New Direction. Fresh Start.

Jean Nayar

A new corporate headquarters facility serves as the foundation for a culture change that has driven Biogen into a new era of growth

When George Scangos took over as CEO of the biotech giant Biogen in 2010, he brought with him a bold new vision that laid the foundation for a new phase of explosive growth. “Coming into the company, he hoped not only to launch three to four new products over the next three years, but also to change and improve the culture of the company,” says Ed Dondero, director of real estate and planning for Biogen. “Among the steps he took to move the company into a dynamic time was to change the way our people work to reflect what he estimated us to become—a rapid-growth company.”

Unfortunately, the design of Biogen’s headquarters building in Weston, Massachusetts, contrasted with Scangos’ vision of how the company’s employees should most effectively work. So he undertook an effort to locate a new site and design a whole new headquarters facility that would take the company into a new era. And the new 507,000 square-foot, multi-structure headquarters and R&D facilities completed last fall have been instrumental in driving the culture change that is taking Biogen to a higher level of productivity and growth. “His idea for changing the culture turned out to be spot on,” says Dondero.

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Biogen Research & Development designed by NELSON. Photography by Halkin Mason Photography.

Designed by the Boston office of the global firm NELSON, the new headquarters facility promises to provide Biogen the flexibility it needs to readily adapt and change as it continues to evolve. It also facilitates the collaborative, top-down/bottom-up approach to working that Scangos envisioned. Yet, its success, says the facility’s lead designer, Micheal Bourque, can ultimately be attributed to the interactive approach through which it was developed. “Ed Dondero initiated a pilot project to test some of our concepts, and we learned that we got a lot wrong,” says Bourque. “It wasn’t an inclusive process for the employees, and it turned out that the layout and major circulation ideas didn’t work for them and that going completely to a desking system was too radical for the Biogen culture.” So they teamed with ARC, a change management division of Steelcase, and undertook in-depth interviews through all levels of the company along with an employee town hall session that enabled employees to participate in the development of the design. “The process became educational for the employees and with the feedback we received on concepts developed through the interactive design process, we were able to move forward full steam ahead,” says Bourque.

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Biogen Research & Development designed by NELSON. Photography by Halkin Mason Photography.

Ultimately, the new headquarters spaces are divvied up between two new facilities—a 200,000 square-foot research and development facility and a 307,000 square-foot office space for general administrative functions, such as human resources, legal, finance, and IT. These are situated in an urban campus context in downtown Cambridge and adjoin two historic buildings that are also part of the headquarters complex and house a community lab and training center. The end results for the new buildings are open-plan office spaces with plenty of natural light for everyone, including the CEO. “We thought we might have 20 percent enclosed space, but instead we wound up with completely open work areas with gestures of boundaries,” says Bourque.

The workspaces are defined with a desking system that was customized for a measure of privacy with 42” high panels. “A modified, more open panel system was definitely preferred,” says Bourque. As a trade-off for so much open space, the designers developed plentiful huddle rooms, a collection of enclosed spaces with as many seats as there are desk seats. “These are unscheduled two- to six-person nooks or team rooms that people can duck into for impromptu meetings,” says Bourque. Each building also contains different shared elements, such as a cafeteria, daycare space, and fitness center, which draw employees housed in one facility to the other and keep people interacting.

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Biogen Research & Development designed by NELSON. Photography by Halkin Mason Photography.

In higher density open spaces, incorporating elements that can absorb sound are critical to maintaining a viable acoustic environment for working. Among the elements that support proper acoustics are a white noise system, fabric-covered panels, and carpet. The choice of carpet tiles from Interface was also critical in physically defining work zones and enabling the space to be adaptable. “Because the space needed to be flexible, we opted to install a 4” raised floor with electrical and data systems running beneath it,” says Bourque. “This allows changes to be made overnight and steered us toward selecting the carpet tile, which is equally flexible, as flooring.”

Even the color scheme of bright blues, greens, and reds, which is evident on walls and many of the carpet tiles, reflects a new kind of energy that now brims throughout the office spaces. The variegated carpet tiles also enabled the designers to flexibly define ever-changing work areas with minimal expense and fuss. “In addition to the huddle rooms, we created what we call ‘cloud areas’ that are easy-to-assemble and easy-to-move 10’x20’ or 20’x20’ enclosed rooms. A concentration of carpet tile in a single color gives employees a cue as to where these spaces are located,” says Bourque. “The fact that the carpets are sustainably manufactured is a bonus,” adds Dondero.

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Biogen Research & Development designed by NELSON. Photography by Halkin Mason Photography.

So what is the upshot of the inclusive design process in the new headquarters of the second largest biotech company in the world? One measure of its success, says Bourque, is that decisions are being more efficiently made in an unscheduled manner, which was reported to the design team in an informal post-occupancy survey and corroborated by the fewer documented bookings of the large conference rooms. Another is the positive reception of the space by employees, says Dondero. “At the start of the process we ran a survey and found that only 10 percent of the employees were in favor of a more open-plan concept,” he says, “after 90 days of occupation, 92 percent were either neutral or favorable toward the new space.”

