For MetLife, the move to its new headquarters is a homecoming, as well as a chance to redefine the insurance company’s workplace and reinvigorate the staff. It’s a major reset.
In recent years, MetLife’s more than 1,500 New York employees were scattered among disparate locations throughout the city. This year, the company consolidated those employees into one location: seven floors of the 59-story MetLife Building at 200 Park Avenue, originally built in 1963 as the Pan Am Building and designed by Walter Gropius in collaboration with Pietro Belluschi and Emery Roth & Sons. MetLife purchased the building in 1981, sold it in 2005 while keeping some executive offices, and has now, once again, made it the focal point for its New York presence.
The decision, notes Pamela Abalu, global head of design and construction for MetLife (see Abalu interview), was focused on business realities: reducing the company’s footprint, lowering operating costs, consolidating resources, and embracing sustainability. But more than that, the move was about fostering community, increasing employee morale and synergies, and inspiring creativity—intangible benefits that Abalu argues are all important.
“I call it the curation of bliss,” Abalu says. “When you have happier associates, you have more productive associates. There’s no limit to the imagination and creativity that can come out of a space like this.”
Squares, clubs, and neighborhoods
The 535,000-square-foot interior is organized into three key components: the MetLife Square, a central public zone filled with amenities that is connected by an atrium lined with bleacher seating; the MetLife Clubs, which are refreshment and work spaces that connect the public and work zones; and neighborhoods, the open work spaces surrounding the MetLife Square. To help execute this vision, MetLife hired Rockwell Group, a leader in hospitality interiors, to direct the design of the square and Woods Bagot to oversee the clubs and neighborhoods.
From the building’s mezzanine level, guests and employees ascend a dedicated escalator or elevator to MetLife’s welcome center. Encompassing the company’s first two floors, the welcome center features conference rooms, a large green wall, and a sweeping grand stair.
The centerpiece of the workplace is the MetLife Square, which is composed of bright circular spaces set within a four-story atrium. One rises through the square on sculptural stairs with pockets of amphitheater seating for town hall meetings. Another point of connection is the oculus, a natural light beacon that can be seen from several floors below. “We wanted to emphasize connectivity and a sense of energy flowing through the spaces,” says Nancy Mah, a Rockwell senior associate.
Adjacent to the square, each level takes a global region served by MetLife as its inspiration, keying off the cultures and cuisines for the design. The third level represents the Americas; the fourth corresponds to the Middle East and Africa (and has a fresh juice bar underneath the stairs); the fifth focuses on Europe, with a bistro clad in charred wood and white tile; and the sixth, dedicated to Asia, is home to a tea bar, with gridded wood shelves containing distinctive teapots and Asian-inspired wallpaper and fixtures.
Every floor of the square has glass-enclosed conference rooms, all named after international cities; ethereal white GFRC-wrapped columns; polished concrete floors; a lively combination of cove, down, and decorative lighting; and intimate “home away from home” work areas for employees visiting from other offices worldwide.
Progressing outward from the square are the clubs—these kitchen areas with seating are infinitely more inviting than the soulless pantries one finds in most offices. “They are light, happy spaces that encourage you to use them,” says Kristina Piccoli, a senior associate at Woods Bagot. Each is themed for a cultural marquee of its region. A few examples: Corroboree (Australia), using wildly colorful maps as wallpaper and tables and chairs of raw wood and rope; Souq (Morocco), with intricate geometric lights, moldings, and wallpaper; Diwali (Malaysia), featuring dazzling mirrored light fixtures and bright red and blue walls; and Fête (France), with its brass columns and lighting and salmon-colored leather banquettes.
Healthy, mindful workplace
Beyond the clubs, open perimeter office areas, known as neighborhoods, are fitted with sit-stand desks, collaboration zones clad with writable walls, art boxes (glass-enclosed rooms with elegant pieces of furniture and lighting), and rooms for focusing, phone calls, and wellness. The neighborhoods feel intimate, not monolithic. “It’s not just a sea of benches,” notes Piccoli.
With a healthy workplace in mind, a room named the Mindfulness Lab on the sixth floor near the MetLife Square offers a place to decompress, with many plants of various species. The space is intended for quiet thought to encourage mindful contemplation and rejuvenation. No laptops, food, beverages, or talking are allowed. Headphones are encouraged.
