Advertising Giant WPP Looks to HOK to Gather Its New York Offices Under One RoofMay 31, 2019
In one sense the remit was straightforward: WPP, the London-based international advertising and public relations behemoth, wished to gather the New York offices of several subsidiaries into a single location. They chose 3 World Trade Center, the 80-story tower by Pritzker Architecture Prize–winning Richard Rogers of Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners, and HOK won the bid to design the consolidated workplace.
Many factors raised the complexity of the commission, however, starting with its sheer size: 700,000 square feet (that’s more than 16 acres) on 14 floors, including a 3,000-square-foot outdoor terrace. Additionally, WPP wanted an innovative, creative habitat; maximum interconnectedness among its 4,000 on-site employees; and a high degree of versatility for potential growth and reconfiguration over the course of its 20-year lease. The company also asked that each corporate entity’s space be individually designed in accordance with its function, branding, and mission. Two major WPP subsidiaries moved to 3WTC: Kantar, a global market-research consultancy, and GroupM, the planet’s largest media investment conglomerate, which places approximately one-third of all ads worldwide. The latter oversees seven smaller divisions—Essence, MediaCom, Mindshare, [m]Platform, OpenMind, Xaxis, and Wavemaker—all of which had to be accommodated, too.
While the sprawling project was helmed by HOK director of interior design Tom Polucci, each subsidiary was assigned its own designer to provide it with a unique environment. This involved a special event: “We had a ‘mixer’ where we brought 12 or 13 of our designers together with the CEOs and creative teams of all the different brands,” Polucci explains. First the designers made short presentations about themselves, their personal passions, and their inspirations. Then each company did the same about its culture, brand, and staff. Next they met, one-on-one. “I had a bell,” Polucci reports. “Every two minutes the designers moved onto another brand.” It was designer/client speed dating—“an equal-opportunity event for both parties”—and it succeeded in pairing number-one choices “across the board.”
Polucci and his team devised a master plan to maximize creative variation while meeting the client’s budget and schedule. The envelope was kept consistent and neutral, with a color palette of black, white, and grays, and materials like stone, steel, laminate, and wood. The overall look is “refined industrial,” so ducting suspended from the ceiling remains visible, downtown-loft style. And individual spaces are broken into three unequal zones: the truly bespoke, the flexible, and the fixed. Fully custom spaces include reception and other client-facing areas. Fixed areas house “pantries, coffee/tea points, small and medium conference rooms, and huddle and focus spaces,” Polucci enumerates, but even these have been individualized to a limited extent with colors and finishes.
Most of the square footage, however, is devoted to flexible work space, conceived to provide utmost adaptability as needs evolve. While differing from company to company, these areas are all created from the same kit of parts, which includes such furnishings as sitting and standing desks, oval oak conference tables, and engulfing podlike chairs that take their cue from first-class airline seats.
Initial layout decisions were based on a survey of more than 3,000 WPP employees. Planning was helped enormously by the building, which has few internal structural columns to get in a designer’s way. (WPP occupies the top five floors and part of the setback terrace of the building’s 16-story podium, and floors 28 through 35 in the tower above, which have 70,000- and 30,000-square-foot floor plates, respectively.) “The entire project is designed on a grid of power and data locations,” Polucci explains. “That offers the ultimate amount of flexibility in being able to switch out the furnishings over time.”
At the core of the project is WPP’s shared communal space, dubbed the “town hall,” where “brand-agnostic” graphics pull together the colors of all the WPP subsidiaries. At its center, a two-story atrium features stadium-style bleachers that connect the 15th and 16th floors. Rising from a capacious lounge with views of the World Trade Center and the Hudson River beyond, the wide steps lead to a cluster of employee amenities above. These include the bistro, a grab-and-carry food vendor; the wellness center, staffed by a full-time nurse; and the tech hub, an electronics-repair station designed like a snack bar. (Every subsidiary’s space includes a canteen and multiple coffee spots.) Topping it all off is the landscaped terrace on the building setback immediately overhead.
Even in today’s world of the activity-based workplace, Kantar and GroupM’s thrumming new quarters feel like a giant leap away from the past. The ambiance is part hotel lobby, part mall, part think tank, and part student-activities center at a particularly savvy university. According to Mark Sanders, CFO for GroupM North America, the entire project has helped put a more cutting-edge face on the companies’ work than their former scattered locations in pre-tech buildings, which did nothing to reinforce a forward-looking corporate gestalt. Indeed, the client has expressed satisfaction in the sincerest possible way: WPP is moving even more of its business to 3WTC and HOK will design the additional space.