The New Aquent Headquarters
Eventually, all that growth meant Aquent’s headquarters in Boston were getting tight. We’d been planning and designing a number of regional offices in North America for the company, so they turned to us. They were spread out on four floors, which was hardly ideal. But they were reluctant to relocate to a new building, because their culture was so bound up in their existing space. We looked into options for refreshing the space. Eventually they decided not to renew their lease, forcing the issue.
- The new headquarters should give Aquent all the tools they needed to work with similar-minded people and have fun.
- The current space was homogenous. The new headquarters should be tailored to individual work zones, providing lots of choice.
- The new headquarters should reinforce Aquent’s values of sharing space and resources.
- It should be modern, liberated from “stuff.”
- The materials should blend the modern and the natural.
- The space should be alive and energizing and make people happy every day.
The headquarters we designed reflects the egalitarianism of the company by switching to 100 percent hoteling—there are no assigned desks here, not even for the executives. We did provide one-to-one desking—120 workstations for 120 people—with the idea that the hoteling concept would allow the space to comfortably accommodate a growing workforce.
Much of the building’s historic interior had been stripped in previous remodels. So we had to give the space a sense of character that would reflect the culture—not just for the people working here, but for local clients and for visiting workers from Aquent’s offices around the world.
To organize the large floor plate, we created a variety of destinations for working, drawing on popular building forms, each with their own feel and personality: terrace, pergola, back porch, library, general store, hut, and start-up garage.
We detailed the space using natural materials such as timber beams, lattice panels, and oversized wood sliding doors. For example, we used real exterior grade wooden shingles to clad the huts, which contain meeting rooms that can be reserved. Phone booths are drop-in spaces for one to two people. Whiteboards are everywhere—including tabletops. Because the headquarters is 100 percent open plan, acoustic clouds all over the work areas absorb sound, and white noise provides additional sound masking.
The pergola meeting areas are accessed through a corridor with a wood slat ceiling designed to resemble a trellis. The glass walls of each room are covered with a film that looks like switchgrass.
The back porch is a series of semiprivate rooms where people can get away from their desk and either have an impromptu meeting or just work at their laptop in a sunny space.
When we went on our initial walkthrough of the space, we were told there was a room we couldn’t go into, and that it wasn’t part of the leasable space. Of course, we went into it anyway. Turned out it had a stairway that the landlords had walled off in the middle for building code reasons. It was a stairway to nowhere.
We asked the landlords if we could have it, if we made it code compliant, because we’d like to use it for a little hidden room, and they said yes. So we added a few sprinklers and painted the risers multiple colors. At the top of the steps, we placed off-the-shelf lockers for people to keep their belongings—especially important for a place where people don’t have assigned desks.
Our clients tell us the space has completely changed how they interact, and they love it: people are talking to each other, and it’s served as a great recruiting tool. It was an unusual job for us—keeping the essence of the culture, while completely changing the way everyone worked.
Before Photos Below