I’m Alys Bryan, Editor of Design Insider and I’m joined today by my colleague, Phoebe Train, to speak with Brent Capron, Principal Interior Design Director and Jeanette Kim Senior Project Designer, Senior Associate, who are both based in Perkins & Will’s New York studio. Today, we will look at the concept behind Perkins & Will’s Atlanta based, iHUB project for BlackRock.
Listen to our conversation by clicking below or scroll down to read more.
Brent and Jeanette, perhaps you could begin by introducing yourselves and Perkins & Will.
Brent Capron: Perkins & Will is an international architecture and design firm with multiple offices across the globe, many of them across the continental United States. It’s a multidisciplinary firm in architecture, interiors, urban design, and several more. Primarily, we focus not only on human centric design, but designs that really affect or are integrated with the communities they serve, which leads to our mission on living design, sustainability, wellness, resiliency, and other community and cultural serving design pieces. I am, as you said, Design Director for Interiors at the New York studio. I am a Design Principal and my colleague, Jeanette, is one of our talented Senior Designers.
Jeanette Kim: Hi, I’m Jeanette Kim, I am a Senior Designer in our New York studio. So, I sit in New York but I’m from California, which is something I’m very close to and certainly expanded on with this opportunity to work on BlackRock Atlanta. I’ve gotten to know Atlanta so well, but it’s something so special that I know I will never fully understand unless I live there.
You’ll find many times some of our projects may be completed in offices where we’re not actually sitting in, but it also gives us that opportunity to collaborate. We are very happy and proud to have worked with our local studio in the Atlanta office on this project, and we look forward to more opportunities where we get to do it again, because we found this one such a success.
Perkins & Will has a longstanding relationship with BlackRock. What makes the design approach for their new iHub in Atlanta different?
Brent Capron: They were really looking at some of their iHub spaces as a way to innovate how they work. You hear this term FinTech or financial technology; they really are recognizing the more technological side of their business and wanting their spaces, especially that serve that aspect of the business, to look and feel more like some of these technology companies you see in the built workplace. They wanted to have some of those aspects of it, not only for the type of activities they’re doing, like Scrum spacing, where they’re working on programs and software for the company, but also how their product is done digitally.
What made this unique is that they were going into a new market. They were going in big and intending to hire up to a thousand employees within a couple of years, which is a really big upstart when you immediately go into that market. What made this different is we were creating what is an established large business within Atlanta, which has a large and thriving business community. We had to connect with that culture and understand that this business was going to be rooted by the community there and become a part of the BlackRock organization.
So, those were the two directions, they’re exploring more of their technology side and going into a new market. This was exciting because the site really allowed us to do that. It was in an up and coming area of Atlanta along the belt line. Their space had a lot of concrete and glass that allowed us to get more of a loft-like feel, less of a traditional office look. So, I think those things coming together and tapping into what is really a culturally significant place within Atlanta, really made this unique.
I think we’ve just started to touch on this, which is really fantastic, because I know that reflecting Atlanta’s local culture, identity and history has been a key design driver. Could you explain why that was important and expand on the main design themes?
Jeanette Kim: From the start we were told a large driver to build presence in Atlanta for BlackRock was that it stood out as a tight knit community in Atlanta, and BlackRock wanted to see themselves being a part of that community from the very start. It was so important to them that they weren’t adjacent or independent to it, there was a sensitivity there that they acknowledged and they understood as a really large responsibility of their own. So, when the mission revolved around how BlackRock could make a thoughtful entrance into Atlanta, with aspirations to feel interwoven with the local community, our purpose was pretty clear. The project was a story about, and for, Atlanta.
We understood that we had a tall task. We’re in New York designing an office in Atlanta and while BlackRock and Perkins & Will is a global company, we wanted to make sure that we were putting forward a design that was vetted and thoughtfully created in collaboration with our local team and their local team. What’s so nice about Perkins & Will is that we did have a local office in Atlanta, which we could really lean on to educate us on what was significant.
We found a lot of inspiration in local architecture, principles of Southern hospitality. We noticed a large growth in their music and art influences and the city’s significance as a connection hub. We utilized those program structures that were important to the business of BlackRock and connected those to cultural themes. So, when you look at the project, I hope you’re going to start to identify areas that mimic some of these cultural themes.
One was a porch, which we looked at as being this bridge between private and public space. In their space, it was this idea that it was owned and intimate, but also open and welcoming, a space to receive and host guests.
There was also this idea of a festival as an ongoing thing. You don’t necessarily show up at a particular time, it’s this organic progression of focused work and free touchdown that we created in their space. We really wanted it to be a place where people could meet for group activities or work independently.
Then finally, crossroads. We knew Atlanta, the significance of what it is as a city and a connection hub. We took a lot of inspiration from the unique bends to this building and considered how those bends could be utilized as a source of connection where people can meet and intermix and communicate. We really encourage this exchange and opportunity to influence a cultural result, which we hear and read about a lot when it comes to the city of Atlanta.
Could you expand more on your partnerships with local enterprise, in particular the local Guild, Brown Sugar Stitchers? How did that relationship come about?
