By Published on .

Two ad agencies are celebrating the new year with new headquarters, each owing a debt to Jay Chiat's vaunted "virtual agency" design, while preserving some traditional elements.

GSD&M's Idea City in Austin, Texas, opened over the holidays, while employees will begin moving into the Martin Agency's new corporate home in Richmond, Va., this week. Though both make the most of modern technology, each was designed with the primary aim of promoting togetherness.


During two years of design and construction, GSD&M put more effort into planning where walls would go than into telecommunications and computer gadgetry. The result-a two-story, 100,000-square-foot structure-contains 31 places for the agency's 300 employees to gather, ranging from small meeting rooms to 16 large "war rooms" to a 2,500-square-foot foyer that will be transformed weekly into an auditorium for full staff meetings.

"We're going to use technology to be more in touch and together rather than more isolated," said agency President Roy Spence.

In Richmond, Martin's three-story, 122,000-square-foot building features smaller offices for many employees but a big increase in shared space, including more than 40 conference rooms.

"That means more traditional conference rooms [than before] but also spaces for simple social interactions," said Chairman-CEO John Adams. "The story of a great idea written on a napkin is so emblematic because that is, in reality, how many ideas happen."


Finding that employees particularly liked diner booths for stimulating conversation, for example, Martin installed some in its three-story atrium, near the cafeteria.

Both new buildings retain private offices for many employees, rejecting Chiat/Day's 1994 elimination of private, personal space. In general, however, the private offices are smaller than before.

Martin's Mr. Adams and others from the shop met with TBWA Chiat/Day executives as part of the design process. The TBWA executives "liked a lot about the virtual concept but in some respects have determined it was going too far," Mr. Adams said.

"This industry owes a lot to Jay Chiat and his experiments. We all learned from them. But I don't want people here to feel homeless," said Mike Hughes, Martin's president-creative director.

Overall, the new headquarters share more with Chiat than they reject. By far the biggest parallel is the importance of connecting points.

"We decided, 'Let's create a building that really appears to be a series of different buildings,'" said architect Jim Sussman, principal at RTG Partners, which designed GSD&M's new headquarters.

Mr. Spence described Idea City as a neighborhood of small "shops," with each shop being an account team.


"We're trying not to see ourselves as one big agency," he said. "We have 10 hot shops, each with its own identity. Many of these shops are bigger than GSD&M was for its first 15 years."

The result is a structure with clearly defined areas, connected by meeting places, wide-open corridors and just general proximity.

Idea City's hub is the Rotunda, at the physical center and sporting a tile floor that spells out the core values of GSD&M: winning, community, integrity, restlessness, freedom and responsibility, and curiosity. Off the Rotunda is Central Park, which serves as the main foyer and the site of the weekly Friday meeting for the agency's staff.

"I believe internal communication is the challenge facing this industry," Mr. Spence said.

In Richmond, Mr. Adams has the same concern. Martin has installed a closed-circuit TV system, with monitors providing internal agency news, to ease the challenge of communicating with roving employees.

Martin's new building, like GSD&M's, is located in an area that serves as a tourist/social hub in the heart of downtown. Fairly traditional in basic design, it will offer some bells and whistles, including wireless phones that staffers can use to stay in touch when they're in the building but not in their offices. CMSS, Virginia Beach, Va., served as the architect.


For each agency, moving comes not a moment too soon. GSD&M just capped off a year of astonishing growth, with annualized billings climbing 50% to $600 million. Martin's billings grew 20% to $300 million.

Principals at both agencies say the simple elements are the most significant.

By far the best thing about Idea City, Mr. Spence said, is having only two floors. "We really didn't like being on six or seven," he said.

Ditto at the Martin Agency, which currently houses about 400 employees in seven different buildings.

"How nice it will be not to have to put your coat on to go to a meeting," said

Most Popular
In this article: