THE FLOORS OF PERCEPTION;WHERE DO YOU WANT TO GO TODAY? ROLLING DESKS, PORTABLE LOCKERS, CONVERTIBLE WALLS ..... DO ALL THESE NEWFANGLED AGENCY ENVIRONMENTS IMPRESS CLIENTS AND STIMULATE CREATIVITY OR DEPRESS CLIENTS AND SIMULATE CREATIVITY? (PART 1/5)

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NICK COHEN, THE CREATIVE DIRECtor at Mad Dogs & Englishmen, is no Hulk Hogan, but at his agency's new Manhattan office he can literally knock down walls. That's because Cohen-a onetime disciple of virtual-minded Jay Chiat-has designed his new workspace with virtual walls; they swivel on their bases when gently nudged, so that a closed room can be transformed into open floor space.

And that's only the half of it. All the desks in Cohen's new space are equipped with wheels, so that Mad Dogs' employees can roll across the wide, wood floors of this sunny, open studio (there are no individual offices) and plug in their phones and computers wherever they feel like working on any given day. Cohen sees this as an improvement on Chiat's much hyped sans-a-desk approach, and he believes that if all goes according to his blueprint, creative energy will flow, interaction among employees will be fluid-and desks will definitely roll.

Then again, it might turn out to be a madhouse, with too much noise, not enough privacy and desks bouncing off each other like bumper cars.

Such are the ambiguities of designing the perfect creative environment, the quest for which, of late, seems to have become a near obsession among agency creative directors around the country. Chiat, who in the last two years has probably talked more about architectural design than advertising, may have started the frenzy, or it may be a trend whose time has come as various creative shops around the country are reaching a level of maturity and critical mass that necessitates some housecleaning. Whatever the reason, a major environmental movement seems to be underway, particularly at creative agencies.

In New York, newly renamed Kirshenbaum Bond & Partners is radically redesigning its traditionally chaotic workplace, trying to create a more serene environment; in Minneapolis, Fallon McElligott is experimenting with a "free address" environment in which account planners and creatives are giving up their offices and adopting a more nomadic workstyle; in San Francisco, Goodby Silverstein & Partners is trying to decide whether or not creatives should have a separate department within the agency; in the rocky mountains of Wyoming, tiny Riddell Advertising has called in a hot architect to create a room with an inspiring view.

Call it trendiness, ego-stroking or innovative

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