Step Inside Shearman & Sterling New Global Headquarters By Perkins&Will

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Emma Weckerling
Emma Weckerling
Emma is the Managing Editor of Work Design Magazine.

With hospitality-rich spaces, Perkins&Will’s design is intended to break the mold of a typical law office.

When Shearman & Sterling set out to redesign its Manhattan headquarters, it wanted a client-first environment to celebrate the legacy of the firm, while simultaneously establishing a renewed design vision that would set a new standard for all future workplaces across the firm’s global portfolio. With one of the most formidable legal legacies in American history, Shearman & Sterling’s offices had become a time capsule of the firm’s evolution. The challenge was to reimagine a new showcase for their legal experts to adapt to new ways of working, and to engage in more meaningful ways with their colleagues and clients alike.

Project Overview:

  • Design Firm: Perkins&Will
  • Client: Shearman & Sterling
  • Completion Date: July 2021
  • Location: New York City, New York, USA
  • Size: 340,000 sqft
  • Average population: ~950
  • Certifications: LEED Gold & WELL Gold (2023)

“Our partnership with Shearman & Sterling began at a pivotal moment in the firm’s evolution. The opportunity was ripe for reinvention; there was a clean slate for innovative ideas that would break the mold of traditional law firm design. At that early stage, we understood our responsibility to balance business pragmatics with cultural aspirations to create a new home that reflected the dynamic workplace of the next generation of leaders,” explains John Sadlon, principal of workplace in Perkins&Will’s New York studio. “The new, collaborative vision for Shearman & Sterling’s Manhattan office is big and bold, highly technical, and full of intimate moments and detailing that ground the space. The result is a seamless balance between future aspirations and heritage.”

A key focus in all client and employee areas was to create a hospitality-rich environment that elevates the user experience. Select functional zones have the look and feel of a high-end gallery space, while still being warm and inviting. The first phase of construction included a two-story client reception and conference center, with a variety of assembly spaces and amenities. A dramatic sculptural staircase connects the bi-level reception and hospitality zone, centrally located within a series of meeting and lounge spaces of various sizes and configurations.

The rotated geometry of the stairs breaks from the orthogonal grid of the office; an intentional design gesture that compels visitors to reorient their physical and mental connections within the built environment. The design team also interspersed break-out zones with curated artwork and furnishings to buffer meeting rooms with cutting-edge audio-visual systems. The intended effect provides moments of respite and inspiration between zones of focused activity, creating a user experience that is rejuvenating and keenly focused on human connections.

Attorney’s areas feature a range of flexible meeting areas, moveable walls, pantries, and lounges that are designed to bolster connectivity amongst employees. The architectural detailing and finishes on the employee floors exude the same warmth and hospitality of the client-facing floors, albeit on a slightly smaller scale.

The phased renovation of the 340,000 square foot space included creating visual cues that orient the user and reinforce connectivity with functional areas on other floors. One example is the elevator lobby on each floor, which features floor-to-ceiling travertine slabs accentuated by discrete lighting that emits a soft glow on the legacy stone material. Employee pantries are located immediately adjacent to alternating lobbies, providing natural daylight into a less-formal collaborative zone.

“The design reinforces the one-firm mentality of Shearman & Sterling’s culture; equal priority and attention are given to all areas, with a focus on active design and employee well-being,” adds Sadlon.

The result is an architectural envelope underlined by an inherent refinement that speaks to the firm’s stature without feeling staid. It emphasizes clean lines, natural materials and modern finishes that complement the restored terrestrial limestone.

An expansive art program was developed to feature curated works that relate back to each of Shearman & Sterling’s global locations. Original commissions focused on young, up-and-coming artists as well as established local artisans whose works are prominently located in public spaces throughout the conference center and hospitality areas.

Technical precision was essential to the success of this project. “Extensive coordination with the consultant team of contractors, engineers and specialty experts in lighting, sound, IT and AV systems was key to ensure the right balance of systems to provide an enhanced user experience,” says Sadlon. “That precision guides the ethos of the entire project.”

Other unique features of the firm’s newly renovated headquarters include a multi-function event space with 20-foot ceiling height, the scale of which evokes iconic New York City venues. The dynamic hub of activity radiates from the new European-inspired Café that features a full cooking kitchen, barista bar, cozy seating alcoves with curated artworks, a tech hub, and a variety of seating options that are easily reconfigured to accommodate functions of any scale. The boardroom features a custom table that easily accommodates over 50 people, with full-service dining capabilities.

