July 26, 2019

Gensler Designs Western Union’s Denver Headquarters For the Digital Future

Yes, they of the singing telegram and the currency transfer. Western Union has an illustrious heritage of innovation starting in 1851 with the intention to build a telegraph line connecting Buffalo to St. Louis and continuing a decade later with the debut of a transcontinental telegraph. Western Union also issued one of the first charge cards in 1914, offered a public facsimile service in 1935, and launched a commercial satellite in 1974. On a sweeter note, let’s not forget the CandyGram, introduced in 1959.

In a nook at the Gensler-designed Denver headquarters of Western Union, custom digitally printed photographs tell the company’s 168-year story. Photography by Eric Laignel.

Fast-forward to the present to discover that the company has developed a robust digital platform and established a headquarters far from upstate New York. “Its roots in the Denver area run deep,” Gensler design principal and studio director Michelle Liebling reveals—24 years, to be exact. “But people don’t know they’re here.” That has changed with a move from suburban Englewood to a high-profile Gensler-designed spec building at the Denver Technological Center, part of a 42-acre campus anchored by light rail in the heart of the city’s burgeoning tech corridor. Western Union leased 250,000 square feet on eight of the building’s 16 floors and brought Gensler back for the interiors.

Increasing visibility and making a commitment to Denver were the project’s intangibles. Its big driver, Liebling continues, was to help Western Union “recruit and retain” by supporting an about-face for a corporate culture previously siloed by a maze of enclosed offices in spread-out buildings. Needless to say, all this had to happen on a crazy schedule, 14 months from start to finish. “We were issuing drawing packages and designing while the interiors were simultaneously under construction,” she says.

Back-painted low-iron glass defines an elevator lobby. Photography by Eric Laignel.

Connectivity, of course, is one of today’s buzzwords. It’s particularly pertinent to Western Union’s mantra of “moving money for better.” So Liebling emphasized workplace connections, not just among colleagues on a given level but also for the total population of 1,300 employees occupying the vertical campus. “We had to entice them to experience spaces outside their assigned location,” she explains. Her tactic? By giving different levels unique geographical identities, she created a global grand tour of destination amenities. Subtle and suggestive, absolutely. Literal or super-kitsch, no way.

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These “community hubs,” as she calls them, are based on regions where Western Union has a significant presence, and she developed thematic references accordingly. From the bottom up: a souk, as found in the Middle East; a Parisian marché aux puces, its furnishings intentionally mismatched; a town plaza typical of South America; a North American coffee bar where rows of mugs spell out, “We always connect with people. That is our DNA”;
a night market from Singapore; an African home with clusters of basketlike pendant fixtures; and an international pub. Each is a lounge also conceived to be an informal lunch spot, paired with a pantry—there’s no corporate cafeteria.

The same level’s lounge-pantry hub, representing a Paris flea market, features Barbara Barry sofas and custom walnut shelving filled with company memorabilia. Photography by Eric Laignel.

“People do go to various community hubs just to switch it up for something different,” Liebling notes, having observed during post-occupancy visits. “They’re used all day, and each has its own sensibility. Some are quiet, some intense and vibrant.” Proof of concept.

The hubs furthermore determine the corresponding level’s signature color, as in emerald green for South America or blue, like jeans, for North America. Color coding starts with the elevator lobbies’ back-painted glass walls and carries through to the office areas, where a mural interprets the money-moving logo as pertaining to that level’s theme. “You have to walk past it to get to the community hub,” she explains.

In the lounge-pantry hub based on a South American plaza, hand-painted ponderosa pine tables alternate with ottomans by Noé Duchaufour-Lawrance. Photography by Eric Laignel.

Which brings us to the broad strokes of workplace configuration. Slim, low workstations hug the window walls, which provide breathtaking views of the Rocky Mountains, to say nothing of the brilliant sunlight. Private offices and an array of meeting rooms are inboard. Of course, there’s a stadium stair. It rises from a carpeted area with reconfigurable seating, used for presentations, to arrive at the very top level, where the executives work. Here, the CEO occupies his personal 4,800-square-foot domain, and 32 can gather at the boardroom’s horseshoe-shape table.

