Takeda Pharmaceuticals new HQ was designed with the Force of Life in mind

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Elise Shapiro
Elise Shapirohttps://www.workdesign.com
Elise Shapiro is a contributing editor. Little did she know that her first job, in the facilities department at Ralston Purina, while obtaining her M. Arch at Washington University, in St. Louis would foreshadow where her career would lead. She has always been a strong advocate for providing the best possible spaces for people to work – where aesthetics meet function and drive business success.

Japan-based pharmaceutical company, Takeda was inspired by their core values and mission statement when designing their new corporate headquarters. 

Takeda HQ garden
Takeda’s new global headquarters combines old and new concepts – adjacent to the Fukutoko shrine and garden.

In planning to develop a new headquarters facility, the leadership of Takeda, a pharmaceutical company based in Japan, delved deep into their core and corporate values to outline the mission statement for their new facility. As a company with a rich, 237-year-old history, there was a considerable amount of information to evaluate and inform their direction to bring their plans to fruition. The result, their new building unveiled this past summer, has a design ethos rooted in the history and cultural roots of their Japanese heritage.

As stated in the press release announcing the new headquarters, the driving force was Japan’s culture of respect for tradition, serving as the fundamental spirit underpinning the company’s over two centuries of steady operations.

Looking to the future, the leadership was keen to ensure that their core values continue to support the foundations of their now global business. The Takeda Global Headquarters is symbolic of their corporate identity and is designed to connect them with their future as an R&D-driven biopharmaceutical leader to meet their business goal to contribute to providing “better health and a brighter future for people worldwide.”

Where Takeda deviated from the norm, was by creating a project team led by a specially appointed Creative Director, the world-renowned Japanese designer Kashiwa Sato. With a portfolio ranging from product design, branding and graphics, to architecture, all disciplines informing the development of the design program and building and interior design.

Utilizing the “life force” of human beings as the driving force of the design concept, the building that has emerged was created with a mindfulness that is evident from the site plan to the choice of materials, to the placement and flow of spaces within the building.

The circulation paths through the building feature a series of art installations featuring natural elements and eight three dimensional depictions of traditional Kanji motifs of water and light lining the walls.

The entry lobby features a circular stone filled with water and light which symbolize the “flow of life” that is the key element of the design solution. The wood panels feature the Kanji symbols – also representing water and light.

A bit of background:

Located in the Nihonbashi district is known as the starting point of the Five Routes that linked Edo (now Tokyo) to the rest of Japan. An area originally known as the “town of medicine” as its initial development and growth was due to the presence of its rows of medicinal wholesalers. It is now the choice location and home of many of Japan’s leading biopharmaceutical companies.

Takeda has had a presence there since the Meiji period and is deeply rooted in this location.

The picture scroll also shows various business in the Edo period, such as couriers called Hikyaku, dentists, businesses selling water, medicine, and even moneylenders. Image from Servcorp.

The location of Takeda Global Headquarters, Nihonbashi-Honcho Second District, has provided a base for the Takeda group’s operations in Tokyo since the Meiji period, (1868-1912), and the company has deep ties with the area. The evolution of the company has been parallel with the changing times, however there has always been a consistent emphasis on maintaining their core values and retaining a balance between tradition and innovation to move the company forward as their business has moved to a global presence.

We were fortunate to have the opportunity to engage with Kashiwa Sato in addition to Hiro Fukutomi, Lead of Takeda Global Headquarters Project, Head of Corporate Strategy and the CEO Office Takeda, Pharmaceutical Company Limited to better understand the thought and inspiration behind this new workplace for Takeda’s HQ employees.

What were some of the project milestones and when did these occur? For example, the date the project was announced, as well as the date construction crews began work at the site.

“The decision to develop a new headquarters was made during the summer of 2010. The official groundbreaking ceremony occurred on February 6, 2015. Employees started to move into the new Takeda global headquarters in late March 2018. On July 2, 2018, Takeda held its official grand opening event.” – Hiro Fukutomi

Why did Takeda choose to assign a Creative Director to manage the design process?

“In order to carry out our mission of bringing better health and a brighter future to patients throughout the world, Takeda recognized the importance of providing employees with a healthy and energized environment where they can work creatively. When planning our new headquarters, we aimed the facility would enhance a strong connection among employees and would connect Takeda’s past with the present and future. Mr. Sato’s work and credentials, characterized by several projects he has done for corporate branding and space-design in his career, made him the obvious choice to turn Takeda’s vision into a reality. In our new global headquarters, we wanted an innovative design reflecting Takeda’s innovation in pharmaceutical sector with sense of Japanese heritage in modern style. We are quite certain that Mr. Sato perfectly realized what we wanted to have.” – Hiro Fukutomi

Why was it important to translate the “life forces” from the historical cultural sources, using art to convey the messaging, as opposed to more obvious Takeda branding?

