Innovation is central to the success of 3M, a corporation that was established as the Minneapolis Mining and Manufacturing Company in 1902 and has since diversified and established a global network of offices and production facilities. Two years ago, top executives sensed that the 3M headquarters in St. Paul failed to reflect that forward-looking spirit, and they invited Hitoshi Abe to lead a major renovation effort.
Abe, who is the chair of the UCLA Department of Architecture and Urban Design and leads his own Los Angeles practice, Atelier Hitoshi Abe, created a master plan for interior improvements that would foster interaction and promote creativity among employees, showcase 3M products, and enhance the corporate image. Project Community, as 3M called the renovations, comprises a second-floor circuit of corridors, break-out areas, and sky bridges linking four buildings that enclose a newly landscaped plaza. This includes the main headquarters’ 15-story tower designed by Ellerbe Becket in 1962 and refaced in 2005. Three adjacent buildings date to the 1970s.
Atelier Hitoshi Abe collaborated with two Munich-based firms: Peter Ebner and Friends designed two of the spaces; and 3M GTG, a 3M technology company specializing in digital media, created an interactive social networking system for the new communal areas. Minneapolis firm Meyer, Scherer & Rockcastle, Ltd. (MS&R) was the architect of record.
Reconfigured spaces support new ways of working
Ebner created a main entrance area and a detached meeting and presentation room called the Exchange. Abe’s team designed many of the rest of the renovation components, including six additional meeting rooms, and reconfigured old divisions to accommodate light wells and sculptural staircases. Two executive dining rooms—one of which is primarily white and the other all black—feature 3M finishes, pendant light fixtures, and Jasper Morrison–designed Bac chairs.
“Our employees work in a different way than they did when these offices were initially designed,” says Thomas J. Heim, 3M director of administrative services. “We needed spaces that would enhance collaboration, which we feel is the essence of creativity.”
Existing second-level sky bridges, which connect to long corridors in each building, allowing employees to access campus buildings without going outdoors in the frigid Minnesota winters, were also transformed by Abe. “We designed six hubs to break up the long corridors,” he says. “These have become colorful, brightly lit areas for social interaction and work.” The luminous hubs brighten interior areas, some of which are not close to windows.
Communicating brand while building bonds
Throughout the renovated spaces, the architects made extensive and innovative use of products by 3M, such as Di-NOC film covering some of the ceilings. “In the hubs, we raised the ceilings and achieved an even level of illumination by employing Light Mat, a self-adhesive material embedded with a grid of LEDs,” explains Abe. “A suspended layer of translucent panels diffuses the points of light.” Black woven-fiber carpeting employs Nomad Heavy Traffic Scraper Matting and sets off the gleaming white epoxy floors.
Interactive touchscreens, another 3M product, are mounted on sculptured Corian counters. Software developed by 3M GTG allows employees to upload files from their laptops to the tabletop displays to share information and images. Overhead screens display personal and corporate announcements to the 6,000 employees who occupy these buildings on a daily basis. This connectivity fosters workplace collaboration and the exchange of ideas, while strengthening the social bonds of the 3M family.
The refreshed interiors and welcoming colors have eroded the boundaries that once separated different departments. “All the spaces are semipublic and are open to staff, suppliers, and our customers,” Heim says. “The design is very energizing, and people are starting to make the cultural shift to a new way of working. It’s a process that will take time to achieve its full potential, but we’re convinced it will improve the way things are done here at 3M.”
- Designers Atelier Hitoshi Abe with Peter Ebner and Friends
- Architect of Record Meyer, Scherer & Rockcastle, Ltd. (MS&R)
- Client 3M
- Where St. Paul, Minnesota
- What 100,000 square feet on two floors and a 130,000- square-foot exterior plaza
- Cost/sf Withheld at client’s request
- For a full project source list, see page 152 or visit contractdesign.com.
Key Design Highlights
- Six hubs create opportunities for collaboration between the company's departments.
- Overhead displays and touchscreens ensure that technology is always close at hand.
- The designers incorporated products by 3M throughout, demonstrating the products' performance to suppliers and customers.
- Innovative 3M lighting sytems brighten up formerly dark, dismal conference rooms and corridors.