Contract - Olson

design - features - corporate design



Olson

17 June, 2014

-By JoAnn Greco. Photography by 
Peter Sieger


After a recent merger, Olson, a Minneapolis-based marketing agency that has created everything from social media campaigns for Oscar Meyer to rewards programs for L’Oréal, found itself bursting at 
the seams. Its 375 employees were scattered over two locations, 
and teams—organized by disciplines such as public relations and database analytics—were often separated. “We were feeling increasingly fragmented,” says Sue Williams, Olson’s director 
of operations. “We just had to come together.”

They came together in a new office designed by Gensler within 
a building that is intricately linked to the robust manufacturing heritage of the Midwest. Built in 1912 as a vertical assembly plant and showroom 
for Ford Motor Company, The Ford Center is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as part of the Minneapolis Warehouse Historic District, and it boasts high ceilings and large windows—assets that helped its renovation and adaptive reuse by developer Union Properties earn LEED Gold status. Starting from scratch in this building, which is in a vibrant area adjacent to downtown and the Minnesota Twins’ Target Field, sent a powerful signal. As one of the top 10 independent, full-service agencies in North America, Olson had 
moved to the “national stage,” observes Bill Lyons, principal and managing director of Gensler’s Minneapolis office. “This building 
was charged with serving as a symbol of that growth.”


Connecting to history
For the most part, the historicity of the property was a plus. “It’s such 
a unique building with huge floorplates,” Lyons says. “It was perfect 
for a creative tenant like Olson.” Because the interior was an empty 
shell, the Gensler team could define everything from bottom to top, beginning with the installation of reclaimed oak flooring—milled 
from logs found at the bottom of Lake Superior—and continuing 
with the Corten steel dividers that weave their way through the 
space to separate function areas. “We tried to root all of the 
materials in the industrial qualities that are so important to 
the building’s history,” Lyons says.

Gensler developed a visual metaphor to make the firm whole 
and elevate the company’s stature. “The driver was that Olson makes connections. So what better connector is there than a staircase?” 
Lyons says. This key insertion—linking the 125,000 total square feet from the seventh floor through the tenth floor, plus a small portion of the sixth floor—allows employees to easily get to other floors as well 
as giving them new ways of seeing each other at work. Hundreds of variously sized, wall-mounted mirrors adorn the walls surrounding the suspended staircase, creating a shimmering fun-house effect. 
Offering partial glimpses and off-kilter experiences, the mirrors “represent the as-yet-unimagined connections that emerge from collaborative work,” says Betsy Vohs, senior associate at Gensler. 
The landings each “act as a nexus,” she continues. “We planted 
different amenities on different floors to pull people throughout 
the entire agency.”

Color-coded floors and gathering spaces
Each floor has its own lounge area and espresso bar; two floors 
also feature wine bars, while another accommodates the company’s lunchroom. Each floor is differentiated by individual color palettes, including hues of orange, red, blue, and gray. These colors turn 
up everywhere, from the string art installations that serve as floor number markers, to the patterns of the custom sofas, to the 
Gensler-created graphics in the small project rooms.

The number of informal gathering spaces and the variety of conference rooms—from brand rooms that seat six to eight people 
to the large pitch room that can seat up to 40—is a key component 
of the design. “We wanted as many opportunities as possible for the exchange of ideas,” Williams says. “When we were spread out and 
tight for space, everything had to be planned in advance. Now we 
have a lot more chances to spontaneously meet, and to see work 
in progress.” In the brand rooms, for instance, work is often pinned 
up or outlined on whiteboards so that meetings can start, stop, 
and then continue easily.

Most employees work in the open at Steelcase benching desks, while the 50 or so executive offices are entirely demountable. The connections to local history, though, are evident with interior elements that include everything from original art to found lamps to small vintage machine pieces set on reclaimed wood blocks. The idea of craft—of making things—is a strand that runs from the building’s heritage to 
the modern workmanship of Olson.


Key Design Highlights

  • A new staircase connects all floors of the office and creates opportunities for spontaneous interactions between staff.
  • Vintage furnishings mix with modern furniture systems 
for an effect that befits a 
creative company.
  • From bars to branding rooms, staff can meet in a variety of informal spaces.
  • Graphics painted on the ceilings of the elevator lobbies, when viewed together from outside, form a clever branding device.

