Motorola's Hack Couture

The word “downsizing” doesn’t usually go over well in today’s corporate world. Mention of the word is likely to illicit grumblings, fear, and worry. But in the case of Motorola Mobility, downsizing was exactly what was needed. The company’s suburban campus was too large and its buildings were not fully occupied. Collaboration became logistically challenging, and the company was not attracting hot young talent.

So when Google purchased Motorola Mobility in 2012, one of the first changes was moving its headquarters and 2,000-plus employees from the sprawling 1.2 million square foot campus in Libertyville, Ill., to an urban space half its size in Chicago’s Merchandise Mart, the former design center-turned-tech-hub.

Not surprisingly, a move of that scale had to be planned carefully to ensure success. Enter Gensler.

“Our job was to make the move exciting and attractive for those who would have to relocate or commute even farther,” says Michael Schaub, senior associate at Gensler’s Chicago office. To get people behind the move and ease the transition, Gensler’s Change Management team invited employee input, promoted the amenities of the move through posters and diagrams, and built an intranet site with information on commuting, finding a new place to live, and downtown neighborhoods.

>> Gensler Senior Associate Michael Shaubwill be a featured speaker during the 2015 SEGD Conference: Experience ChicagoJune 4-6. Meet him there!<<

When it came to designing the 600,000-square-foot headquarters on 3.5 floors, Google wanted a radical new space that would signal a fresh start. “The client wanted to mirror what’s happening downtown: a lot of density, people sitting closer to each other, up/down mobility, making it easier to find and manage people,” Shaub explains.

Labs and office and design space are no longer separate; instead, labs are at the heart of each floor, with design and management workspaces around them. Micro-kitchens on each floor create landmarks, with distinctive environments that evoke the variety of a city block. Employees provided input and voted on designs for the micro-kitchens to influence the look of their new “neighborhoods.”

Gensler also created flexibility in the workspace design. Height-adjustable mobile workstations can be moved easily, portable totems for power and data can be rearranged as needed, and overhead fluorescent bars are aligned diagonally to encourage out-of-the-box planning. This idea of creating a “hackable” or reconfigurable workspace fosters a sense of ownership and gives employees the freedom to work in ways that work best for them. 

Graphic intersections
To break down the large floor plate, Gensler organized each floor by color-coded quadrants: southeast (blue), northeast (magenta), northwest (orange), and southwest (green). Nine themed micro-kitchens spread over the four floors feature unique designs that express the history of Motorola, its connections to Chicago, and the uniqueness of the Merchandise Mart space.

For example, a micro-kitchen on floor 16 showcases two 16-foot-wide by 10-foot-high reproductions of George Seurat’s A Sunday on La Grande Jatte, the iconic Impressionist painting on display at the Art Institute of Chicago.

“We live with art in the city every day, and Impressionism was really innovative for its time, just as Motorola innovates,” Shaub explains. To create the murals, Shaub digitally removed the people from the painting and wrote software that produces a vector-based set of dots to recreate the artwork in a similar way, using random color combinations to create the tones. As employees sit in the micro-kitchen in front of the mural, they essentially become the characters in the painting, bringing it to life.

The 18th-floor “One Giant Leap” micro-kitchen celebrates Motorola’s connection to NASA by highlighting how the company developed technologies that allowed people in space to communicate with people on earth. Vintage photos create a 60s vibe, recalling the optimism of exploration. A 9-by-45-foot-long mural in the 19th-floor “Inside Technology” micro-kitchen depicts commissioned photography of life-sized Motorola phones through the decades, illustrating the decreasing size of cell phones over time.

Each elevator platform also has a distinct graphic component. Wall coverings made of bursts of transistors referencing the history of Motorola mark floor 17. At the 18th floor elevator lobby, a perforated, powdercoated metal sheath envelopes the walls and ceiling with a Motorola logo emitting waves of energy.

Elements of surprise
To encourage employees to choose the stairs over elevators, Gensler had a bit of fun with graffiti. Local artists were commissioned to create urban murals in the stairwells, and Gensler layered them with vintage Motorola logos that they masked, cut out, and applied to the walls before the art was painted on. After the graffiti was finished, they peeled off the masks to reveal the retro logos.

