What would the design love child of Betsy Johnson and Philippe Starck look like? The answer may be tucked onto the top two floors of the old Wanamaker’s department store in Philadelphia. That’s the home of Digitas Health, an advertising firm that brings the temperature of cool down a few degrees, thanks to a design by Kling Stubbins.
“We have to try harder to create a hip, buzzy atmosphere,” insists Alexandra von Plato, chief creative officer at Digitas Health. “We are not in Seattle working on Nike or in New York working on automobiles, but we are just as dynamic and energetic, and we want our office to reflect that.” The company’s old space on Rittenhouse Square towed that line. When it was time to move, von Plato wanted to bring that sense of excitement and surprise along for the ride.
Richard Mark, design principal at Kling Stubbins, recalls the moment he got the design brief. “They wanted a mix of industrial, Baroque, and mid-century design,”
he says. “The challenge was exciting—so exciting I started hyperventilating.”
Once the initial panic subsided, the designers answered with a clean, vibrant design that wows from the minute one steps off the elevator. The lobby features a bank of digital projectors that show a kinetic montage of in-house-created content ranging from video loops of vintage television programs to underwater environments. The video presentation makes even more sense considering that Digitas specializes in healthcare marketing with a strong digital bent. Its employees are mostly 20-something, laid back, Generation Y-ers, who are comfortable with technology and holistically blend their work, personal, and creative lives.
Some of this multitasking energy is captured in the café space. When it is not being used for food service, the café is the town square of the office. Employees gather to work and eat here. Clients can drop by and use the space at their leisure. A stage area lends a venue for music performances. While some may argue that the café is an extravagance of space, von Plato counters that square foot by square foot it’s the most productive area of the office. “If people are bringing their lunch back and socializing, they are also brainstorming and working,” she says.
Above it all hangs a chandelier by artist Warren Muller. This piece of art was hard won. “People were always asking me, ‘What the heck is up with that chandelier,’” recalls von Plato. “I insisted that the space needed a quirky, surprising conversation starter.” The chandelier fits that bill and then some. Sparkling and playful, the piece sets the tone for the office and lends that demanded wow factor.
Within the office, an internal staircase serves as another focal point. Once an interior fire tower, Kling Stubbins exposed and restored the original 19th-century cast-iron stair. The designers then backlit the two-story rise with a wall of LED panels that simulate an expanse of shaded windows. With limited natural light, this solution injects vigor and idiosyncrasy into the space. “Not a design meeting went by where someone didn’t try to cut the staircase out of the budget,” recalls von Plato. “But we are not the type of firm that would work spread out over a football field.”
That energy continues throughout the office. From the client conference room with its 12-ft.-high Baroque sliding doors, red rubber-coated seating, and white glass table that doubles as a whiteboard to the freestanding office pods that were created out of awning material from Home Depot, the space buzzes. And the hum doesn’t stop after working hours.
“At five o’clock on a Friday afternoon the vibe of the office changes,” says Nancy Siefert, project director at Kling Stubbins. “People don’t just bolt for the door. They hang out and socialize, maybe congregate in the café for a music performance.”
While the office remains a success, getting there was quite a challenge. Digitas Healthcare went through a buyout and a merger during the design process, and that meant that von Plato had to explain and defend her design decisions more than once. “It took some time to get people comfortable with what we were doing,” she admits. “Some thought parts of it were extravagant and others were not so sympathetic to our ideas, but our price per square foot was reasonable. I still get jazzed every time I come off the elevators.”
She’s not the only one. Mark took a banking client on a tour of offices he’s completed. They got to Digitas on a sunny, summer Friday afternoon, and the place was alive with employees. “The client was so impressed,” he recalls. “Of course the style wouldn’t fit their corporate identity, but they still talk about the energy and how they wanted to capture it.”
Maybe they should start with a chandelier.
Client: Digitas Health. Architect, interior designer: Kling Stubbins; Kimberly Williams, national director of interiors; Richard Mark, design principal, interiors; Nancy Siefert - project director; Jennifer Thorsen, senior project designer; Royce Epstein, senior resource specialist; Chris Rose, project architect. Structural engineer: O'Donnell Naccarato Inc. Mechanical contractor: Elliot Lewis. Electrical Contractor: Adams Electric. General contractor: Sullivan Construction. Lighting designer: Kling Stubbins Interiors. Furniture dealer: Empire. Photographer: Jeffrey Totaro.
Paint: Sherwin Williams. Laminate: Wilsonart, Nevamar. Dry wall: USG. Wood flooring: Permagrain. Vinyl: Oscada Plastics. Carpet/carpet tile: Shaw Contract Group. Ceiling: Armstrong. Lighting: Spectrum, Mooi, Warren Muller (custom chandelier). Doors: Raco. Glass: US Glass and Metal. Window frames: Madison Art Consulting, LLC. Window treatments: MechoShade. Wall tile: Crossville. Solid surface: Corian. Workstations: Steelcase, Custom by David Wolfe. Lounge seating: Coalesse. Cafeteria, dining, auditorium seating: Knoll, Aceray, Vitra, Herman Miller. Other seating: Six Inch. Upholstery: Knoll, Osborne and Little, Brentano. Conference table: Prismatique. Cafeteria, dining, training tables: Knoll. Other tables: Stone Casper Collection. Files: Steelcase. Architectural woodworking: David Wolfe, Tabor Millwork.
Location: Philadelphia, PA. Total floor area: 65,000 sq. ft. No. of floors: 2. Total staff size: 300. Cost/sq. ft.: $45.