Jeanette Kim: That one is definitely very special. We had met with a few individuals in the BlackRock office with such large aspirations and meaningful stories behind what they wanted to do in Atlanta in representing the community. They knew that Atlanta was a growing market in the arts industry, with so much prolific and beautiful artwork that wasn’t getting the attention it should. So, together we were building something that we wanted to make sure got recognized.
Embedded in that we had this idea where the rug in the reception area, is usually something that is contextual to the city that they’re in. Is there a way that not only could incorporate a locally made rug, but also get down to the craft of it? Was there something that we can learn from Atlanta – the South and the rich history of African American quilting – to produce a custom piece of art that actually got utilized. A part of that inspiration was learning from the history of quilting through reading and educating ourselves. While there is a huge history of quilting in the South, the reason that they feel it’s not being memorialized, is because in history they needed to use it for its fundamentals – staying warm. So, many times a lot of those rugs were actually not in a condition that you could put in a museum today because they were lost in time, yet serving a really functional purpose.
In the same sense, we wanted to produce an art that connected with the community of Atlanta, but produce something that was quite utilitarian. It kept the reception area cozy, offered acoustic solutions, and created a piece of art that was both art form and function. When we had this idea, we had read up a lot about a local Guild called the Brown Sugar Stitchers Quilt Guild, founded in 2000 and representing the Metro Atlanta area and a lot of neighboring states. We cold emailed the President and floated the idea that we really respected the work that they did and we’d love to work on a partnership to create something unique for BlackRock.
They very quickly mobilized and came up with all these ideas of what we could do. I had flown down to Atlanta to meet with the local client at BlackRock and we sat in a meeting and saw all the different quilters display their quilts. There was just one piece that undeniably we both connected to. From there, we really started a purpose to take that beautiful artwork, interpret it and translate it to a form of a rug by working again with a local mill to ensure that it was all built in Georgia.
It has turned into a story that really manifested a lot of the mission that BlackRock knew and strongly set forward on us.
Brent Capron: It’s interesting you say local mill, Jeanette. A lot of the nation’s commercial carpeting comes from that region. So, by local mill, Jeanette meant a national distributor, which is both a tie in of local, and an example of how Atlanta has an influence around the rest of the country. There’s a lot of nice synergies back and forth with that. The result is extraordinary. In no way was this forced, it was a beautiful artistic collaboration and the rugs look amazing in the space. They work nicely with the other artwork in the space, which is fantastic. The actual quilt was purchased by BlackRock and displayed in the space as a reference. So, it really is about the art and the connection to community.
Sounds like the most in depth collaboration to hear how this project comes together from all those different angles. What have you learned from the success of this project?
Jeanette Kim: I think you said the biggest one right there. It absolutely was the collaboration. It was the power of listening to not just our client, but to the city and community of Atlanta, and aligning that purpose and vision of the project with clarity from the very beginning. That influenced a project culture that was undeniable for everyone involved. You witnessed everyone’s eagerness and excitement from the client to our team, to the vendors and the artists, all contributors at every phase knew they each held an important part of this puzzle that would eventually become greater than the sum of its parts.
It was so fulfilling to see that manifested, because there was so much of what was shared and discussed during our initial visioning session with BlackRock, when their local Atlanta office was probably a population of five. As the organization quickly grew in size, now exceeding 700 to meet the thousand seats that we had built for, it still rings true that everyone we meet in this project and from the BlackRock team is so understanding of how they really want to be interwoven in that community. So, the success of the project for me was everyone’s collaboration, offering their expertise or cultural references to ensure that the project reflected where they were placing themselves.
We’ve spoken about the culture and the art of Atlanta, but how does the design of BlackRock’s new iHub reflect Atlanta’s evolving and growing tech economy?
Brent Capron: I think in some ways the fact that they’re moving there, the existence of the project itself. It was chosen by BlackRock as a community that they wanted to be a part of. They’re in a building with other entities that are also tapping into that tech market in the same way.
They’re in the part of town that’s more culturally supportive of that IT and tech community. A little bit out of the downtown and in more of a tech savvy or interesting part of town. It’s drawing on the market of technically knowledgeable people that they know can support them as a company. All the big names are now moving there, including Facebook, Google, and the rest of them are also moving there in a heavy way. I think BlackRock wanting to be a part of that market is a testament to Atlanta’s growing technological market.
Jeanette Kim: I would also say that we designed the space in hopes that it would never limit their evolution, but instead grow with them. That was also so important from the beginning, because we weren’t coming into this project identifying how they live there today. It wasn’t a restack, renovation, relocation. It was a brand new business that we’re building together. So, in part the design had to account for expansion and flexibility in the future. But there also had to be room for the discovery of the evolving needs of a new office, a new culture, a new population. And you can understand, with balancing hybrid patterns and work environments, that by designing this space so that it wasn’t just for the individual at work, but the individual’s full life where they eat, get their exercise, feel safe and healthy. A lot of that was already embedded in the ethos of the actual design, so when it came down to creating a space for that evolving tech economy, the space itself inherently had that ability.