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No secrets: Kovel Kresser's new conference room's windows open on work spaces. CALIFORNIA'S KOVEL KRESSER WAGERS THAT IMAGINATIVE NEW OFFICE PLAN WILL SUPPORT THE AGENCY'S STAFF IN PRODUCING INNOVATIVE ADVERTISING, FROM SUPERMARKET TO AD SHOP

By Published on .

The latest experiment in creative work space is Kovel Kresser & Partners' so-called symbiotic office in Venice, Calif., the birthplace of TBWA Chiat/Day's high-profile flop, the virtual office.

Designed as a workplace that supports creativity and in which employees from various departments can enhance each other's performance, the shop's new digs are in a former supermarket just up the road from the beach in Venice.

SYMBIOTIC

The symbiotic workplace comes as agencies struggle to enhance the working environment to maximize their talent and optimize their processes.

Leo Burnett USA, Chicago, for example, is trying to break down bureaucracy and fuel creativity by grouping employees from various disciplines into account-based business units. TBWA Chiat/Day this fall will move out of its well-known "binoculars building" to a warehouse the length of 21/2 football fields -- designed with a movie theater, basketball court, work "nests" and a pulpit from which Lee Clow, agency chairman and chief creative officer worldwide, can address the troops.

Kovel Kresser's 30,000 sq. ft. space is organized much like a traditional ad agency, with media, creative and account departments grouped together. And like other traditional offices, each of the agency's 70 employees has a desk and a cubicle.

The cubicles, however, have two or three open walls, allowing those passing by to ask a question or to answer one.

"It's easy to find people, instead of that `Where the hell are they?' " issue, said Lee Kovel, managing director and chief creative officer.

`GATHERING PLACES'

Near each department, and in strategic locations throughout the building, are more than a half-dozen "gathering places" where employees can work in groups. A couple are simply a collection of couches, while most have doors that close and allow for private meetings.

The main conference room has a glass wall that allows a view of the office and its activity, something Mr. Kovel believes allows for the office's energy to flow through to meetings with clients and visitors.

"We don't have anything to hide," said Mr. Kovel.

An outside wall of the conference room consists of a series of stepped bleachers, creating a plaza area in which creatives can spread out work for discussions, or where employees can sit for agency meetings.

THE `SHIP'

One of the office's distinguishing characteristics is a structure called "the ship," a curved wall with both ends open, inside of which sit cubicles for the agency's creative department and others.

Kovel Kresser, a midsize shop with billings of $65 million, kept costs down by using industrial materials whenever possible, such as funneling wires through copper gutters and leaving concrete floors unfinished -- with the added benefit of allowing workers to rollerskate in the office.

One symbiotic factor is the office's location along a pedestrian path by the Venice canals, a short hike to Venice Beach.

On one sunny day this spring, Copywriter Steve Sperber rode his bicycle to the beach to seek inspiration from the sun, the surf and the area's attractions -- such as the man who lies on a bed of glass shards.

Gen-Xer Brendan Shepherd, a media supervisor, invites his friends over to the office on Friday nights for games of Nintendo or poker in a cafelike area with floor-to-ceiling windows that offer a view of the canals.

"People don't mind spending their free time here," he said.

MOVE ADJUSTMENTS

Still, the transition to the new site has required some adjustment by employees.

Allen Williams, VP-director of broadcast production, who sits across an aisle from the creatives, likes having work flow around his office, enabling him to double-check details such as whether all taglines are actually the same on print and in radio ads.

But "for me, the jury's still out," he said, noting that he misses his former office, which was larger and had a door "and a place [to] hide."

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