May 31, 2019

Advertising Giant WPP Looks to HOK to Gather Its New York Offices Under One Roof

In one sense the remit was straightforward: WPP, the London-based international advertising and public relations behemoth, wished to gather the New York offices of several subsidiaries into a single location. They chose 3 World Trade Center, the 80-story tower by Pritzker Architecture Prize–winning Richard Rogers of Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners, and HOK won the bid to design the consolidated workplace.

HOK Designs a Consolidated Workplace for WPP in New York

A custom steel pergola shades the terrace
A custom steel pergola shelters the terrace. Photography by Eric Laignel.

Many factors raised the complexity of the commission, however, starting with its sheer size: 700,000 square feet (that’s more than 16 acres) on 14 floors, including a 3,000-square-foot outdoor terrace. Additionally, WPP wanted an innovative, creative habitat; maximum interconnectedness among its 4,000 on-site employees; and a high degree of versatility for potential growth and reconfiguration over the course of its 20-year lease. The company also asked that each corporate entity’s space be individually designed in accordance with its function, branding, and mission. Two major WPP subsidiaries moved to 3WTC: Kantar, a global market-research consultancy, and GroupM, the planet’s largest media investment conglomerate, which places approximately one-third of all ads worldwide. The latter oversees seven smaller divisions—Essence, MediaCom, Mindshare, [m]Platform, OpenMind, Xaxis, and Wavemaker—all of which had to be accommodated, too.

Creating a Collaborative Space for WPP’s Subsidiaries

A lounge area with Hudson River views in WPP's New York office
A lounge for Kantar, a WPP company, boasts Hudson River views and Michael Anastassiades pendant fixtures. Photography by Eric Laignel.

While the sprawling project was helmed by HOK director of interior design Tom Polucci, each subsidiary was assigned its own designer to provide it with a unique environment. This involved a special event: “We had a ‘mixer’ where we brought 12 or 13 of our designers together with the CEOs and creative teams of all the different brands,” Polucci explains. First the designers made short presentations about themselves, their personal passions, and their inspirations. Then each company did the same about its culture, brand, and staff. Next they met, one-on-one. “I had a bell,” Polucci reports. “Every two minutes the designers moved onto another brand.” It was designer/client speed dating—“an equal-opportunity event for  both parties”—and it succeeded in pairing number-one choices “across the board.”

The Office Design Features Nods to New York

The cafe at WPP New York features a custom media installation
In the adjacent pantry, a custom media installation hangs above the solid-surfacing countertop. Photography by Eric Laignel.

Polucci and his team devised a master plan to maximize creative variation while meeting the client’s budget and schedule. The envelope was kept consistent and neutral, with a color palette of black, white, and grays, and materials like stone, steel, laminate, and wood. The overall look is “refined industrial,”
so ducting suspended from the ceiling remains visible, downtown-loft style. And individual spaces are broken into three unequal zones: the truly bespoke, the flexible, and the fixed. Fully custom spaces include reception and other client-facing areas. Fixed areas house “pantries, coffee/tea points, small and medium conference rooms, and huddle and focus spaces,” Polucci enumerates, but even these have been individualized to a limited extent with colors and finishes.

Flexible Work Places Include Lounges and Cafe Areas

The reception area features a gray couch and custom bright red rug with a wood slate ceiling
Lievore Altherr Molina’s sofa and a custom wool rug in MediaCom’s corporate colors furnish its reception area. Photography by Eric Laignel.

Most of the square footage, however, is devoted to flexible work space, conceived to provide utmost adaptability as needs evolve. While differing from company to company, these areas are all created from the same kit of parts, which includes such furnishings as sitting and standing desks, oval oak conference tables, and engulfing podlike chairs that take their cue from first-class airline seats.

In reception for OpenMind, a panel of preserved lichen is installed across from a conference room
In reception for OpenMind, another agency, a panel of preserved lichen is installed across from a conference room furnished with Sava Cvek chairs. Photography by Eric Laignel.

Initial layout decisions were based on a survey of more than 3,000 WPP employees. Planning was helped enormously by the building, which has few internal structural columns to get in a designer’s way. (WPP occupies the top five floors and part of the setback terrace of the building’s 16-story podium, and floors 28 through 35 in the tower above, which have 70,000- and 30,000-square-foot floor plates, respectively.) “The entire project is designed on a grid of power and data locations,” Polucci explains. “That offers the ultimate amount of flexibility in being able to switch out the furnishings over time.”

The bistro for MediaCom features dinerlike booths and oak picnic-style tables and benches
The bistro for MediaCom, one of the agencies owned by WPP, includes dinerlike booths and oak picnic-style tables and benches. Photography by Eric Laignel.

At the core of the project is WPP’s shared communal space, dubbed the “town hall,” where “brand-agnostic” graphics pull together the colors of all the WPP subsidiaries. At its center, a two-story atrium features stadium-style bleachers that connect the 15th and 16th floors. Rising from a capacious lounge with views of the World Trade Center and the Hudson River beyond, the wide steps lead to a cluster of employee amenities above. These include the bistro, a grab-and-carry food vendor; the wellness center, staffed by a full-time nurse; and the tech hub, an electronics-repair station designed like a snack bar. (Every subsidiary’s space includes a canteen and multiple coffee spots.) Topping it all off is the landscaped terrace on the building setback immediately overhead.

Stadium seating for Town Halls with multi-colored cushions
Wool-nylon covers cushions in the town hall, which serves all the WPP subsidiaries in the building. Photography by Eric Laignel.

