Vocon recognized for its design work on Forest City’s new collaborative work space

When real estate giant Forest City first approached architecture and design firm Vocon back in 2016 about moving its 400-plus employees from its 240,000-square-foot headquarters on 10 floors of the Terminal Tower to 111,000 square feet in Key Tower, Vocon design director Bob Porter’s creative juices started oozing.

Forest City wanted space that fostered collaboration, but also provided privacy for team members who thrive in quieter and more secluded spaces. To meet Forest City's needs, Vocon’s design team proposed a three-pronged approach: create an open planning model that is buffered with shared and dedicated private spaces; adjust departmental adjacencies to enhance workflow and communication; and connect the organization to help staff share knowledge and better collaborate.

“The design of the space started with taking a look at how they put their projects together,” explains Porter. The resulting design offers an open, neighborhood feel—complete with parkways, and both urban- and neighborhood-inspired centers throughout the six floors.
Vocon was awarded the contract and began work in March 2017.

“We kind of layered the layout,” says Porter. “The main vision was there [would be] no offices—from the CEO on down. We went from 350 offices at the Terminal Tower to zero offices.”

According to Porter, some staff members were wary of the eliminated offices at first; after all, even the executives would be at workstations. To ease concerns about working in an open environment, the Vocon team paid special attention to acoustics and lighting with the open floor plan. To bring those elements to life, Vocon worked with acoustics and lighting consultants and Karpinski Engineering on the project details, while A. M. Higley was the general contractor.

“People said, ‘You forgot about my office,’ or ‘You forgot about my privacy,’” recalls Porter. "I don’t subscribe to that. So many offices are so poorly designed. I like to think we did a better-than-average job, because there have been no complaints.”

The Vocon team did incorporate many smaller rooms—from single-person, first-come-first-served rooms designed for employees to focus on intense work projects or make a phone call, to three-to-four person “huddle rooms” for every 10 employees.

“Pocket parks” throughout the space provide collaborative spaces, while a 2,800-square-foot neighborhood center offers both workstations and areas to eat lunch. “Each floor is considered a neighborhood that works its way up to a reception area, or the urban center,” explains Porter. “[This design] used a little more square footage, but [having] no offices created more space for people to use.”

Vocon designed a two-story atrium—aka the urban center—that cuts through the floors to further create an open work environment. Employees can walk from the 32nd floor down to the 31st floor in the 1,500-square-foot atrium reception area. The remaining space is on floors 23 through 26, but Porter says people don’t notice the skip from floor 26 to floor 31 because the entire space is connected by the same elevator bank.

The entire Forest City firm can gather in the urban center for announcements and celebrations, while other areas in the offices can hold up to 14 people for meetings and smaller gatherings.

Forest City moved into the new offices in phases throughout the month of March this year, and it seems all 400 employees are pleased with their new space.

“Vocon has helped us create a productive and energetic environment that supports Forest City's mission and advances our business objectives,” says Don Beck, Forest City’s director of sustainable operations strategies. “The dynamic new workspace has helped to promote collaboration and to increase the creativity of our team.”

Vocon’s work on Forest City—as well as its designs for the new GBX Group offices in a historic building on Superior Avenue and Detroit’s Doner agency—earned the firm three American Institute of Architects Ohio (AIA) Honor awards for its workplace strategy and interior design work during the 2018 AIA Ohio Design Awards program in Toledo earlier this month.

Read more articles by Karin Connelly Rice.

Karin Connelly Rice enjoys telling people's stories, whether it's a promising startup or a life's passion. Over the past 20 years she has reported on the local business community for publications such as Inside Business and Cleveland Magazine. She was editor of the Rocky River/Lakewood edition of In the Neighborhood and was a reporter and photographer for the Amherst News-Times. At Fresh Water she enjoys telling the stories of Clevelanders who are shaping and embracing the business and research climate in Cleveland.
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