With such a dramatic culture change, it may come as little surprise that the company is now also experiencing the unprecedented growth its new CEO envisioned.

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Beautiful Spaces Inspire Beautiful Thinking. It’s Human Nature.

Day One of NeoCon 2014: The unveiling of our Human Nature™ Collection at our showroom in the Merchandise Mart and at our permanent Chicago showroom on North Wells Street.

In designing our showrooms, we built upon our belief that beautiful ideas are inspired by beautiful surroundings. Using our latest carpet tile collection, Human Nature, we created a space built by humans through imagination, a creative element that separates us from other species.

We believe that in these challenging times we need more creative and systemic thought applied to the biggest problems facing the globe. And while nature is a great teacher, it’s not a short-term engagement. The more we internalize the idea of natural inspiration, the more sophisticated the result becomes. We at Interface hope to stimulate such inspiration and contribute to a more sensory environment.

For those who can’t be at NeoCon with us, we want to bring you an inside look at our spaces at NeoCon 2014.

Sensory Stimulation through a high degree of tactility not only feels good, but in proper proportions is also a significant contributor to a healthier environment.

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Natural Variance is non-predictable change in an organic way. It’s more than a pile of pebbles or a field of grass. An irregular, asymmetrical path through a space clearly demonstrates a biomimetic influence. With its skinny plank format and textural shifts, the Human Nature Collection offers a multitude of design options. Use one product alone in a seamless installation or mix products and colors to create unique designs that fire the imagination.

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Man as a Part of Nature, Not Apart from Nature. How would Nature design a floor? More importantly, how should humans think about designing “floors” that mimic a natural system? Not just looking like a natural material but moving like one. At Interface we believe that working in spaces that are a designed, abstracted interpretation of nature can stimulate our senses–and thus what we create–in the same way that nature does.

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“I love how your product is always one with nature, which stays true to Ray’s vision.”
- Rose Tourje, founder and president of Anew

 

 

Learn more about Human Nature, or stop by during NeoCon June 9-11 | 9 am – 5 pm | Merchandise Mart Suite 10-136 & our permanent showroom across the street at 345 North Wells Street, 3rd Floor.

#IFinHumanNature

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What is Human Nature? A Beautiful Foundation for Beautiful Thinking.

In a world that never sleeps—where information always flows, boundaries blur, transparency reigns and the sound of silence ceases to exist—our instincts prompt us back to nature, with its subtle yet clear cues on how best to live and work.

Look around at the natural world around you and what do you see? What do you feel?

Perhaps it’s a bright beam of the sun as it rises, or the ombre-indigo hue of the sky as this same sun sets, naturally inspiring us to speed up or slow down. Or maybe it’s a rolling, open meadow as an ideal setting for groups of people to gather.

Possibly a quiet respite, or an intimate space perfect for private reflection, or the boundless ocean with views as vast as the sky where our creative imagination can soar.

 

Whatever aspect of Nature this might be, it will resonate with some inner, unseen aspect of our own human nature, allowing our internal rhythms to become in harmony with the organic environment we see, hear, smell and touch.

When seeking inspiration we always ask “how would nature create an interior floor?” We don’t believe it would be exclusively made up of hard surfaces such as wood, bamboo or stone. We also don’t believe it would be uniform in any manner. Instead, it would be variable, composed of soft, hard or mixed materials.

It wouldn’t be nature growing wild and unruly to overtake interior space, and man wouldn’t be controlling natural elements. These two must co-exist—humans and nature together. And it’s important to note there is noise in nature but also a calming silence.

It’s our nature to dream.
To build. To play.
To aspire.
To adapt.
To look toward the sky.

As our limits continually stretch in a world that seemingly becomes smaller, people working round the clock and around the globe will invariably seek a primordial sense of alignment with nature to feel at home and at ease in their environs.

Shape-shifting times call for inspired spaces that enable us to be connected, yet distinct, like colors in a rainbow. Spaces that reflect our ability to adapt and bend and flex to meet today’s constant changes assure our ability to survive and thrive.

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And if such surroundings can at once communicate the subtlety and richness of nature, yet change and evolve as we do, they bring out the very best in our complex and glorious human nature.

Want to learn more about Human Nature? Visit us during NeoCon in Chicago June 9-11 | 9 am – 5 pm | Merchandise Mart Suite 10-136 & our permanent showroom across the street at 345 North Wells Street, 3rd Floor

#IFinHumanNature 

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The New Definition of Luxury

Amy Milshtein

What does today’s luxury traveler want? Interface explored this question during “Cocktails and Conversation” at HD Expo in Las Vegas. Three panelists, David Ashen, principal, dash design, Teri Urovsky, vice president, interior design, Marriott International, and Jon Kastl, principal, Champalimaud, along with moderator Stacy Shoemaker, editor in chief for Hospitality Design magazine, discuss the trends.

