Cannon Design Does More With Less

By Matt Baker

Cannon Design’s Chicago office once occupied three stories and about 80,000 square feet at 111 W. Washington. This year, they moved into one floor spanning between the buildings at 205 and 225 N. Michigan. But don’t call the 60,000 square feet of space in Michigan Plaza a step down; Cannon Design has proved that less really can be more.

The former space “created a silo effect for our people,” said Mark Hirons, Principal/Design Director for Corporate Interiors at Cannon Design and lead on the Chicago office design. “It wasn’t very flexible or efficient in that context.”

A large, open platform was a major driver in their location search. “We wanted to make sure that we were thinking differently, that we engage clients to expose them to new ideas and thoughts,” said Hirons, who views the new Cannon offices as a catalyst for his clients in the way they think of their own projects. “While this may not be the exact environment [our clients] are looking for, it lets them cleanse the palate and makes them more open-minded about different aspects of how space can impact their work.”

The build-out, performed by Executive Construction, Inc., took about three months. The greatest challenge was in uniting the two towers that, while immediately adjacent, are independent of each other.

There was a significant expense in installing a fire break at the connection, but the added cost was necessary to create the unencumbered space they desired. “There are very few buildings with a 55 or 60,000 square foot floor plate in Chicago,” said Hirons.

This created a virtual bridge between the two buildings, allowing light and people to travel from the north end of the space with its views of the Magnificent Mile to the south which looks out upon Millennium Park.

Before construction, the space was parceled up by walls and separate offices. Wanting to maximize the volume, an open ceiling was designed which not only leveraged the artificial lighting, but allowed the core of the floor to take in daylight. The reflective finish on the cement floor also helps move light around the space.

But openness is not the only theme to the Cannon Design Chicago space. The open format gives employees more freedom of movement while also merging different functions of the office environment. It is flexibility that really drives how the space was designed.

The computer training room, for example, was designed to be multifunctional. A ledge around the room’s perimeters can hold monitors so that an instructor can see everyone’s progress. But within minutes, the room’s desks can be rearranged into a more traditional setting. “We minimized cost and increased flexibility,” said Hirons. “It’s a very vanilla box, but it allows for amorphous use of space.”

Many aspects of the office, from workstations up to entire rooms, were conceived with more than one purpose in mind. “We wanted everything to have multiple functions to minimize waste.” Many surfaces, such as desktops and conference room walls, are magnetic and also accept dry erase markers. One location does this and more, with a smart board acting as a projection screen, upon which an employee can mark with a stylus and have his or her notes sent to team members.

A consolidated café acts as a nucleus for the office, where people can not only get coffee and eat lunch, but gather for small, informal meetings or just go for a change of scenery. “We probably had five or six different coffee areas. Now we’re all centralized in one place,” said Christopher Lambert, Sustainability Services Business Leader at Cannon Design Chicago. “That’s just an efficiency thing, but you end up having multiple benefits. In addition to a cultural benefit, you also get significant space savings.”

Across from the café is a multi-use gallery space. Interactive panels can partition the space or open it up. They swivel and slide to alter the gallery to the user’s needs and the panels also have writing boards for when the gallery is being used as a conference room. Cannon Design has held social events in the combined gallery/café for up to 250 people, negating the need to rent other spaces.

Together, the gallery and café create a nexus in the office unlike what they had at their previous location. “That’s the core of this center space. Not only the flexibility, but the cultural aspect,” said Hirons. “People engage more here in two weeks than they did in five years before.”

There was a bit of a culture shock for some Cannon Design Chicago staff after moving. There are no enclosed offices except for human resources; all other employees have a workstation, mostly organized into workgroups for productivity. The open plan meant that those who had a private office for years needed to adjust to sharing space with their colleagues.

The open concept can also be a shock to Cannon Design clients when they visit as well. “Once they understand the different elements and how it would apply to them, they totally engage with that,” Hirons said. “It’s helped open their eyes to possibilities.”

One step Cannon Design takes before proposing drawings to a client is to conduct a workplace strategy that focuses on health perspectives, but also cost saving opportunities. “This space is a good model for them to be able to understand how it could impact their own staff,” Hirons said.

As they began designing their new space, Cannon Design conducted employee surveys to discover what the people who would actually use the space desired. Nearly three quarters said they would use alternative work spaces if provided. As a result, there are eight capacious meeting rooms for larger gatherings, including one with room for 60 people, but there are also 20 smaller “enclaves” for more intimate meetings. These grew out of survey results which showed that the average meeting at their firm only involved three people. The eight-person conference rooms in their old space were more often than not unnecessarily large. “One of the cool things about being in this big floor plate is you get many different ecosystems,” said Lambert.
The firm also conducted an embodied energy study on possible materials to be used in the space. They concluded that the embodied energy—that energy used to manufacture and ship all the materials used in the office—ended up being equal to three and a half years of energy bills.

“It helps you realize if you’re making responsible choices. We wanted to use this project as an opportunity to work differently, think differently,” Hirons said. “Not just us, but for everyone we touch, our clients and our community.” Reuse aided this goal. For example, some spaces are partitioned by panels that had been doors used by the previous tenant.

Michigan Plaza obtained LEED-EBOM Gold in September and the Chicago office of Cannon Design was awarded LEED Platinum in October. During their overhaul, the two buildings of Michigan Plaza diverted over 11 tons of furniture and electronics from landfills and recycled 80% of construction materials.

Annually, new water efficiency solutions should reduce the buildings’ consumption by over 4 million gallons and greenhouse gas emissions should recede by nearly 1,500 metric tons. The management also implemented a tenant education program for sustainable practices and created a green cleaning policy.
The space was already very green when Cannon Design moved in, but the Platinum label should be an indication that they went above and beyond. The washroom facilities were upgraded with high efficiency fixtures by Toto, designed to be 43% more water efficient than what is typical. “It was important to us to reduce consumption as much as possible,” said Lambert. “We are an engineering firm as much as architecture firm.”

Despite the large floor area, the space was able to implement a very efficient lighting plan, with help from the Energy Center of Wisconsin and a ComEd incentive program. Daylight sensors attached to the banks of LED lights help maintain a low wattage per square foot that is 45% better than the typical office. The views to every cardinal direction also mean an hourly change in light levels during the workday. “It’s been a terrific win from both making people feel comfortable as well as keeping energy consumption at a responsible level,” said Lambert. Also reducing energy use, the vending machines in the kitchenette have occupancy sensors as well, only lighting up when someone is present.

Perhaps the most visible sign of Cannon Design’s commitment to sustainability is an energy use dashboard, on display in the resource library. These dashboards are a great way to track utility usage, but they are usually confined to the facility manager’s computer terminal. Putting the dashboard out in view not only tells employees and clients about the firm’s green goals, it makes everyone who interacts with the space more cognizant of how they use it.

The system currently tracks light and plug loads real time. “Ultimately, this is not going to be just an energy dashboard but a sustainability dashboard,” said Lambert. “It’s about lifestyle choices as much about the things we consume every day.” When complete, the dashoard will track outgoing waste, water consumption, electricity, employee transportation use and other metrics, not just in Chicago but in all Cannon Design offices. “We want people to see that the choices they make have an impact on their day to day lives,” said Lambert.

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