Reimagining Artifacts: Marks of the New Workplace
Preface from Not Neutral, For Every Place, Its Story; Creation Myths
In a confined conference room on what could be considered a long and stressful day, the office convened together in a format we call design review. Due to scheduling constraints and overlaps of client visits, we were tucked into one of our office’s smallest rooms. Three hundred square feet stuffed with 60 employees eagerly drinking beers and indulging in the offerings before them. At quorum, the team began pitching a means to bring their project into a cultural existence within the office.
The project in question was a gorgeously adorned 1980s office tower. Exemplary in its accuracy of materials and forms, the building defined the era. Brass cladded everything. Polished granite at every nook. Relentless symmetry around every corner. And an echo that clanked extravagance with every step of a lady’s heel. The team reveled in this grandeur and explained to the office that they had discovered a means to intervene within this historical space. Gasps filled the room and nervous tensions spread.
To consider the 1980s historical made some uncomfortable. A team member scrambled to explain that the materials were the means to engage with this project. That brass — yes, brass! — and polished metals in tones of rose and amber would prevail. Without pause, he exclaimed that the space should be playful and that the new forms should parade through with the oomph of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Distinguished by difference, these forms were tasked to be characters upon which the reflection of the 1980s would be distorted. With a triumphant final breath, he concluded that these forms were no longer formal and rigid, but wrought with personality and would breathe a new sense of history into a neglected artifact of the past. At that moment, nervous sweat dissipated, palms went dry, and a project was born into the interests of a studio culture.
600 Congress is not unlike many projects of its era being repositioned for a changing demographic. Workplace and creative tenants—and even the co-working set—seek amenities, flexible program, and diverse hospitality-driven spaces that make you feel more like you are at home than at work.
The building sits at 6th and Congress in the heart of downtown Austin, a fast-growing city that is home to many Fortune 500 Companies and a creative culture that has grown feverishly amid events like SXSW and the vibrant music and film scene.
The cascading atrium at 600 Congress creates a light-filled central space. When we began, it was filled with a scissor stair that obscured visibility and blocked the light; there was no there there.
Our design centered on three ideas to activate community within the building: clearly marked entries, transformed atrium connectors, and an enhanced central heart with the lobby community.
As Austin has changed, so has the makeup of building occupants. Tenants like BOX, WeWork, and Tableau occupy the building, representative of tenants pursuing the hallmarks of a creative workplace lifestyle in which to work and gather.
A large assembly stair now ties the ground and plaza floors together for an intervention that is part building amenity, part venue.
A below-stair meeting room activates the public space. Modified finishes renew the identity from one of the early eighties to a current look and style.
The design allows extensions of the building tenant’s spaces — both office and modernized ground-focused tenant storefronts — to bleed into the public realm of the building.