AIA Trades in their Private Offices for an Active, Open Space

See what happened when AIA went from a 100% closed private office environment to an open, efficient and active space

To coincide with their 150th anniversary, the American Insurance Association turned to CallisonRTKL to create an office located closer to central Washington, D.C. that reflected their mission and rich history of innovation and leadership. The CallisonRTKL design team created an efficient, active, open space that significantly cut costs, reduced the real estate footprint by 35%, and continues to increase collaboration among team members.

AIA’s team includes multiple stakeholders, from lawyers and lobbyists to human resources and administrative staff, all of whom were accustomed to private, individual offices. CallisonRTKL worked closely with AIA to make sure the different needs of all these groups were met in an open, efficient office at a new address. Sit-stand desks, abundant natural daylight, privacy screens, a library and activity-based workspaces are just some of the design solutions to the challenges raised by AIA. Along with an interactive touch screen at the entrance, a large multipurpose conference room features an operable glass-front partition that opens to the reception area, giving AIA the flexibility to host large events for staff, stakeholders and members of their community.

CallisonRTKL also strategically emphasized angles and colors throughout the space to delineate workspace types. The finishes and materials lend a sophisticated feel to the entire office and enhance AIA’s existing brand. Angular shapes cut from acoustical felt line the walls of privacy rooms and graphic film patterns on glass emphasize the concept and define collaboration areas. Graphic paint patterns on drywall columns in the open office carry the concept throughout the space.

The AIA reception lobby is open and inviting.

When was the project completed?

Nov 12, 2016

How much space?

16,000 GSF

Was this new or renovated space?

New, relocation

SF per person?

350 USF/person compared to old 523 USF/person

How many employees?


The reception area with its end grain wood flooring is sometimes used as a large entertaining space. It looks onto a multipurpose conference room, which is enclosed by a retractable, glass partition.

What is average daily population?


Describe work space types.

Transitioned from 100% closed office solution to variety of open and closed workspaces, activity-based workspaces, large multifunctional conference room/event space

What kind of meeting spaces are provided?

Formal and Informal; large multifunctional conference room with operable partitions opening into reception to create one large event space.

What other kind of support space or amenity spaces are provided?

Pantry, lounge, library, huddle spaces

A glass enclosed library just off the reception area is a prominent, comfortable meeting space that showcases the AIA legacy and history.

Has the project achieved any special certifications (i.e. LEED, WELL, Living Building Challenge)?

AIA achieved 35% reduction in real estate footprint with their new workplace strategy.

What is the projects location and proximity to public transportation and/or other amenities?

AIA is located within the MetroCenter area of downtown Washington, DC less than .5 miles from all metro lines; .2 miles from the MetroCenter metro stop, .2 miles from the Federal Triangle metro stop and .5 miles to Gallery Place Chinatown metro.

What kind of programming or visioning activities were used?

We held a visioning session with the CEO and Vice President to nail down the correct look and feel for the space. We also held a town hall with all employees to introduce their new space and answer any questions and or concerns employees had moving from offices to workstations.

Were any pre-planning surveys conducted to get employee input?

CRTKL and AIA leadership held a town hall meeting to manage expectations for the new workplace solution and generate employee buy in.

Employees have complete freedom within their space; they can sit or stand in a space that is formal or informal, open or private—all based on their preferences.

Please describe any program requirements that were unique or required any special research or design requirements.

AIA wanted a place to display their vintage book collection, a proud tribute to the organization’s history. This became the focus for multifunctional library space used for employees to lounge or use as a formal meeting space.

To create a more prominent brand representation throughout the space, the design team reinterpreted the existing logo and used bold color accents and graphics on walls and windows. The design team strategically emphasized angles and colors throughout the space to delineate workspace types. Angular shapes cut from acoustical felt line the walls of privacy rooms and graphic film patterns on glass emphasize the concept and define collaboration areas. Graphic paint patterns on drywall columns in the open office carry the concept throughout the space.

CallisonRTKL designed the pantry with a variety of seating options so that employees could make use of this informal collaboration space throughout the day.

Was there any emphasis or requirements on programming for health and wellbeing initiatives for employees?

One of AIA’s primary focus area was on employee wellbeing and ensuring access to daylight and choice. Their former office was a traditional law office environment in which most employees sat in large, private offices situated around the perimeter of the building, blocking the natural light from reaching internal spaces. In the new space, the common spaces and pantry are situated near the windows giving all employees equal access to light. In health programming, sit / stand desks were chosen for workstations.

Were there any special or unusual construction materials or techniques employed in the project?

We used end grain flooring in the reception area.

For specific examples, please describe the product, how it was used, and if it solved any specific problem.

The client wanted a reception area that could be used for hosting guests, provided acoustical properties, and gave the reception area a finished aesthetic, juxtaposed with the unfinished ceiling. The end grain flooring supplied by Kaswell Flooring, Hemlock Strip Block, was the solution because it gave the space a modern, yet welcoming feel without appearing costly. A lot of their money comes from members, therefore it was also important for the space to appear modest.

The warm palette of soft neutrals creates a relaxing feel in this library space at the back of the AIA office.

What products or service solutions are making the biggest impact in your space?

We used the Knoll Anchor Storage piece at workstations because it was important for employees to feel as if they had their own private space. Employees are able to open and close their wardrobe, which acts as a door into their workstation.

What kind of technology products were used?

We used an interactive touch screen in the reception area for clients and members to navigate through what AIA is currently working on.

If the company relocated to new space, what was the most difficult aspect of the change for the employees?

AIA went from a 100% closed private office environment to a mix of closed office, open office and common space. Employees were concerned given the nature of their work, that an open office environment wouldn’t provide the privacy needed. Strategic desk placement and unique furniture solutions helped resolve these concerns.

How did the company communicate about the changes and moves?

With a town hall that the design team was present for to answer any and all questions and concerns.

The pantry and library offer a resi-mercial atmosphere, a counterpoint to the more formal reception area at the front of the offices.

Learn more!

Images copyright of Eric Laignel. Video copyright of CallisonRTKL.

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