Inner Workings of an Indoor Alley
When we knew our agency was moving into the newly renovated Old Post Office, we were very excited and had great aspirations for the design of the space. At the top of a long list was a space that inspired a greater sense of collaboration as well as increased visibility into our great work—while it’s being produced—between teams, groups, and departments. We wanted to foster people working together to produce incredibly creative work and allow others to see it happening as they worked and moved through the space.
When we tasked our wonderful architectural partners, Harley Ellis Devereaux (HED), with making those goals come to life, they suggested a perfectly natural and thematic solution—a Chicago alley. Wait, what? An alley?
Why an alley—something that you only encounter outside and, for that matter, usually try to avoid? Why bring that type of space into a historic art deco building designed to process mail? How was that supposed to support collaboration and visibility into idea generation at a Health & Wellness ad agency?
It has little to do with the fact that Chicago is apparently the alley capital of the country (the city has 1900 miles of them—something I discovered shortly before writing this) but more with how the 2 floors we occupy sit in relationship to each other. The Old Post Office is described as a skyscraper turned on its side, which is actually a great description of our space. It is a massive open horizontal space that is divided across 2 floors (the 5th and 6th floors) and 2 structures (the north and south buildings). These floors are offset and were originally designed with offices at the north end of the building and a large open working floor space extending to the south end for the delivery, sorting, and storage of mail. There’s an 8-foot difference between the 2 floors that runs east-west, right down the middle and across the entire space with stairwells at both ends.
An alley, if you will.
HED imagined and designed that space as a 2-tiered alley connecting our 2 floors. And as more urban planners and contemporary architects are viewing alleys as functional and necessary social space where neighbors can connect, this concept translated perfectly to an agency fostering more behind-the-scenes creative collaboration between neighboring groups and departments.
The concept was pushed even further by adding team rooms that perpendicularly join up with the alley like ribs coming off a spine, with plenty of different height surfaces, seating, and a Steelcase Flex Panel system of lightweight pinnable surfaces that can display work in stands throughout the alley or on tracks in the team rooms. This keeps the work constantly on exhibit for anyone to see and contribute to. The entire wall dividing the team rooms and alley in the south building (5th floor) is tackable as well to showcase AT ideas and artwork, thus, becoming the graffiti that enhances the allure of the alley drawing you further into the space. It’s an amazing concept unique to Chicago and a solution unique to our space and our agency culture.
I’ve already been part of some gatherings in the alley. Gatherings where teams have connected and inspired each other. Where we’ve helped some down-on-their-luck ideas become outstanding concepts. And fortunately, where we haven’t seen any concepts take a good beating…yet.