“Takeda’s global headquarters symbolizes the passing on to the next generation of the organization’s unwavering values. Because of this, it was important to develop a space that connected Takeda’s past, present and future. Using the Takeda library archives, I studied the history of the organization from its founding. I also had countless conversations with members of the Takeda staff, as well as with president and CEO Christophe Weber. Through this research, we were able to create a design concept that told a rich story and truly connects with members of the Takeda team in a way more obvious branding might not.” – Kashiwa Sato

The fourth-floor lobby signifies “healthy growth to life”, with the land fed by water and light allowing trees to grow freely. Visitors and employees will witness characters for “earth”, “tree” and “people” and a large artwork made of carefully arranged wood, which doubles as a bench.

How many employees were relocated and from what kind of facility or facilities?

Approximately 800 employees. 

Does the new headquarters have a much different look and feel than the previous workplace? How did Takeda manage this transition?

“Our previous Tokyo headquarters was built more than 50 years ago (1966), and it provided Takeda with a solid base as the business expanded over that time. As you can imagine, our employees, the organization and the health care industry have changed significantly since that time. As construction of the new global headquarters was entered the final phase, it became an opportunity for Takeda’s employees to discuss the organization’s values of Integrity, Fairness, Honesty and Perseverance. These conversations helped everyone understand how our new workplace is designed to help us always be thinking about how we can contribute to better and brighter health for patients around the world.” – Hiro Fukutomi

Some people consider the work culture in Japan to be intense and include long work hours. Did this reputation impact the headquarters’ project, and if so, how?

“Takeda fully supports this trend of changing today’s society norm of taking pride in long working hours and the diversified career path in Japan. Our new global headquarters provided the team with a fresh start to change our employee’s mindsets to concentrate on productivity and efficiency, rather than long work hours. We have introduced “short-hours” that allow employees to take time out of their work schedule to attend to private matters during the day. We also switched a “work-from-home” system to a telework system where employees can work from anywhere at any time, according to their individual needs and preferred work styles.” – Hiro Fukutomi

Focusing on the open-plan concept work spaces, how are the “force of life” features reinforced?

“When people enter Takeda’s work areas, the aesthetics are meant to represent the formation of fruitful “connections”. The open-office layout reinforces this. As a result, every employee can easily connect with any individual or team, to accelerate innovation through collaboration. Each employee workstation also has an adjustable-height desk. This allows employees to work in standing or sitting positions throughout the workday and promotes improved health and concentration.” – Kashiwa Sato

The open plan work floors designed to foster more robust communication among employees and offer a variety of work spaces.

What design features focus on a workforce that is made up of many specialties and people from around the world?

“Takeda’s team is made up of a diverse group of more than 30,000 employees from across the globe. The open floor-plan workspaces make it possible for these individuals to interact face-to-face and to generate ideas. The multipurpose lounge floor is also a terrific space for Takeda employees based in Osaka, as well as those visiting from another offices. For workers based locally, this space can be used for voluntary group activities. For travelers, it is considered a touch-down space, and it includes separate men’s, women’s and gender-neutral shower rooms. The global headquarters also includes a business support concierge desk that offers bilingual services so employees from other countries can work stress-free and concentrate on their work.” – Kashiwa Sato

Support spaces are provided to enhance employee comfort and health. Above is the lactation room. 

How did Takeda manage communication with employees to inform them of impending changes in their workplace?

“ It was important to develop a communication plan for Takeda employees that would result in a smooth transition. We appointed representatives from each related division and department of the company as ambassadors who facilitated the communication and drove the coordination among employees as advisors, followers, and influencers. Those ambassadors played a critical role in bringing a smooth and successful transition. Empowering employees to be part of building a new headquarters, a symbol of Takeda’s transformation, was critical and central in achieving the historic and significant milestone.

“Communication was delivered through not only electronic channels, such as intranet, digital signage and email, but also in-house paper publication. In addition, we hosted several events including briefing sessions, which kept employees updated with the status of the entire project. The correspondence included a clear timeline of what was happening and when. We also provided instructions on how to pack workspaces. Because the team was eager to learn about the new global headquarters, we provided them with background on the new facility. Moreover, we engaged them in some of the key decision-making processes, such as the layout of each floor, the selection of furniture and, even, coffee beans for the cafeteria. After the move, we had an office-wide celebration to recognize this important milestone in Takeda’s history.” – Hiro Fukutomi

Were there opportunities for employees to provide feedback to help plan the design?

