The media business isn’t what it used to be. And neither are the office spaces that
house media companies today. Yet, in its design for Vail Systems, a cutting-edge telecommunications software company with offices in different parts of Chicago, architecture firm Eastlake Studio created an up-to-the-minute workplace for the company that addresses its current work processes and pays homage to the media giants of the past, including the Chicago Daily News, the legendary newspaper that once ran its press room in the 12,000-sq.-ft. space that Vail now occupies.
Though the former industrial space Vail chose for its new offices was rundown, dark, and essentially in shambles when it was identified as an office option, the architects could see its potential and convinced its CEO, Jim Whiteley, that they could transform it into a space that would work well for the tech firm now and into the future. Its high ceilings, mezzanines, catwalks, and variegated spaces offered the lofty qualities that would appeal to existing employees and new recruits. The space also could easily accommodate the types of work areas and furnishings the firm’s 50 employees need to function efficiently and eventually evolve to accommodate up to 85 people.
“We’re expanding and growing constantly,” says Whiteley of the firm he founded 25 years ago. “We have a major presence in Chicago and we need to hire students fresh out of college who want to live in a major metropolitan area, and our offices in suburban Deerfield do not meet that demand. We also need to compete with other Internet companies who are vying for the same employee pool. So we wanted to find a space that was easy to access for employees near major transportation hubs. We also wanted a facility that reflected the fact that we’re in a serious business, so we didn’t want a space that seems like a playground like so many tech offices today. And we thought it was important for others to understand who we are by honoring those who came before us in this business.”
With these mandates in hand, the architects worked with a design committee from Vail; composed of about half a dozen people. In the process, the employees had the opportunity to weigh in and gain consensus about the final outcome. “We wanted the space to have an edge, yet be comfortable so people wouldn’t mind putting in long hours if they had to,” says Andre Hap, product director of enhanced network services at Vail. Influenced by input from the committee, the work spaces wound up being more efficient and organized than Whiteley would have imagined. “They were more aggressive about desk space than I would have been,” he says. “They actually made their work areas smaller, and the fact that it was their decision was really important.”
The new office seamlessly accommodates the work flow and processes of the company as a whole as well as the work styles of different people. “The employees do a lot of focused head’s down work, which drove the benching solution we chose for most of the workspaces,” says Tom Zurowski, Eastlake Studio’s managing principal on the project. “Two of the guys on Vail’s committee were really tall, so we sometimes joked about the ‘tall-guy’ perspective that was part of the conversation,” adds project architect Kevin Kamien. An important outcome of this perspective was the inclusion of adjustable-height work surfaces that offer employees “sit-to-stand” options for interaction. For the benching areas, the designers chose Teknion Interpret tables whose surfaces not only improve function, but also enhance health and well-being by encouraging people to get up and move now and then.
“A lot of people like to stand now, so about 15 percent of our space is stand-able,” says Whiteley.