Privacy and “Permeation” in a Government Affairs Office

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EMD Serono wanted to design for strict acoustical privacy while still embracing a collaborative and open office culture in their government and regulatory affairs office.

The concept of “permeation” is expressed through the main intersecting with the ceiling. Photo by Eric Taylor.

In 2015, EMD Serono — the U.S. division of Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany — teamed up with INTEC Group to design their government and regulatory affairs office in Washington, DC.

EMD Serono first tasked INTEC with researching and designing an “office of the future.” From there, the team at INTEC studied employee engagement, wellness, and the multi-generational workforce, concluding that the client’s workplace of the future must consider biophilic design, kinetic architecture, and technology to provide a holistic and engaging work environment.

The result is an optimized, adaptable space that incorporates several layers of sustainable practices in terms of the materials used but also the positive impact on those who occupy the space.

We reached out to the team at INTEC to find out more.

“We” space showing off the kinetic transformation of assembly space. Photo by Eric Taylor.

What is the address of the project?

1299 Pennsylvania Ave, NW Washington, DC 20004

Who was the interior architect/designer?

INTEC Group, Inc.

When was the project completed?

February 1, 2016

An “ideation cocoon.” Photo by Eric Taylor.

What is the total square footage?

12,000 square feet

How many total employees are there and what’s the daily population?

32 current employees with areas for future growth

What is the location’s proximity to public transportation and other amenities?

The project is located in Washington’s landmark Warner Building. The building itself provides access to several amenities for tenants including a fitness center, roof deck, on-site restaurant, newsstand, and the Warner Theatre. The building is just a few blocks from the White House and other key destinations in DC, with close proximity to multiple Metro stations and public transit.

The unique entrance integrates biophilic design, technology, and the EMD Serono brand. Photo by Eric Taylor.

What were the construction/hard costs per square foot?

$165 per square foot

Which furniture brands/dealers were used? Please touch upon any notable products, how they were used, and if they solved a specific problem.

Steelcase was the manufacturer and Red Thread was the dealer.

For this government and global affairs office, acoustical privacy and the handling of classified information were of utmost importance, even between the separate divisions within the office. We were challenged with designing for strict acoustical privacy while still embracing a collaborative and open office culture.

The end user’s other primary concern was access to natural daylight and the challenge of providing everyone with natural light in a private office intensive program. Steelcase VIA demountable partitions were used as the office fronts, which allowed natural light into all parts of the office and allowed us to meet our STC requirements, even with sliding glass doors.

Ultimately, we were able to ensure acoustical privacy without compromising visibility and access to natural light.

"We" touchdown space in the office. Photo by Eric Taylor.
“We” touchdown space in the office. Photo by Eric Taylor.

Is there a mobile work or work-from-home policy or are most of the employees there all day every day?

Some employees are on international travel, so this location is an important place for employees to touchdown. It is important for them to be able to communicate with the U.S. HQ in Boston and the Merck HQ in Darmstadt Germany.

What percentage of the space is unassigned?  

We used the expanse of window line that connects the two divisions within the office as “we” space, providing a lifeline of daylight for people to connect outside of their private work zones. This “we” space is designed to support the company culture by encouraging and supporting social learning, knowledge sharing, collaboration, and personal connections.

All we spaces are considered to be touchdown areas for visitors and for full time employees who want to get out of their offices. The “we” space is designed to provide for opportunities of different posturing and to encourage movement and collaborative discovery and creativity throughout the day.

How is the company’s brand reflected in the space?

Merck International and EMD Serono were coincidentally undergoing a large corporate rebranding process simultaneously to the interior design process for this project that our project team did not have access to. We designed the project independently of their current brand, and relied on visioning exercises with the end users and our own brand accelerator exercises to create a space that ultimately aligned with the new brand that was released two months into construction.

EMD’s brand is distilled into the design concept of “permeation”. Connecting to EMD Serono as a biopharmaceutical company, life permeates through the layer of cellular structures. This spatial and sculptural imagery of cellular layers permeates through the EMD Serono space as threads of walls, light, and circulation, imprinting the EMD Serono brand throughout the space while activating elements of wellness and biophilic design. Compound curves in the drywall, shapes within the flooring pattern, and the forms of specialty millwork and lighting all reinforce the brand. More literally, the colors throughout, the graphics painted on the collaborative “cocoon” area, LEED educational signage, and room signage are a direct reflection of EMD’s branding package.

What is the most unique feature about the new space?

Many elements in the space speak to the unique qualities of kinetic transformation, biophilic design, and technology under the umbrella concept of permeation. One of the most unique features is the entry lobby that from outside entry doors begins the introduction of biophilic design permeating through the space in the detailing of organic walls, ceiling design, and sculptural millwork while allowing for natural light to reach through the space to the main entry.

If the company moved out of a previous space, what was the hardest aspect of change for people?

None of the private offices have windows, which is something people were very hesitant about. Through our design collaboration with the EMD team, the communal “we” space became an experiential opportunity for all team members to utilize during the workday. By opening up the entire length of window line, this allowed for borrowed natural light and site line views to windows to permeate all glass-front offices.

Please share any illuminating, surprising, or hoped-for results you might have gleaned from post-occupancy surveys.

Through our initial research for EMD’s “office of the future”, studies showed that a connection to nature in the workplace through biophilic design can decrease the main causes for deficient productivity: absenteeism, loss of focus, negative mood, and poor health while promoting creative cognitive thinking. By providing adaptable spaces through kinetic architecture, this office creates a community that accommodates the similarities and differences of multiple generations within the work force. Through the seamless integration of technology into the workplace, this space optimizes collaboration, efficiency and productivity.

Organic, curving walls in the biophilic design permeate through the space. Photo by Eric Taylor.

We were recently approved to proceed with conducting a post occupancy survey in conjunction with Steelcase; we will measure how people feel regarding how their office works to complete their jobs and create a collaborative environment and also provide metrics around how proud employees feel to bring visitors to their space, how connected employees feel to EMD’s vision, and how inspired they are in their new work environment.

Photo by Eric Taylor.
Photo by Eric Taylor.

Please talk about any other notable aspects of the project that make it unique.

This space has made a positive impact on employee attraction and retention. A new employee shared that one of his favorite aspects about the company when he came to interview was the newly designed work space. Employees refer to the space as innovative, bright, airy, and biotech, and a few employee “favorites” include the writable walls and surfaces, as well as the standing-height desks. Employees are also very happy with amount of meeting spaces and the ability to have access to available meeting areas when they need it – whether scheduled or impromptu.

Employees feel that this space is a tremendous improvement from their previous space and truly represents the company’s current culture and mission, as well as the company EMD aspires to be.

This project has been submitted for LEED Platinum Certification for Commercial Interiors.

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