The astounding level of variety throughout the project—in terms of program, furniture, lighting, and floor and wall treatments—ensures that workers maintain curiosity and vigor. What other project would, in such close proximity, show off Glück crocheted pendant lights, Mosaica copper floor tiles, Rotsen petrified-wood coffee tables, and traditional European paintings from the magnificent MetLife art collection?
“It never feels stagnant. It creates a spark of imagination,” says Abalu. “That helps a lot with energy levels. How could it possibly get boring?”
The workplace is a cultivation of delight that she says is already changing the company’s culture. Although this office just opened, employees are noticeably interacting more. For a business not known for creativity, this insurance company is shedding its stuffiness, by design.
who Interior design team: MetLife; Rockwell Group; Woods Bagot. MetLife project team: Pamela Abalu; Heather Bensko; Jeanine Bogdanos; John Cantirino; Megan Sterling Chusid; Chris Cooper; Betty Dubuisson; Divya Hariharan; Dan Heavyside; Charles Highfill; Mike Janis; Tom Meenan; Joe Moro; Meghan O’Reilly; Joseph Sprouls. Rockwell Group project team: David Rockwell, FAIA; Cara Cragan; Niels Guldager; Nancy Mah; Pamela Ortega; Taeya Konishi-Schogel; Ruth Wang. Woods Bagot project team: Brent Capron; Kristina Piccoli; Carolina Casterella. Lighting: Hillmann DiBernardo Leiter Castelli (HDLC). HDLC project team: Robert Leiter; Biancia Tzeng; Bernadette Cuaycong; Ludi Dai. Engineering: Cosentini Associates (MEP); Thornton Tomasetti (structural). Cosentini Associates project team: Chris DiLeo; Monica Mikulak; Zofia Malecki. Branding design: Quite Franklyn; Pure Partner by Design. Quite Franklyn project team: Patrick Richardson; Ashley Van Belle. Pure Partner by Design project team: Darryl Sage; Ron Caruso. Project manager: Jones Lang LaSalle. Jones Lang LaSalle project team: Anthony Puglisi; Lauren Belanger; Matt Tamucci. Construction manager: StructureTone. StructureTone project team: Dan Finnegan; Patrick Higgins; Lou Ottrando; Louis Pagan; Greg Cahill. Kitchen: Next Step Design. Landscape: Green Wall; John Mini. Acoustician: Cerami. LEED Consultant: Jones Lang LaSalle. Audio Visual: TAD Associates. IT: CS Technology. Vertical transportation: Van Deusen & Associates (VDA). Branding and environmental graphics: Quite Franklyn.
what Wallcoverings: Innovations; Wolf-Gordon; MDC; Chilewich; Town & Country; Akdo; KnollTextiles; Haworth Systems Fabric; Maharam; Phillip Jeffries; Carnegie; Maya Romanoff; Ideapaint; Shinnoki; Chilewich; Luna Textiles; Momentum; Ian Ingersoll; Flavor Paper; Studio E; Weitzner Handmade; Tri-Kes; Patty Madden. Paint: Benjamin Moore; Wolf-Gordon; Studio Hoon Kim; Idea Paint. Laminate: Formglas; Callidus Guild; Studio Hoon Kim; Formica; Octopus; Treefrog; Wilsonart; Chemetal. Stone: Harrison Muller; Caesarstone; Stone Source; Florim; European Granite And Marble. Walls: Complete Tile Collection; Imagine Tile; Daltile; Nemo Tile; Heath Ceramics; Shinnoki; Rulon International; Ian Ingersoll; Formglas; Shinnoki. Flooring: Get Real Surfaces; Port Morris Tile & Marble; Hawood Berk; Manhattan America; Johnsonite; Daltile; Hudson Tile Supply; Nemo Tile; Pro Spec; Akdo; Malene B; Fireclay; Stone Source; Tilebar; Silver Slate; Match Control; Carlisle; Luminoso. Resilient flooring: Armstrong; Johnsonite; Bolon; Chilewich; Roppe; Town & Country; Roppe; Harlequin Tv Tile; Johnsonite; All State. Carpet/carpet tile: Brintons Americas; Crosby Street Studios; Kasthall; Interface; Shaw; Tai