Project Planning

The project involved the c-suite in planning, along with extensive pre-planning interviews and client townhalls held with employees.

Among the unique design requirements were a series of hospitality-focused amenities, a conferencing center, and public spaces that create a welcoming experience for both visitors and employees. A café features a full-cooking kitchen, barista bar, seating alcoves with curated artwork, a tech hub, and a variety of seating options that are easily reconfigured to accommodate functions of any scale.

The conference center incorporates a double-height conference/event space that can hold up to 120 people, along with a boardroom that can accommodate 72 people. That boardroom is fitted with a unique AV system that ensures clear communication between the room’s occupants.

Project Details & Products 

The health and wellbeing of both employees and clients were key considerations that informed the design of Shearman & Sterling’s new office. Currently, the office is on track to receive WELL Gold certification in 2023.

The office includes many elements and initiatives that are designed to aid wellbeing. These range from a customizable, circadian rhythm-tuned light and shade system to antibacterial surfaces and extensive air filtration systems.

The office employs state-of-the-art environmental systems and controls. This includes HVAC systems with MERV Filtration, HVAC Bipolar Ionization systems in the supply ductwork of air conditioning units, an advanced electrified Healthway filter-fan unit, and various air quality monitoring devices that allow concentrations of different air pollutants to be monitored. Improved air quality and minimized contaminant exposure is also achieved with the installation of hands-free electronic door hardware, faucets, and flushing devices.

The café offers access to an array of fresh and nutritious food. Also onsite is a nurse-practitioner, a fitness studio, and nap pods.

Brand expression is subtly integrated throughout the space, with refined graphics and materiality that quietly speak to the rich legacy and future of the firm. Most notable is the custom 35-foot-wide bas-relief wall installation in each of the two conferencing center lobbies. The floor-to-ceiling panels are an artist’s interpretation of the geographic coverage and global impact of the firm’s 22 offices worldwide.

Throughout the conference center and hospitality areas, an expansive art program was developed to feature curated works that relate back to each of Shearman & Sterling’s global locations. Original commissions focused on young, up-and-coming artists, as well as established local artisans whose works are also prominently featured.

The third-floor café is inspired by classic European bistros. The design team’s contemporary interpretation features multiple zones of activity with furnishings that are easily reconfigurable for various events and functional needs. A full cooking kitchen offers a variety of culturally inspired and health-conscious menu options throughout the day, reflecting the firm’s commitment to supporting employee health and wellbeing.

The office houses a multi-function event space with 20-foot ceilings—the scale of which evokes iconic New York City venues. The space features coffered ceilings, warm wood paneling, and parquet floors which contrast the clean, modern tiles and furniture. The result is a space that creates a warm sense of hospitality and community.


Overall Project Results

Shearman & Sterling’s new headquarters has proved highly successful and has been well received by both clients and staff. “When a workplace is designed properly, it’s an extension of your home. The art, lighting, layout, and spaces of this rebuild have become the mortar that holds us together, generating excitement to come back to the office and take pride in our firm,” says Arsha Cazazian-Clement, Director of Global Real Estate at Shearman & Sterling.

Project Summary

Realizing Shearman & Sterling’s sustainability goals was a primary goal of the new office design. The office is expected to receive LEED Gold certification. Among the keys for the building’s efficient use of energy is the presence of double-insulated glass and a light-and-shade system, which prevents the overuse of heating or cooling in interior spaces.

  • Managing Principal: John Sadlon
  • Project Director: Jennifer Graham
  • Design Principal: Brent Capron
  • Senior Designer: Jeanette Kim
  • Design Team: Allison Brown, Maiata Carlton, Diana Chang, Eunee Chung, Mark De Souza, Mariana Giraldo, Marko Goodwin, Bo Kim, Monica Kumar, Roger
  • Landivar, Danny Maghuyop, Caitlin May, Dawn Pappas, Emma Peng, Ilya Pulyaev, Krystn Rilloraza, Bradley Rogers, Michael Tam, Karen Tsuda, Wenqi Zhang.
  • Project Management: VVA
  • Contractor: L&K Partners
  • MEP/FP: JFK&M Engineers
  • Millworker: Patella Woodworking
  • Furniture: JAS Consulting
  • Furniture Dealers: COP, EvensonBest
  • Moving: Diversified
  • Lighting: OneLux Studio


Garrett Rowland

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