Eli Lilly Corporate Headquarters

Lilly’s Front Door

More than “lobby branding,” environmental graphics communicate Eli Lilly’s brand DNA and inspire employees and visitors alike.

When Hal Kantner’s HOK design team met for the first time with their Eli Lilly clients in early 2006, they were given a seemingly straightforward directive: brand the lobby.

Eli Lilly and Company had finished its 250,000-sq.-ft. Corporate Center, the gateway to an extensive research and administrative campus in downtown Indianapolis, in 1992.  “We just never finished the lobby,” says Richard Vance, Lilly’s manager of strategic facilities. The company’s chair and CEO, Sidney Taurel, likened it to “a magnificent frame, with no painting inside.” It was grand, even cathedral-like, but had a generic “Fortress 500” look that said nothing about the company.

Taurel saw the opportunity to inject the space with Lilly’s corporate DNA. “The lobby serves as our front door for all our guests and businss partners who visit,” says Vance, Lilly’s lead on the project. “More than 7,000 employees work at this campus, a third of them in this complex and the rest passing through at various times. We wanted to remind them that what we do is important, and that it makes a huge difference in people’s lives when we do it well.”

A trained architect who also led the design of the corporate headquarters, Vance says, “I knew we wanted the lobby space to be activated and energized, but I didn’t really know the best way to do that.” So he and his in-house team chose HOK to take on the project.

Defining the message

The HOK team’s first task was to determine just what Lilly meant by “branding the lobby.” 

“Brand is a fuzzword,” say’s Kantner, HOK senior vice president and director of visual communications. “It has so much charged meaning. The brand can represent different things to different people. And when it comes to three-dimensional environments, it’s even fuzzier.”

To build consensus on the brand messages they would deliver, the HOK team interviewed 15 key Lilly employees, from PhD researchers to historians. Immersing the team in Lilly’s corporate brand and values, the interviews revealed deeper objectives for the project: preserving the rich legacy of the company’s 130-year history and accomplishments—its institutional memory—and inspiring a new legacy for the future. The original “lobby branding” project grew into a two-part effort: exhibits for the lobby space and an adjacent Heritage Hall encapsulating Lilly’s history and contributions to science and society.

Lilly’s core messages weren’t difficult to uncover. As a global pharmaceuticals company with high-profile brands such as Prozac, Zyprexa, Cymbalta, and Cialis in its portfolio, Lilly is accustomed to articulating its message. The company’s thrustline, “Answers that Matter,” provided a framework and its wholesome, Midwestern personality was apparent in the interviews, says Kantner.  “While their culture is very much about science and innovation, it was obvious they believe their true mission is about delivering better outcomes for patients.”

Brand made real

Vance says he initially envisioned the lobby exhibits as freestanding so as not to impose on the architecture or finishes. “I saw it as more like a trade show or exhibit, but Hal had different ideas. He saw it as meshing and integrating with the structure, and he won us over.”

The HOK team translated Lilly’s core values into complex, multilayered storylines based on its global and historical legacy as a life sciences company. While the elements are intricate and numerous, the overarching concepts are expressed in three physical components: Life, Science, and Horizons. 

Life and Science meet in the center of the lobby, where an imposing 16-ft.-tall mother and child sculpture is flanked by curved reading tables that explain its significance to the Lilly story. The sculpture, created by Taylor Studios (Rantoul, IL) was inspired by an iconic early 20th century photo depicting a mother holding her emaciated son, who was suffering from diabetes, then a fatal disease with no available treatment. Lilly collaborated with two Canadian doctors to isolate and purify insulin and, in 1923, introduced the world’s first available insulin product. The boy in the photograph received the first patient dose of insulin, and recovered. “That photograph means a lot to Lilly employees and, for them, symbolizes why they do what they do,” explains Kantner.

Hanging from the 30-ft. ceiling above the sculpture and tables, a 16-ft.-diameter, 3,500-pound centerpiece sculpture evokes a colorful molecular ring, a visual metaphor for the process of bringing medicine from molecules to patents to patients.

Spoking out from the central lobby space are the Life, Science, and Horizon halls. HOK visually anchored the space and leveraged the building’s existing architectural features by creating a pair of dramatic 16- by 32-ft. backlit glass displays for the Life and Science halls. The displays consist of multiple images, textures, layers, and storylines inspired by Lilly’s contributions to science and society. Each is accompanied by a reading table that summarizes its stories.

Living legacy

While Lilly had a large archive and a modest existing heritage space, the branding project brought the company’s history out of storage (literally) and into a public space accessible to employees and visitors. The 5,000-sq.-ft. Heritage Hall was created by reclaiming space that had been created as part of the 1992 expansion, but had been used as temporary offices.

The Lilly team imagined Heritage Hall as a walk back through time to 1876, when the company was founded by chemist Eli Lilly. HOK saw it as a more dynamic space, honoring not only the past, but Lilly’s present and future. It became a confluence of all three, emphasizing the “And Company” portion of the company name by celebrating employees’ accomplishments in partnering, research and development, manufacturing, and marketing.

