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How Local Touches Create a Sense of Place in an Office

04/20/2020 By Sarah Kloepple

A sense of place is an important element for an office environment to have, as it can inspire employees and help a space stand out. When working through a renovation project, keep in mind what makes the office’s location unique—whether it’s the city, state or the building itself.

That might include a nod to a local landmark in the design, sourcing local materials or restoring some original features of an old building. Adding local touches during a renovation project or preserving historical elements can help create that sense of place.

Your first step? Ask the tenants about what local elements they’d like included in the space.

“Learning what your client values most about their location is key to successfully incorporating nods to the local environment,” says Elizabeth von Goeler, LEED AP ID+C, CDT, principal interior designer, NCIDQ, for Sasaki. “Sometimes it’s a popular landmark, but other times it’s something as small as watching the local wildlife. Providing an arcade room or a relaxation room might not be right for every client. Being tuned into your client’s work culture will inform what types of spaces will be the right fit.”


Photo: Sasaki’s design concept for Microsoft’s NERD Center was taken from the building’s location along the Charles River in Cambridge, MA. Each floor takes on a different theme that relates to the layering of the outside environment. Floor 1 is the water, floor 10 is the boats on the water, floor 11 is the bridges over the water, floor 15 is the trees at the edge of the water, floor 16 is the buildings overlooking the water, and floor 17 is the sky and beyond. Many of the finishes and design features on each floor tie back to this concept; Credit: John Horner

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[Related: Creative Details for Office Renovations]

When designing a space for the headquarters of Ferrara Candy Co., design firm NELSON Worldwide incorporated elements from the Old Chicago Main Post Office building, built in 1921, where the office resides. They accentuated the 18-foot-tall ceilings by incorporating existing vintage mail chutes as structural elements and vintage package scales for wayfinding.

View inside the conference room
Photo: NELSON Worldwide used local millworkers and furniture shops to create feature walls and tables using locally sourced wood in the new Ferrara Candy Co. headquarters, which is located inside an early 20th-century building. “The new headquarters commemorates all the original aspects of the Old Chicago Main Post Office, while offering flexible solutions for the brands it houses,” says Nicole Zack, AIA, senior designer for NELSON Worldwide; Credit: Farm Kid Studios

Farther north, Co.act is a co-working space that serves as a hub for Detroit’s nonprofit community. McIntosh Poris Associates renovated the historic building where it’s located. The design respects the historic aspect of the building by highlighting some of the original architectural elements, but also adds flexibility with a mix of workspaces and amenities—such as a pantry, a mother’s room, a bike parking lot and shower facilities—that can adapt over time.

View of the large conference room area with a large table in the forefront.
Photo: The live-edge conference table at Co.act, a co-working space in Detroit, was made locally by Ferndale, MI-based Long White Beard Furniture. The design by McIntosh Poris Associates respects the building’s historic nature “by preserving and highlighting many original elements through a contemporary renovation that references the past and celebrates diversity and variation,” explains Michael Poris, principal and founder of McIntosh Poris Associates. Much of the other furniture is made locally as well; Credit: Brett Mountain

View of the stairs and a kayak hanging from the ceilingNo matter the building’s age or infrastructure, there are still countless ways to highlight and celebrate the surrounding community and its history.

(Photo: CLIF Bar purchased an existing food production facility in Indiana to renovate. Pepper Construction worked closely with CLIF Bar and CSO Architects to ensure the company’s vision could come to life. The brand is often associated with nature adventurous sports like biking, rock climbing and kayaking. Details were included in the design to pay homage to that culture, like a giant hanging kayak light fixture, biking décor and entire walls with live plants. Indiana limestone was also incorporated into the design to further connect the building to the local environment; Credit: Studio13)

Read Next: Renovated Offices Show Health and Wellness Spaces are Here to Stay