Ping; Jamie Stern; O’c Carpet. Ceilings: USG; Plyboo; Armstrong; Sky Acoustics. Lighting: Design Within Reach; Lambert & Fils; Orsjo; Billy Cotton; Foscarini; Ladies and Gentleman Studio; Muuto; David Weeks Studio; Naomi Paul; Hudson Valley Lighting; Serge Mouille; Jason Miller Studio; FLOS; Roll & Hill; Apparatus Studio; Allied Maker; Fontana; Iacoli & McAllister; Michele De Lucchi; Zero; Tom Dixon; Lindsey Adelman Studio; Lasvit; Brendan Ravenhill; Vibia; Metallux; Studio: PGRB; Sonneman; Graypants; Setco Design; Semai SP; Coco Flip; Resident; Gubi; Moooi; Rich Brilliant Willing; Blackbody; Metal Lux; Vistosi; Armstrong; USAI; Litelab; iGuzzini; Starfire; Focal Point; LumenWerx; Cooledge; Dado Lighting; Traxon; Technologies; Legion Lighting; Apogee Architectural Lighting; Prescolite; Designplan Lighting; Light Cut; Gammalux; Optic Arts; Horizon; Eklipse; Luminii; MP Lighting; Modulightor; Kenall; Lutron; Mark Architectural Lighting; Johnathan Browning; XAL; Global Lighting; Vistosi; Winona; Sylvania; Dennis Miller Associartes; Dwell Studio; Soraa; Avico; x+l; Artemide. Architectural glass/glazing: Empire Glass; Carvart; 3form; Panelite; Fulbright; Innovative Glass; Galaxy Glass; Metal Dimensions; Bendheim; Mcgrory Glass; Archetype Frameless Glass; Elements Of Architecture. Workstations: Knoll. Seating: Knoll; Herman Miller; Tom Dixon; Kartell; Uttermost; Dedon; Bend Goods; Hay; Moroso; Davis; Sanachal; Andreu World; Saloom; Mattiazzi; Beachly; Bernhardt Design; Grand Rapids; Stellar Works; Milo Baughman; Coalesse; Kathy Kuo; HighTower; Vondom; Viccarbe; Magis; HBF; Allemuir; Dauphin; A Jacobson; Quinze & Milan; Mayfair; Gan; Hive; Norman Copenhagen; Haworth; Steelcase; West Elm Workspace; Inscape; Keilhauer; Blu Dot; West Elm; Ligne Roset; Anthropologie; Fritz Hansen; Fluidstance; Koket; Vernon; Wango; Mattiazi; Living Divani; Vitra; Geiger; Arper; Retro Furnish; Kartell; Verpan; Carl Hansen & Son; Bassam Fellows; Wilkhahn; SIXINCH; Senator Group; Gus Modern; Boss Design; Lapalma; Kettal; Mogg; Per Empire Spec; JANUS Et Cie; National Office Furniture; CB2; Cor; Danish Design Store; Scan Design; Bright; Muuto; Restoration Hardware; Orangebox; JC Furniture; Anna Karlin; Sossego; Suite NY; Holly Hunt; Lawson-Fenning; Rareculture; Sovet; Toward; DDS; Ion Design. Upholstery: Shimmer Screen; Tiger Leather; Duralee Contract Fabrics; Perennials; Pierre Frey; P/Kaufmann Contract; Barbarossa Leather; Holly Hunt; Swavelle Hospitality; Garrett Leather; Conneaut Leather; Maharam; Nobilis; Opuzen; Lutron; Casamance; Architex; KnollTextiles; Pollack; Laura Lienhard; Rubelli Venezia; Momentum; United Fabrics; Majilite; Spinneybeck; Luna Textiles. Tables: Dering Hall; Isa International; Hive; Blu Dot; ABC Carpet & Home; West Elm Workspace; Allemuir; Knoll; Arper; Davis; West Elm; Restoration Hardware; CB2; Gunlocke; Ligne Roset; Hightower; Coalesse; Anthropolgie; Cage; Steelcase; Tom Dixon; Desalto; Per Empire Spec; Little Friend; Ion Design; Geiger; Gallotti&Radice; Dering Hall; Rotsen Furniture; Bernhardt Design; Uhuru; Bend Goods; Uttermost; Cattelan; Andreu World; Dedon; De La Espada; Resident; Yliving; All Modern; Inmod; Woodland Creek; Sancal; Wayfair. Reception desk: custom millwork by Patella. Storage systems: Metal Dimensions; Uhuru; Ian Ingersoll. Architectural/custom woodworking: Miller Blaker; John Houshmand. Planters, accessories: John Mini. Art: Ines Esna; Matthias Pliessnig; Santtu; Taha Clayton. Doors and hardware: Nello; Assa Abbloy. Plumbing: Elkay; Moen; Kohler; Delta.