Interiors Awards 2015: Adaptive Reuse

Photography by Justin Maconochie

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Lowe Campbell Ewald 
Designer: Neumann/Smith Architecture
Client: Lowe Campbell Ewald
Location: Detroit

“In choosing to retain the found state of the existing structure, the design team created a vibrant dialogue between new and old, reinforcing the grit and decay of this building’s urban location. This project is emblematic of a city that is embracing adaptive reuse as a means to reinvent itself.” -Jury

Lowe Campbell Ewald, a 103-year-old global advertising agency and a pivotal player in Detroit’s recent resurgence, opted to move its headquarters from a 25-year-old suburban office building to a downtown warehouse last year, joining a broader-based influx of startups and creative firms in a revival of older buildings near the city’s core. In doing so, the company not only elevated and transformed the way its 500 employees do business, but it also reinforced the creative sector’s role as a powerful economic engine for the city. And its new headquarters, designed by Detroit-based Neumann/Smith Architecture, stands as a vibrant emblem of Detroit’s emerging urban revolution.

Located in the former J.L. Hudson Co. building, a 1920s structure connected to Ford Field—home of the Detroit Lions football team—Lowe Campbell Ewald’s new 122,000-square-foot headquarters is stellar on multiple levels. Its energetic spaces superbly reflect the creative nature of the company’s business. Additionally, the new headquarters sets a precedent for repurposing long-vacant buildings in Detroit by highlighting more current notions of adaptive reuse and sustainability—embracing the raw, gritty nature of the city and the structure.

After thoroughly exploring designs of other contemporary workplace interiors, Lowe Campbell Ewald’s firm leaders had a clear view of the kind of space they wanted. “They knew they wanted open offices with character,” says Jaimelyn Neher, a project architect with Neumann/Smith. Upon seeing the old warehouse building for the first time, she says the Lowe Campbell Ewald team fell in love with the exposed bones of the structure, as well as a central atrium space that had been carved out of the building during a thwarted attempt to redevelop it as a hotel. The building also featured expansive floor plates and raw qualities that the ad agency desired for its new office. So, with the aid of various city tax incentives and grants, Lowe Campbell Ewald took the leap and invested $15 million on its own to turn five floors of the eight-story building into a modern urban workspace.

To establish the aesthetic foundation for the design, the architects started by exposing even more of the building’s structural systems including clay tile, board-formed concrete, and steel deck ceilings. The original concrete floors were ground, polished, and largely left exposed. With the shell exposed, the designers creatively integrated recycled materials such as wooden pallets, electrical conduits, and 500 locally salvaged wood doors to add rich texture and help define both open office areas and various meeting spaces.

Lowe Campbell Ewald wanted an office that would encourage the cross-pollination of ideas between teams in open workspaces. To achieve this, the architects specified flexible benching systems in the open work areas, and introduced more than 100 hospitality-inspired conference spaces, which range from small breakout areas with comfortable seating to more expansive pitch rooms with sophisticated high-tech equipment and plenty of pinnable and writable surfaces for presentations. Around the atrium, bleacher platform seating equipped with outlets offers a place for casual work conversations, while two unique “treehouse” spaces—suspended in corners from the ceiling and accessed via ship ladders—offer tucked-away zones for focused ideation sessions.

Jari Auger, who is both chief financial officer and chief operating officer at Lowe Campbell Ewald, says the efficiency of the new headquarters has also yielded an extra payback. After the firm moved into the new space in 2014, she says the company reduced its footprint by a third and electricity by two thirds. “We’ve realized significant savings with lower real estate costs and LED lighting,” Auger says, adding that clients are also “wowed” by the new space. “They’d rather have meetings at our building than theirs.”