Office Space: Think Outside the Cubicle

Unique Design 'Helps Recruiting, and Clients Like the Vibe'

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SAN FRANCISCO ( -- Beer taps.

Extreme concierges.

Rocket ships?

Think about these office perks and accouterments the next time you're slaving away into the wee hours at your spartan workstation. And then print out your resume.
. Credit: Alistair Tutton

Agencies from coast to coast and in between are thinking outside the box -- and cubicle -- to improve the working environment.

After all, "you spend 75% of your life here; you better enjoy it," says David Angelo, CEO-chairman-chief creative officer of David & Goliath, El Segundo, Calif.

Not just Southern California
OK, you say, that's Southern California, where Jay Chiat in the 1980s commissioned Frank Gehry to design Chiat/Day's Venice, Calif., binocular headquarters. But that's no excuse -- just go to Missouri.

There, agency Barkley has made a pricey move from downtown Kansas City to the historic Trans World Airlines headquarters building in an up-and-coming art district. The space includes lots of spots for spontaneous get-togethers, client rooms, furniture styles unique to each floor, a grass-lined roof and, of course, the ultimate conversation-starter -- a 32-foot reproduction of a TWA rocket on the landmark's roof. The original TWA Moonliner rocket was built for a futuristic exhibit at Disneyland by entrepreneur Howard Hughes when he owned the airline. The rocket has been incorporated into the agency's logo.

"An inspired space can produce inspired work," said Brian Brooker, CEO-chief creative officer at Barkley, which handles Build-A-Bear Workshop and Sonic Drive-In. "It pays off in so many different ways. Great space makes our employees happy. It helps with recruiting, and clients like the vibe."

Helps shorten meetings
But wait, there's more: Other tweaks to the TWA building include conference rooms with tables at various heights, some requiring attendees to stand. "That does make meetings shorter," Mr. Brooker said.

And for agency get-togethers after the meetings, there's a beer tap on its roof deck.

Other shops are building hip, clublike atmospheres. At David & Goliath, Mr. Angelo views his new digs as part agency, part restaurant, part lounge. For instance, an elegant, back-lit bar helps showcase the brands of client Bacardi. "You can stop what you're doing, crack open a beer and get back to work," he said, noting the bar is open after 5 p.m.

At TBWA/Chiat/Day -- or Chiat Day and Night, as it was once called -- fingerprinting and other security measures are required at its new Media Arts Lab, where the agency works on Apple. The workspace is in a building shared with Mr. Gehry and has a sleek look, with a giant, white conference table and bar-stool-height chairs, allowing participants to stand or sit.

Extreme concierge
Crispin Porter & Bogusky's new office in Boulder, Colo., provides an extreme concierge who stores, fixes and fine-tunes mountain bikes, snowboards, skis and other sporting equipment. The service seems natural in a city known for its idyllic mountain setting and outdoor-extremist residents. Otherwise, the space "feels pretty industrial -- we see ourselves as a factory that produces ideas," Chairman Chuck Porter said.

Luckily for Mr. Porter, it translates into relatively inexpensive accouterments -- unfinished ceilings and prefabricated corrugated metal buildings.

Brad Harrington, co-president of Cole & Weber United, imbued his new Seattle headquarters with touches such as GPS-controlled sun shades and a floor plan with a sunken living room.

Mr. Harrington had wanted more. He was miffed when corporate parent WPP Group declined to spring for a cozy, '70s ski lodge-style fire pit, calling it "an excessive expense," Mr. Harrington recalled. "And they wanted nothing to do with an open flame" for liability reasons.

Eye to eye
At C&W, creatives work at long tables that allow them to see each other eye to eye and chime in on brainstorming sessions. Jacob Baas, senior copywriter, said he was sitting across from an art director trying to come up with graphic artists for a Colt 45 campaign when a colleague threw in the name of Jim Mahfood, a comic-book artist the group hadn't considered.

"Beyond choosing an artist, an idea gains momentum" in the family-like setting where groups often share meals, Mr. Baas said. "A nice chaos is created."

But when that chaos becomes overwhelming, Mr. Baas said he either puts on a headset or takes his laptop to a coffee shop.

That's just the point, other agency managers noted. "We're here to work," said Joe Da Silva, general manager of BBH, New York, whose lower Manhattan offices include sweeping views and a coffee bar inside the office. "It's an office."
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