The “And Company” philosophy is evident almost immediately. Beyond a storefront-like entrance featuring the original Eli Lilly script logo, visitors can stand in front of an empty picture frame next to the words “And Company” and a phalanx of photos of Lilly teams, both historical and current. “The idea is to show that they are very much a part of the Lilly legacy,” says Kantner. Visitors can see their image in the frame via a monitor on the opposite wall.

As in the lobby, the exhibits are dense and multilayered. To help “connect the dots” among the many stories, the HOK team punctuated the display environment with red dots that provide running highlights of the display stories. Graphically inspired by the dot in the Lilly script, they are essentially thought capsules that guide visitors through the space.

Solutions on a schedule

Lilly’s aggressive nine-month schedule for the project demanded a design/build approach and a unique partnership with the fabrication team, headed by Xibitz (Grand Rapids, MI). HOK and Xibitz collaborated very early in the project and HOK relied on the Xibitz team to translate complex, often abstract ideas into reality, says Kantner. “They did a Herculean job.”

Xibitz CEO Jim Hungerford says his company doesn’t even use the term “design/build,” but instead has developed an integrated business model that includes not only fabrication, but financial analysis, planning, and other strategic services. Xibitz developed costs as HOK developed designs, and juggled purchase orders to ensure that long lead-time items would be available as needed, says Joe Maxwell, project manager.

“We really had to be proactive about looking ahead and seeing potential trouble spots in the process,” he recalls. “We call it ‘design solutioning,’ and the goal is always to achieve the design intent.”

Xibitz assigned Maxwell, a design solutioning specialist, a purchasing assistant, and three technicians to prepare the required shop drawings. In addition, Xibitz directed the efforts of a large cast of subcontractors, from sculptors to neon suppliers.

The team developed mini and full-size mock-ups of many of the exhibits in their Grand Rapids facility, often photographing elements and emailing them to HOK for approval or tweaking. All of the exhibit elements were fabricated in Grand Rapids, then disassembled, transported to Indianapolis, and reassembled on site.

The Life Wall was built inside an existing curtainwall, so Xibitz replicated the building’s mullion system, including a depth extension to leave room between the curtainwall and display. Xibitz researched potential condensation issues and finessed the airflow by designing a gap between the layers of glass, allowing the building’s existing heating system to move air through the space.

The companion Science Wall is actually a huge lightbox built out from an existing interior wall. To replicate DNA strands for one of its many layers, Xibitz used exotic-edge acrylic, and ordered the largest piece of dichroic glass available for a 40-in. element on the wall. “This is by far the most creative and complex job we’ve ever worked on,” says Maxwell. “We did several things in this project that have literally never been done before.”

Big story

If the exhibits sound complex, it’s because they are. And that’s a good thing, says Vance, “because we have a great legacy to share.”  One of the challenges of translating the brand into a physical environment was making it interesting to people who will walk by it every day. “The intricacy will encourage people to discover something new every time they walk through. And every single employee, no matter what their job is, can stand in front of at least one of these displays and share why their work at Lilly is so important.”


[Sidebar] Sketching the possibilities

As HOK worked to translate Lilly’s mission and values into the physical space, Kantner employed an important—but low-tech—tool for visualizing the possibilities. During and after meetings with the Lilly team, Kantner sketched concepts capturing the main ideas, then fed them back to the client for agreement or refinement.

“It’s really a feedback process, a way of saying, ‘This is what we heard you say,’” says Kantner. “And the client can then respond. Sometimes they even draw on the sketches themselves. It’s not computer drawn, so it doesn’t look like a done deal. It encourages dialogue.”

Kantner sees many designers heading for their computers instead of working through the design process with sketches. “Going straight to a computer rendering can be a roadblock to the iterative process that needs to happen to get the best result. People can’t get past the finished look. It looks done, so they think they can’t participate.”

The sketches help familiarize the client with the complexities and nuances of the project and, perhaps most importantly, build buy-in. “It builds a kind of chemistry that they in turn share with their colleagues.”

Kantner says it took a talented HOK team to translate those sketches into buildable exhibits. At the project’s completion, HOK compiles the sketches, computer renderings, and photos into a case study booklet for the client. The “Possibilities Sketchbooks” are also marketing tools to show potential clients the thinking behind HOK’s past projects.

--By Pat Matson Knapp, segdDESIGN No. 20, 2008



Client:  Eli Lilly and Company

Location:  Indianapolis

Design:  HOK

Design Team:  Hal Kantner (principal in charge); Craig Hein, Julie Hick, Hady Khorsheed, Alan Ng, Cindy Richardson, Adry Suryadi (graphic design); Angela Zwink (project support); Roger McFarland (interior design); Tom Kaczkowski (lighting); Don Fedorko (visualization);

Consultants:  Rowland Design (museum interior architecture), Jones Lang LaSalle Kite (program manager and client representative); Wilhelm (interior construction)

Fabrication:  Xibitz Inc. (fabrication, exhibit contractor, and installation); Taylor Studios (mother and child sculpture); Neon Americana (neon); Indiana Art Glass (dichroic glass); Mannetron Robotics (custom casting, finishing, and fabrication)

Photos:  Craig Hein

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