Olson

  • Architect: Gensler
  • Client: Olson
  • Where: Minneapolis
  • What: 125,000 total square 
feet on five floors
  • Cost/sf: Withheld at client’s request

 




Olson

17 June, 2014


After a recent merger, Olson, a Minneapolis-based marketing agency that has created everything from social media campaigns for Oscar Meyer to rewards programs for L’Oréal, found itself bursting at 
the seams. Its 375 employees were scattered over two locations, 
and teams—organized by disciplines such as public relations and database analytics—were often separated. “We were feeling increasingly fragmented,” says Sue Williams, Olson’s director 
of operations. “We just had to come together.”

They came together in a new office designed by Gensler within 
a building that is intricately linked to the robust manufacturing heritage of the Midwest. Built in 1912 as a vertical assembly plant and showroom 
for Ford Motor Company, The Ford Center is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as part of the Minneapolis Warehouse Historic District, and it boasts high ceilings and large windows—assets that helped its renovation and adaptive reuse by developer Union Properties earn LEED Gold status. Starting from scratch in this building, which is in a vibrant area adjacent to downtown and the Minnesota Twins’ Target Field, sent a powerful signal. As one of the top 10 independent, full-service agencies in North America, Olson had 
moved to the “national stage,” observes Bill Lyons, principal and managing director of Gensler’s Minneapolis office. “This building 
was charged with serving as a symbol of that growth.”


Connecting to history
For the most part, the historicity of the property was a plus. “It’s such 
a unique building with huge floorplates,” Lyons says. “It was perfect 
for a creative tenant like Olson.” Because the interior was an empty 
shell, the Gensler team could define everything from bottom to top, beginning with the installation of reclaimed oak flooring—milled 
from logs found at the bottom of Lake Superior—and continuing 
with the Corten steel dividers that weave their way through the 
space to separate function areas. “We tried to root all of the 
materials in the industrial qualities that are so important to 
the building’s history,” Lyons says.

Gensler developed a visual metaphor to make the firm whole 
and elevate the company’s stature. “The driver was that Olson makes connections. So what better connector is there than a staircase?” 
Lyons says. This key insertion—linking the 125,000 total square feet from the seventh floor through the tenth floor, plus a small portion of the sixth floor—allows employees to easily get to other floors as well 
as giving them new ways of seeing each other at work. Hundreds of variously sized, wall-mounted mirrors adorn the walls surrounding the suspended staircase, creating a shimmering fun-house effect. 
Offering partial glimpses and off-kilter experiences, the mirrors “represent the as-yet-unimagined connections that emerge from collaborative work,” says Betsy Vohs, senior associate at Gensler. 
The landings each “act as a nexus,” she continues. “We planted 
different amenities on different floors to pull people throughout 
the entire agency.”

Color-coded floors and gathering spaces
Each floor has its own lounge area and espresso bar; two floors 
also feature wine bars, while another accommodates the company’s lunchroom. Each floor is differentiated by individual color palettes, including hues of orange, red, blue, and gray. These colors turn 
up everywhere, from the string art installations that serve as floor number markers, to the patterns of the custom sofas, to the 
Gensler-created graphics in the small project rooms.

The number of informal gathering spaces and the variety of conference rooms—from brand rooms that seat six to eight people 
to the large pitch room that can seat up to 40—is a key component 
of the design. “We wanted as many opportunities as possible for the exchange of ideas,” Williams says. “When we were spread out and 
tight for space, everything had to be planned in advance. Now we 
have a lot more chances to spontaneously meet, and to see work 
in progress.” In the brand rooms, for instance, work is often pinned 
up or outlined on whiteboards so that meetings can start, stop, 
and then continue easily.

Most employees work in the open at Steelcase benching desks, while the 50 or so executive offices are entirely demountable. The connections to local history, though, are evident with interior elements that include everything from original art to found lamps to small vintage machine pieces set on reclaimed wood blocks. The idea of craft—of making things—is a strand that runs from the building’s heritage to 
the modern workmanship of Olson.


Key Design Highlights

  • A new staircase connects all floors of the office and creates opportunities for spontaneous interactions between staff.
  • Vintage furnishings mix with modern furniture systems 
for an effect that befits a 
creative company.
  • From bars to branding rooms, staff can meet in a variety of informal spaces.
  • Graphics painted on the ceilings of the elevator lobbies, when viewed together from outside, form a clever branding device.

Olson

  • Architect: Gensler
  • Client: Olson
  • Where: Minneapolis
  • What: 125,000 total square 
feet on five floors
  • Cost/sf: Withheld at client’s request

 

 


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