February 1, 2011

M’mm M’mm Good: Campbell Soup Company Headquarters

Few product identities have resisted­ the advance of time. However, the very American household name Campbell’s is one of them, with its faithful cursive on a tomato-red rectangle gracing soup cans and delivery trucks, practically unchanged, since 1869. So strong is the brand essence that Andy Warhol’s 15 minutes of fixation actually improved corporate standing and sales. And that cultural and visual power is precisely what the interiors and architecture team from KlingStubbins pumped up in designing a competition-winning reception and employee center for the international food-products maker that’s known officially as the Campbell Soup Company.

Located in Camden, New Jersey—the City of Brotherly Love’s long-suffering sister city just over the Benjamin Franklin Bridge—KlingStubbins’s building shines like a beacon, day and night. Commuters driving along the highway behold a shimmering facade of glass encasing a 280-foot-long red signboard that sets off white relief lettering two stories tall, accentuated by hidden LEDs. Though the way to the consumer’s heart may be through the tummy, nothing inspires corporate chieftains like Las Vegas-scaled branding. “You can’t make those letters much bigger,” president and CEO Douglas Conant told the Philadelphia Inquirer. The apostrophe alone measures one yard across.

To vanquish unsightly condensation on the mullionless glass in front of the signage, the facade has slender steel horizontal members with hidden vents. This sophisticated curtain wall system was developed by a KlingStubbins design principal, Tejoon Jung, with the help of in-house structural and mechanical engineers. Patrick McGranaghan, design principal of the firm’s vibrant interiors practice and a habitual endorser of his client’s soups and snacks, explains that this expanse of glass, as long as a football field, “removes the barriers between Camden and Campbell’s. It’s a very different approach from their old chain-link fence.” Instead, the 80,000-square-foot, three-story building serves as a gateway for the campus as well as a much-needed amenity center for 1,400 employees. 

The glamorous newcomer also completes a courtyard surrounded by orderly if dull brick-and-limestone structures dating to the 1950’s. At the end closest to the existing main building, the brand beacon’s glowing entry deposits visitors in a triple-height reception zone. To one side is a comfortable, almost residential waiting area. Turn the other way, and an airy lobby gallery stretches into infinity beneath the enormous logo. On the wall of this gallery is an illustrated company history. Farther along, an employee store stocks every house product imaginable, plus assorted branded items. (Oversize tomato-soup hoodie, $41.)

Unbeknownst to most visitors, the store serves as a retail laboratory for assessing product aesthetics. In fact, CEO Conant’s modus operandi was to treat much of the facility as an extension of the company’s nearby R&D labs and test kitchens. One level above, for example, corporate guinea pigs try out a prototype workplace developed by KlingStubbins with input from Herman Miller CEO Brian Walker. About 30 employees avail themselves of glass-walled offices, team areas, and varied systems furniture here. On a whiteboard in a break-out area, Conant scribbles the dates he checks in on the test-office workers. Sometimes it’s daily.

Even the impressive cafeteria has a demo kitchen for visiting chefs and a place to test soup recipes on the fly. The latter, called Soup Bar None, is a semicircular make-your-own station on steroids. Want grilled mushrooms and fresh artichoke hearts in that chicken-noodle? Be our guest. Cheese and chopped onions on your bisque? Voilà! “As you would expect, the heart of the building is food,” Jung says with a smile. McGranaghan also notes the importance of squeezing in as many amenities and pleasing finishes as possible. A roomy training center nicknamed Campbell University and a state-of the-art gym offer ways to improve performance professionally­ and personally. 

Aside from that Campbell’s billboard out front, the interiors carry little corporate branding. McGranaghan points out a few subtle design elements, such as the pilot office entry’s interlocking can shapes in fritted glass. Warhol, whose lone tomato-soup can graces the understated oak-paneled boardroom, predicted that branding would eventually rise to the level of artwork. In the effort to match the outsize legacy of Campbell’s with a brand image of equal scale and top-notch design, KlingStubbins helped to bear out his axiom. As he also said, “Good business is the best art.” 

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