November 1, 2011

Southern Hospitality: Atlanta Welcomes JWT By Interior Architects

Against the odds, the New York office of Interior Architects won the commission for the Atlanta office of JWT, fromaerly known as J. Walter Thompson. IA’s own Atlanta office would have been a more obvious contenter, geographically. Plus, the New Yorkers were complete neophytes when it came to global ad agencies—and went up against two major firms that were anything but. IA’s appeal, design principal Julio Braga surmises, ultimately lay in one crucial fact: “We had to research rather than rely on what we’d done in the past.”

Research taught Braga that consolidation and integration were key. The 50,000-square-foot interior, on two levels of a new glass tower, would unite three divisions previously housed in separate locations. “It was imperative that these cultures come together,” JWT managing director Ridge White agrees. “The consolidation fused digital capabilities with traditional agency services, sparking a new operating model for us.” Here’s where design came in. The New York headquarters of JWT had already received a radical makeover by Interior Design Hall of Fame member Clive Wilkinson. “That office put creativity at the forefront, starting us on a new journey,” White continues. Part of the evolution was to a mostly open work mode. IA took that idea to the max in Atlanta, where there’s not a single enclosed office. Everyone, 220 staffers including executives, has the same workstation configured on a 7-foot module. It’s 100 percent nonhierarchical.

A journey, in fact, is the key metaphor. As White explains, “Today’s ad world is no longer just a 30-second TV commercial. A commercial spawns a Google search-the Web and branding give us the ability to take people places.” To facilitate the storytelling crucial for this process, Braga designed a blankslate setting that he calls “a background for folks to bring together their creativity.” Nothing embodies this combination as well as the service core. He wrapped it in floating panels of quiet bamboo plywood, then embedded them with all sorts of lively narrative mediums: video monitors, projection screens, LED displays, whiteboards. He adds that the approach is the antithesis of agencies that are “funky and filled with stuff,” something he encountered frequently during preliminary investigations.

Glass, metal, polished concrete, and exposed ceilings give a loftlike hipness to JWT’s open plan. Braga sprinkled it with ample meeting places, 22 rooms and 40 informal areas, rather than creating banks of enclosures. The result? No dead ends or lifeless hallways. Circulation of the vertical variety comes via an asymmetrical stairway, its treads expanding from 7 to 14 feet wide. Double-functioning as amphitheater seating for staff meetings, this massive centerpiece has a balustrade of clear glass on one side and of oxidized steel on the other.

With the bones in place, Braga layered in texture and vivid color for lightheartedness. The first thing spied by clients visiting from Jiffy Lube International, Transamerica, the U.S. Virgin Islands, or the U.S. Marine Corps is the reception area, which hugs the top of the staircase. Suspended from the ceiling on fine steel cables, teal wool “tiles” from Ronan & Erwan Bouroullec’s Clouds system form an asymmetrical mass, one that can be reconfigured by JWT creatives easily and often, thanks to a simple assembly with rubber bands. Identical teal wool upholsters a sofa by Patricia Urquiola, a 2011 Hall of Fame inductee. Providing contrast to the teal are Charles and Ray Eames’s walnut stools-the kind that look rather like abstract chessmen-and the deep gray sisal anchoring the whole vignette. Bookending reception and the adjacent media library are the two conference rooms, their glass enclosures interrupted by feature walls in magenta felt. Directly below, at the bottom of the stair, that setup repeats: A lounge is flanked by meeting rooms surrounded, in turn, by the office areas where most of the creative staff works. The healthy dose of pattern in the lounge “changes the feel from the rest of the office,” Braga notes. A rainbow of stripes covers the wall behind the white Corian bar, while another striped pattern, by Alexander Girard, upholsters oversize ottomans.

Braga took advantage of the curtain wall by lining up pale gray molded-polyethylene chaise longues against the lounge’s windows, as if poolside. Since there are 360 degrees of glass at the perimeter and few solid, opaque internal walls to break up the floor plates, the city of Atlanta is really the protagonist in JWT’s story. In fact, as seen from those chaise longues, the building housing IA’s own local office looms large.

John Azinaro; Haeyoung Shin; Ali Ucer; Sophia Yun; alex sarria; Angelo Lebron; Gretchen Lotz; Alexandra Miller: Interior architects. Lightfield: Lighting Consultant. Acoustic Dimensions: Audiovisual Consultant, Acoustical Engineer. Uzun & Case: Structural Engineer. KLG: MEP. Mortensen Woodwork: Woodwork. Superior Rigging & Erecting: Steelwork. Baker Audio: Audiovisual Contractor. Turner Construction Company: General Contractor. Jones Lang Lasalle: Project Manager.

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