Designers also placed cheeky life-size pictograms irreverently—half on walls, half on doors—at restrooms, elevators, and stairwells. One depicts a couple holding hands in an elevator, while another shows a man with legs crossed waiting to use the restroom. “We wanted to capture the spirit of the company and encourage people to have fun at work,” Shaub says.

Four different wave patterns relating to aspects of Motorola—lake waves relating to the company’s Chicago roots by Lake Michigan, electrical sign waves referencing Motorola’s electrical engineering expertise, sound waves recalling the voice communication industry, and radio waves representing wireless communication innovations—were reproduced as graphics on meeting rooms, further delineating each floor. “That was quite a task,” Shaub explains. “Building software that generates those types of patterns where dots actually move away from each other was an idea I had and codes I had been playing with, and this was a great opportunity to apply it to the project.” 

The EGD program also contains some changeable content. Six LCD monitors built into the 16th floor reception desk reveal time-lapsed portraits of Chicago, with moving vertical lines that transition to varying city scenes. In the 18th floor reception area, Gensler created a 10-by-30-foot LED curtain wall displaying content ranging from Motorola’s new brand design to phones floating in space to slow-moving images of nature.

For a micro-kitchen on floor 18, Gensler used LED scrolling tickers to create a 40-foot-long-by-12-foot-high visual representation of the Chicago Transit Authority route positioned over a translucent historical linework map of Chicago by architect Daniel Burnham. “The translucent material allows people to see activity in the café, but a noise barrier keeps things quiet,” Shaub adds. Sunrise Systems fabricated the panels and matched the LED colors to the CTA lines, then used Google Surfaces to create a real-time feed for what’s happening around the city.

Exceeding expectations
Of the EGD program’s multilayered complexity, Shaub says, “The client had high expectations, but they gave us a long leash and we just ran with it. We really stretched our design muscles and layered as much internal culture into the graphic design program as we could to make it thoughtful and meaningful.”

Also top of mind was Google’s goal of LEED Silver certification. Gensler kept much of what was already in the space—open ceilings, exposed ductwork—and only finished surfaces up to a datum line. Gensler tapped Designtex to handle fabrication and installation because of its like-minded positioning on sustainability and use of materials such as PVC-free window films and wall coverings.

The biggest challenge for both Gensler and Designtex was a tight time frame. Gensler had nine months to complete the design, and Designtex had six months to fabricate and install 31,000 square feet of clear PET glass film and 17,000 square feet of wall graphics, in addition to the pictograms and other signage elements. But according to Paul Maddrell, creative director of surface imaging at Designtex, “The project was completed on time and on budget. Moreover, Motorola surpassed its LEED certification goal of silver and got platinum.”

Just before moving into the new headquarters in March 2014, Google sold Motorola Mobility to Lenovo. But the change in ownership hasn’t shaken employees’ enthusiasm for the new design. “We knew through Change Management that we had hit all the things that were important to employees,” Shaub says. “They were thrilled beyond belief to see the care and understanding that Motorola had for them.”

--By Jenny S. Reising, eg magazine No. 12, 2015


Client:  Motorola Mobility

Location:  Chicago

Project Area:  605,000 sq. ft.

Open Date:  March 2014

Budget:  Confidential

Architecture, Interior Design, and EGD:  Gensler

Design Team:  Carlos Martinez (project principal/design director); Nila Leiserowitz (project principal); Helen Hopton (project director); Alice Kao, Sheryl Schulze, Lauren Wanski, Bernie Woytek (project managers); Eunjung Chung, Todd Heiser (design directors); Mandy Graham, Seth Unger (strategy); Debbie Bock, Lynn Kubin, Adrian McDermott, Brian Pittman, Erin Spurgeon, Zheng Xiang (project designers); Michael Shaub (environmental graphic designer); Mark Spencer (technical director); Dave Winans (technical lead); Shannon Riddle, Ingrida Martinkus (project architects); Gareth Tucker (job captain); Katy O’Neill, Tifa Zhou, Alfredo Ruiz, Jennifer Alrutz (graphic designers)

Fabrication:  Designtex (vinyl film and wallcoverings), Sunrise Systems (LED and LCD displays), Serigaphics (signage), Arktura (custom perforated metal)

Photos:  Erig Laignel

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>> Gensler Senior Associate Michael Shaubwill be a featured speaker during the 2015 SEGD Conference: Experience ChicagoJune 4-6. Meet him there!<<

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