After more than 30 years in Daniel Burnham’s iconic Railway Exchange Building, SOM’s Chicago studio decided it was time to rethink their space. Encircling the building’s airy, terracotta-clad lightwell, the newly redesigned and renovated office provides greater variety, connectivity, flexibility, daylighting and comfort, and embodies the workshop-style atmosphere of the best design ateliers.
The design team drew upon neurodiversity and workplace wellbeing research to improve focus and comfort, enlisting darker, warmer materials for the arrival spaces, gallery and pantry, and a whiter, brighter environment for the primary work zones. Warm-toned millwork appears in both spaces to establish visual continuity.
A model gallery and a wall-mounted model of the city of Chicago showcase SOM’s project work. An expanded pantry for working, socializing or relaxing with a long communal table and small café-like huddle booths. Across the custom palladiana terrazzo island, a mirror backsplash reflects views of Lake Michigan and Millennium Park to the east.
A new town hall room allows for large scale projection and was designed with ultimate flexibility in mind; a custom movable partition glides across overhead steel rails and modular furniture makes the quick division or combination of spaces possible. Experimentation also takes center stage; the green wall invites participation, measurements and exploration, and a new and improved materials library serves as a place for research and education.
Employee wellness—and increased energy savings—are enabled by ample daylighting, smart sensor lighting and a highly customizable thermal control system. A communicating stair with custom perforated steel rails running between the 9th and 10th floors opens up a previously walled-off stairwell, strengthening visual connections and access between both floors, and reflecting SOM’s commitment to collaborative, interconnected and interdisciplinary design work.