Leo Burnett redefines the workplace

The design team created rooms without walls

The design team created rooms without walls

Leo Burnett recently transformed the 21st floor of its Wacker Dr. building into one of coolest spaces in Chicago.

Following a thoughtful restoration that features two cafes, lush greenery, and partner rooms for Facebook, Google, and Adobe, the former reception area is now a cozy multifunctional setting that accommodates collaboration as well as privacy.

The new look almost resembles a chic hotel lobby, but there are a lot of advantages hidden within its curvy, expansive, and bright appearance.

“We came in and said ‘let’s take it to another level and give it back to the people,’” explains Liz Rinaldi, who led the team responsible for the design. “The old room was like Mad Men, with a barrier wall to the executive gateway.”

There are a lot of advantages hidden within the curvy appearance
There are a lot of advantages hidden within the curvy appearance

As a member of the Retail Design Group within Leo B’s shopper marketing division, Arc Worldwide, Rinaldi normally spends her time creating exhibits, pop-up shops, and conceptual solutions for national big box stores.

Her efforts are complemented by a legion of environmental and industrial designers who also work in the group.

But for this project, the team answered to Leo Burnett CEO Andrew Swinand, who spearheaded the job and, according to Rinaldi, made everyone’s life easier along the way.

“He knew exactly what he wanted,” Rinaldi recalls. “He likes mid-century modern, and he likes to keep things comfortable.”

Under Swinand’s guidance, the team created a sense of openness without erecting many walls: stone tables, living room settings, and alternating high and low seating arrangements create virtual partitions.

An abundance of plants, including a row of vines that appears to grow from a café ceiling towards the ground, offers “a natural sense of calm,” allowing people to escape from work without actually leaving the office.

Vines appear to grow from the ceiling to the ground
Vines appear to grow from the ceiling to the ground

“Living in a concrete jungle, we like to bring in greenery and familiar elements,” says Rinaldi. “As those pieces came into the room, everybody said, ‘wow, this finally looks complete.’”

It all radiates from a central “town square” to form a “bustling marketplace of creativity,” according to a press release.

So far, the environment is living up to that description. Besides offering a fresh alternative to group meetings, it has attracted a growing number of regulars including the CEO himself, who is frequently seen making phone calls on 21.

“You’ll notice that certain people will sit in the same location,” says Rinaldi. “Others will kind of bop around.”

Swinand also strived to venerate the agency’s legacy, a preference that the team was happy to abide.

“We didn’t want to revolutionize what Leo Burnett is,” Rinaldi continues. “There’ are no ping pong tables. There are no swings hanging from the ceiling. We’re not Google.”

Plenty of room for recreation
Plenty of room for recreation

There is, however, plenty of room for recreation.

In addition to regular wellness meetings, themed events, and guest speakers, the 21st floor hosts an artist-in-residence series that kicked off in February with a performance by the O’My’s, a groovy, Chicago-based ensemble that collaborated with Chance the Rapper on “Wonder Years.” Future acts include avant-garde composer Sebastian Plano, scheduled for March 1.

And perhaps most importantly, at least one of the cafés is also capable of operating as a bar. This completes the floor’s ability to facilitate multiple levels of productive serendipity that one Senior Account executive refers to as “happy accidents.”

“You just run into coworker and come up with a solution to a project instead of exchanging 17 emails,” she says. “To me that’s the definition of success.”

To contact editor Daniel Patton, email dan@reelchicago.wpengine.com.