Even in today’s world of the activity-based workplace, Kantar and GroupM’s thrumming new quarters feel like a giant leap away from the past. The ambiance is part hotel lobby, part mall, part think tank, and part student-activities center at a particularly savvy university. According to Mark Sanders, CFO for GroupM North America, the entire project has helped put a more cutting-edge face on the companies’ work than their former scattered locations in pre-tech buildings, which did
nothing to reinforce a forward-looking corporate gestalt. Indeed, the client has expressed satisfaction in the sincerest possible way: WPP is moving even more of its business to 3WTC and HOK will design the additional space.

Explore WPP’s New York Office Designed by HOK

A wall of LED-backlit logos of all Kantar and GroupM divisions dominates the main reception area.
A wall of LED-backlit logos of all Kantar and GroupM divisions dominates the main reception area. Photography by Eric Laignel.
Employee locker rooms feature a custom black and white wall covering
Employee locker areas on all floors feature a custom wall covering. Photography by Eric Laignel.
A MediaCom conference room with views of the Oculus
A MediaCom office area has a closeup view of Santiago Calatrava’s Oculus transit hub. Photography by Eric Laignel.
A man walks up a wooden stairwell lined with white and orange wall panels
Jordi Vilardell and Meritxell Vidal’s pendant fixture and a custom MDF zigzag wall flank the stairs connecting agency Wavemaker’s two floors. Photography by Eric Laignel.
A custom natural-edge table sits under a metal-mesh dropped ceiling in a collaborative area.
A custom natural-edge table sits under a metal-mesh dropped ceiling in a collaborative area at the agency Essence. Photography by Eric Laignel.
A woman walks by telephone booth-inspired work areas with neo signs above
Custom neon signage hangs above Essence’s telephone booth–inspired work nooks. Photography by Eric Laignel.
A lounge with a brown sectional and large screen TV
In the same firm’s lounge, BassamFellows’s sectional sofa hugs a wall paneled in white oak. Photography by Eric Laignel.
A woman stands in an elevator lobby with black walls and ceilings and LED lights
LED strips separate wall and ceiling plates of blackened steel in an elevator lobby at WPP’s multi-brand 14-floor office in New York by HOK. Photography by Eric Laignel.
Oak paneling backs a stairway at Mindshare, another agency.
Oak paneling backs a stairway at Mindshare, another agency. Photography by Eric Laignel.

Project Team: Stephen Beacham; Anthony Spagnolo; Erika Reuter; Elizabeth Marr; Julia Cooper; Emily Dunn; Bob Elliot; Sarah Gunnink; Yasaman Hoorazar; Jeremy Jonet; Matthew Jordan; Claire Mcpoland; Kerri Mcshea; Yelena Mokritsky; Jessica Pepito; Justin Ping; Scott Smith; Adam Stoltz; Christine Vandover; Kristi Zoref; Bill Bouchey; Emily Payne; Shawn Sanem; Bethany Foss; Jessica Benz; Matt McInerney; Claire Pellettiere: HOK. Lighting Workshop: Lighting Consultant. Shen Milsom & Wilke: Audiovisual Consultant. Acoustic Distinctions: Acoustic Consultant. Jones Lang Lasalle: Leed Consultant. Wsp: Structural Engineer. Lilker Associates Consulting Engineers: MEP. 9wood; Terramai: Woodwork. Mistral Architectural Metal + Glass: Metalwork. Gardiner & Theobald: Project Manager. JRM Construction Management: General Contractor.

Product Sources: From Top: Rich Brilliant Willing: Sconces (Bistro). Bold Furniture: Custom Tables (Bistro, Essence Collaborative Area, Phone Rooms). Erg International: Banquettes (Bistro, Pantry). Hay: Tables, Benches (Bistro), Chairs (Pantry), Table, Chairs (Kantar Lounge). Gubi: Stools (Pantry). LG Hausys: Countertop. Tiles By Tina: Backsplash. Arper: Tables (Pantry), Sofa, Armchair, Ottomans (Mediacom Reception). Maharam: Stool Fabric, Banquette Fabric (Pantry), Chair Fabric, Ottoman Fabric (Reception, Kantar Lounge), Cushion Fabric (Town Hall), Rug (Essence Lounge), Side Chair Fabric (Essence Phone Booth). Cassina: Side Tables, Coffee Tables (Mediacom Reception). Kasthall: Custom Rug. Haworth: Raised Floor. Davis Furniture: Lounge Chairs, Side Tables (Mediacom Reception, Kantar Lounge). Koncept: Table Lamp (Mindshare Stairway). Naughtone: Stool. Carnegie: Paneling (Main Reception). Muuto: Stools (Main Reception), Side Chair (Essence Phone Booth). Vibia: Pendant Fixtures (Main Reception, Wavemaker Stairway). Lukas Lighting: Custom Pendant Fixtures (Town Hall). Extremis: Picnic Table (Terrace). Loll Designs: Lounge Chairs, Tables. Hollman: Lockers (Locker Area). Boss Design: Sofas (Mediacom Office Area). Knoll: Tables. Interface: Carpet Tile (Mediacom Office Area, Kantar Lounge). Benetti Home through Coverings Me: Moss Panel (Openmind Reception). Color Cord Company: Pendant Fixtures (Openmind Reception, Essence Collaborative Area). Bernhardt Furniture Company: Table (Conference Room). Stylex: Chairs. Dtank: Custom Wall (Wavemaker Stairway). Herman Miller: Chairs (Essence Collaborative Area), Sofa (Essence Lounge). Armstrong: Dropped Ceiling (Essence Collaborative Area). Tacchini: Chairs (Essence Collaborative Area). Lapalma: Ottomans (Kantar Lounge). Flos: Pendant Fixtures. Sandler Seating: Lounge Chair (Essence Phone Booth). Camira: Lounge Chair Fabric. HBF: Sofa Fabric (Essence Lounge). Connox: Coffee Table. Vitra: Side Tables.

> See more from the May 2019 issue of Interior Design

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