by Debra Seay
Long before the COVID-19 pandemic rewrote traditional office culture, global insurance and technology services company The Hartford Steam Boiler Inspection and Insurance Company, Inc. (HSB) was already thinking about its workplace of the future. Collaborating with the design team, a concept evolved that would organize company teams into supportive “neighborhoods” gathered around a central communication/gathering space. Designers tamed a challenging building geometry to accomplish just that on the eighth floor of the company’s riverfront headquarters. The concept will be tested and refined as a prototype for other floors the company occupies in the building.
The engaging space is organized around a central hub that brings together the company’s various work neighborhoods and the social programming (eating, meeting, brainstorming) in a seamless way. Assisted with visual clues, occupants move through the space along a “boulevard” that minimizes distraction to office staff while providing access to social spaces. A serpentine passageway, defined by a graphic mural, clarifies circulation with intuitive wayfinding and reinforces connectivity between the front of the floor to the back. The concept allows employees to choose the best space that supports the work they are doing, from heads-down to collaboration, and the layout encourages physical movement.
Natural materials like wood are used throughout, including wood panels on workstations, and cork wall coverings are used in enclosed meeting spaces to assist with acoustics. Formerly closed offices were moved away from the exterior window wall, allowing the perimeter glass to benefit all employees with a light-filled space and connection to the outside. A black ceiling panel gives the illusion of height and reinforces the open feeling.
Worktables in many collaborative areas are round or oval, rather than rectangular, breaking down old hierarchies. Employees have sit-stand desks. The former break room was opened up to become another community space. Personal lockers are located in the curved corridor.
The experiment is working. HSB reports that the new spaces are well used, as employees transition from their homes back to the office to reconnect with colleagues.
Debra Seay, AIA, WELL AP is senior associate at Amenta Emma Architects.