling.
With each expansion, Horizon has been able to test ways that architecture can change as the company’s culture evolves. For example, individual workstations are giving way to a denser benching formation that fosters a team approach. The agency says it is finding that the headquarters, admitting expansive views of downtown and ample daylight, helps attract and retain an energetic staff. “We have been growing at 20 percent a year,” says Douglas Shangold, director of facilities management and procurement for the company, who also thinks that bringing potential clients to the space for the final pitch has helped seal deals. Not surprisingly, Advertising Age put Horizon Media on its top-50 list of best places to work in 2015.
While a game room near the terrace even has beer on tap, A+I is monitoring the ongoing use of these features, so that it can adjust future expansions accordingly. Nevertheless, for this kind of company, the old days of enclosed perimeter offices, with cubicles clustered in the middle devoid of access to space, daylight, and views, are long gone.
Personnel in architect's firm who should receive special credit:
Brad Zizmor and Dag Folger, Co-Founders A+I
Architect of record: A+I
Engineers: Structural Engineers = Severud Associates
Lighting Designer = Lighting Workshop
195,000 square feet
Masonry: Rainbow Beige Limestone tile with a brushed finish by Stone Source at Terrace
Sliding doors: Accordian Patio exterior doors by Sunflex glazed folding door
Cabinetwork and custom woodwork: Polyester-coated shop painted MDF millwork doors by Miller Blaker
Wall coverings: Custom painted black metal cladding at walls and stairs by Empire Metal and Glass
Floor and wall tile:Rainbow Beige Limestone tile with a brushed finish by Stone Source