“Mr. Sato had briefing sessions with our CEO Christophe Weber and visited our facilities in Osaka and Kobe to learn about the history of Takeda, which helped him plan the design.” – Hiro Fukutomi 

What natural elements, both finishes and materials, were used in the building design?

“All of the artwork on display was produced using natural materials like wood, stone, water and even sunlight – all of which represent the fundamental elements of “life” on earth. The wood is locally-grown hinoki, and this is a type of cypress that is native to Japan. The trees were carefully selected from the wooded slopes of the Tanzawa Mountains in Kanagawa Prefecture. Cut from a managed forest, their removal would contribute to the protection of wildlife and the prevention of natural disasters in the area.

A detail of the wood feature walls with the Kanji motif(s) of trees and earth.

The offices in the building face north as north-facing offices have the advantage of feeling brighter since the buildings and cityscape outside the windows appear brighter. In general, when those offices face south, in many cases, the sunlight is too strong, and people keep the office blinds closed to keep out the sun.” – Kashiwa Sato

What design features focus on employees’ work/life balance and how do you hope employees react?

“The workplace is much more than a space to complete tasks. It is an environment that enlightens, engages and inspires employees. Along with being a collaborative and inspirational environment, Takeda’s global headquarters is a space that supports work-life balance. The multipurpose lounge provides employees with a setting to relax, work out or hold voluntary group activities. This floor also includes a lactation room for working mothers. The LIFE CAFÉ has become a popular space for Takeda employees and business partners. It is a warm environment where people can meet for breakfast, lunch or tea. The new headquarters also includes an on-site doctor and an in-house clinic, which includes facilities such as an x-ray machine, and there is a fitness club so that employees can better manage their health. I have heard from Takeda employees who say they are proud of their new office and that it is a bright and pleasant environment.” – Kashiwa Sato

The “LIFE CAFÉ” is a central hub for employee revitalization over tea or a meal

Because Takeda is a global company, how did the organization manage the technology integration for connectivity, such as teleconferencing? 

“As Takeda operates over 70 countries in the world and our executive team locates in Japan, U.S., Europe and Singapore, managing the technology integration was vitally important. Our information technology team worked closely with construction crews and designers to ensure our employees were able to quickly and easily connect with their colleagues and clients – whether they were located locally or thousands of miles away. Takeda’s new global headquarters is equipped with state-of-the-art IT infrastructure, which includes a video teleconference system allowing employees from many different locations from around the globe to connect virtually.” – Hiro Fukutomi

What sustainability features are present in the new Takeda headquarters?

“We took steps to reduce environmental impact. The windows of the office space face north, allowing natural light and a beautiful view of the cityscape. This design reduces the amount of energy required to cool the building in during the summer months.

As the area approximately 5 meters from the windows is easily impacted by sunlight and external temperatures, we separated the air conditioning that controls the thermal load of this area from the regular air conditioning. This enables detailed control of room temperature in accordance with the needs of workers for heat or air conditioning. We also store water in tanks in the basement, collecting the heat from them to use as a heat source for air conditioning. The core systems that operate the building have been given an ecological and practical design to reduce running costs to conserve energy.” – Hiro Fukutomi

What consideration of emergency or disaster preparedness issues were involved in the project?

“The building has features that took consideration of Business Continuity Planning. Due to its geography, Japan is a country prone to natural disasters. The building is designed to ensure that in such an event, people will be safe inside. The Takeda global headquarters is equipped with a seismic isolation system. This will absorb the movement caused by earthquakes. Ground-level entrances have removable waterproof barriers to protect against floods. The building also has back-up power, including generators that can run for up to seven days. Floors B1 to 2 can provide temporary accommodation for people who are unable to return home. These features have incorporated the company’s commitment not only to safety and security of Takeda’s employees but also to the community.” – Hiro Fukutomi


You can learn more about the completion of Takeda Global Headquarters here.
Elise Shapiro
Elise Shapirohttps://www.workdesign.com
Elise Shapiro is a contributing editor. Little did she know that her first job, in the facilities department at Ralston Purina, while obtaining her M. Arch at Washington University, in St. Louis would foreshadow where her career would lead. She has always been a strong advocate for providing the best possible spaces for people to work – where aesthetics meet function and drive business success.
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