The top two levels are the only ones not to feature what Liebling calls “focus nooks.” These niches—ad hoc meeting venues ablaze with graphics evoking the geographical location in question—add both visual interest and functionality along the typically underused corridors between private offices and the base building core. One particular nook best tells the story of Western Union’s evolution from daring pioneer to global enterprise. Behind a row of green lounge sofas, a black-and-white photomontage shows folks from around the world, through the decades. Mounted in front of the photos are two actual bicycles, one vintage and the other a new racing bike. The former represents Western Union’s original form of delivery service. The latter looks to the future, alluding to efficiency and speed. Emblazoned on the rear wheel’s solid disk, yellow capital letters proclaim: “Always moving. Always innovating. Always connecting.”

Keep scrolling to view more images from the project > 

Seating by Jang Won Yoon fills a nook facing a world map of custom clocks set to the appropriate time zones. Photography by Eric Laignel.
Blue is the signature color for the North America level. Photography by Eric Laignel.
Its coffee bar combines butcher block and encaustic cement tile. Photography by Eric Laignel.
The oak stadium stair descends from the executive level to the presentation area. Photography by Eric Laignel.
Carrara marble tops the boardroom’s custom table. Photography by Eric Laignel.
Yellow denotes Africa. Photography by Eric Laignel.
Printed to resemble telegram stamps, MDF panels line a nook furnished with lounge sofas by Graham Design. Photography by Eric Laignel.
Todd Bracher Studio chairs gather in a meeting room where wool felt covers a wall. Photography by Eric Laignel.
Paola Lenti folding chairs sit near the African lounge-pantry hub’s assemblage of straw and rattan baskets. Photography by Eric Laignel.

Project Team: Erin Vinezeano; Christy Headlee; Abigail Parr; Lauren Hucek; Lenny Camargo; Jon Gambrill; Lindsay Salazar; Alex Ilaoa: Gensler. Rock­Skip: Graphics Consultant. Charter­sills: Lighting Consul­tant. Fortis Structural: Struc­tural Engineer. Woodcraft Un­limited: Woodwork. Howell Construction: General Contractor.

Product Sources: From Top: Martin Brattrud: Lounge Sofas (Nooks). Kvadrat: Lounge Sofa Upholstery. HBF: Sofas (Paris Hub), Table, Chairs (Meeting Room). Sandler Seating: Chairs (Paris Hub). RH: Rectangular Table. Hekman Furniture: Round Table. Herman Miller through Hive Modern: Pedestal Table. Scott Group Studio: Rug. Pfeifer Studio: White Side Table (Paris Hub), Side Tables (South America Hub), Stools (Africa Hub). Sina Pearson: Striped Ottoman Fabric (South America Hub). KnollTextiles: Solid Ottoman Fabric (South America Hub), Chair Fabric (Meeting Room). JANUS et Cie: Tables (South America Hub). Magis: Chairs. XGrass: Turf. Bernhardt Design: Ottomans (South America Hub), Booths, Tables, Booth Upholstery, Cushion Upholstery (Nook). Hightower: Bench, Arm­chairs (South America Hub), Armchairs (Africa Hub). Kentwood Floors: Platform (South Amer­ica Hub), Stadium (Stadium Stair). Mod­ernus: Sliding Glass Doors. Grand Rapids Chair Company: Stools (Coffee Bar), Custom Communal Table (Africa Hub). Clé: Island Tile (Cof­fee Bar). Marset: Pendant Fixtures. Stylex: Sectional (Stadium Stair). HBF Textiles: Sectional Upholstery. Tiger Leather: Bench Upholstery. Centerlight: Linear Lighting. Arktura: Ceiling Panels. Flor: Carpet Tile (Stadium Stair, Boardroom, Africa Hub). Tuohy: Custom Table (Boardroom). Wilkhahn: Chairs. Newmat: Acoustical Stretch Ceiling. FilzFelt: Wall Covering. Lowenstein through OFS: Sectional (Africa Hub). Camira: Sectional Fabric. Moroso: Coffee Table. Offecct: Lounge Chairs. Paola Lenti: Folding Chairs. El Torrent: Pendant Fixtures. Variance Specialty Finishes: Venetian Plaster. Throughout: Benjamin Moore & Co.; Dryfall Paint; Sherwin-Williams Com­pany: Paint. Premier Press: Custom Graphic Film, Custom Wall Covering. MDC: Acoustic Ceiling Baffles. Birchwood Lighting; Focal Point; Luminii; 3G Lighting; v2 Lighting Group: Lighting. Acme Scenic: Custom Wall Treatments, Custom Clocks.

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