All three panelists agree that the definition of luxury has shifted. “Hotels were competing on design but now it’s about service,” says Ashen. The more personalized the better. He points to a recent trip to China where the concierge sent a pre-check in email asking for his room scent and beverage preferences. Kastl agrees that this elevated level of service will be the norm. “Restaurants and mini bars will be agile in catering to guests specific needs.”

While service aims to please the individual, the hotel’s physical design evolves to reflect their specific location. “It’s about experience instead of materials,” says Urovsky. This means that cookie cutter properties will be a thing of the past, a challenge that Urovsky relishes. “All of the Ritz Carltons looked alike for a long time,” she explains. “Now we strive for a distinguishable sense of place.”

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The Lexington Hotel, New York, designed by dash design. Photography by Frank Oudeman.

To tell stories about the local experience the designers suggest paring down materials and removing layers. “High end design can’t be overwrought,” says Kastl. “Heavy draperies, thick brocades and even fussily packaged bathroom amenities are a thing of the past.”

Don’t get him wrong; luxury travelers still expect luxury finishes. After a day spent touching the glass on their iPads, this group craves natural textures and simple palettes. “Anything to connect the guest to the outside world is good,” says Ashen, who suggests reorienting the bed to face the window instead of the wall. Urovsky points to indoor spaces that flow naturally to the outside, a possibility even if the property sits on the 150th floor. “We use floor-to-ceiling windows,” she says.

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Guestroom Designed by Wilson & Associates. Photography by Don Riddle.

The less-is-more trend is seen worldwide except for one glaring exception, China. All three panelists suggest that you bring the bling to places like Beijing and Shanghai. “They are in their ‘Great Consumerism’ stage,” says Kastl.  Hong Kong, however, remains more Western in its aesthetic.

No matter where they go, the luxury traveler still values health and wellness. Hotels cater to them with spa-like bathrooms, juice bars, local food choices, and fitness centers. “A lovely spa or fitness center adds value,” insists Ashen. But what if sits mostly empty? Ashen doesn’t care. “Everyone likes that it’s there. If you do use the gym, it feels private and exclusive.”

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Spa designed by Bensley Design Studio. Photography by Ken Kochey.

Technology continues to play an important role, but as with design, less is more. If you can hide it away, it’s even better. For instance, people still want a great TV but Kastl suggests hiding it behind paneling so it can “go away.”

“We don’t put the technology in people’s faces,” says Urovsky, who suggests plug in portals that are subtly built into furniture. Tablets that control room temperature, window coverings and the television should be simple and intuitive to use. And say goodbye to the desk. “Who works at the desk anymore?” asks Ashen, who opts for couches, lounges and other soft seating that mimics coffee houses.

But don’t stop there. The future of the high end get away may be just that—a complete departure from everyday life. For example Ashen points to one of his favorite properties, Natura Cabana in the Dominican Republic, ten eco-friendly, beachfront cabins with no radio, television or air conditioning. “It’s a total escape.” Because isn’t the freedom to unwind without distraction the true definition of luxury?

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Beautiful Thinking

Mikhail Davis

Our design reveals our assumptions. 

Since the Industrial Revolution, many of our designs have assumed we live in a world of unlimited natural resources and a belief that our fate is completely independent from that of the rest of life on Earth.
It is not.

Our assumptions have consequences. 

Designing as if we’re the only species that matters and that Nature has value only as an endless source of raw materials has left us facing global challenges.

While some of us see a temporary reprieve from these consequences, an ever-growing population feels impacts every day as they struggle to make a living from our overburdened land and water.

But dwelling on disturbing trends, and concern for our collective future, will stop humanity from tapping into connected creativity. Fear may help us survive but doesn’t always encourage creativity.

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How can we create conditions for breakthrough innovations to address our world’s greatest challenges?

Being a Part of Nature. Not Apart from Nature.

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It’s inherent as a species that we seek to solve problems but first we must reconnect to the source of our creativity; the living world around us in which we first learned to invent, our ultimate mentor for sustainable design.

Biophilic design reminds us we’re more healthy, productive and creative when surrounded by Nature.

What if the power of our evolutionary connection with Nature holds the key to unlocking a new wave of human ingenuity? 

Neuroscience and architectural research are converging, informing us that we need to create spaces that tap our connection to Nature to bring out the best in humanity.

What would we design if we worked in spaces that reminded us of our connection to the living world of Nature? How would our assumptions change? What would the world look like if we were more interconnected with the vitality of all living systems on planet Earth? 

At Interface, we choose to find sustainable solutions to questions like these collaboratively amongst ourselves, and with others. We call this approach Co-Innovation—and we see it as an open invitation to all to join us in thinking beautifully.

Join us in the next month as we explore our connections to nature, and the beautiful thinking it creates.  And visit us on our social channels leading up to, during and post NeoCon. #IFinHumanNature   facebook_web   instagram_web   twitter_web

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