Understanding Company Culture

Architecture should be an extension of a company’s culture, its brand, its aesthetic. So, when a landlord called me last week to discuss creating a state-of-the-art prebuilt environment for future tech, media and avant-garde tenants in a new property he just purchased, I referred him to go see a recent project of ours: offices for email intelligence company Return Path.

Return Path’s new headquarters embodies the concept of designing to mesh with a company’s style. The new offices give a fresh face to the tech company while accurately reflecting its current identity and vision for the future. Working alongside the consultant in charge of the firm’s workplace strategy, we teamed up early on in the programming and design phases to create a “pixel-themed interior concept,” brought to life through the use of carpet patterns, colors and ceiling materials. Inboard conference spaces offset the perimeter benching system and communal spaces, creating a balance of creative, collaborate spaces and private and semi-private areas for meetings and focused work. More importantly, Return Path’s “people first” philosophy shines through in the lively community areas — a buzz lounge, library, cafe, game room and even a “secret Zen room” to add a playful element to the space.

While my recommendations for the landlord I mentioned above will differ, there is much to be learned from the approach we took in working with Return Path. These lessons can be translated over to help the building owner create an incredible prebuilt opportunity that will separate his offices from the typical spaces on the market today, thereby attracting the right tenancy: a primary goal for any owner.
An excellent starting point is to consider who will occupy the space — an advertising and media company, a tech leader, a financial services firm? What kind of employee will the company need to recruit and retain? Ping pong and pool tables are fun touches, but only if they fit with the culture. As mentioned in one of my first pieces in this column, consider the workplace strategy during the early investigative phases of design and then offer alternatives that speak to the company’s demographics, commuting patterns and brand.

Then, it’s time to think big picture. Is there a larger holding or parent company with its own identity, standards and model? Is this office one of 30-plus locations, all of which need to incorporate a common scheme? Will schedule and budget drive the choices being made? Though some spaces need to be similarly designed to fit with a larger company image (and that aforementioned budget and schedule), color, finishes and fixture choices can be customized to make the end result feel more personal.

In other words, one style need not fit all. Individual office spaces, or one-offs, are a great opportunity to get “uber creative” by designing a space that meets a menu of programming needs, yet pushes the envelope. How do you know you’ve achieved success on this front? The occupants will tell you all you need to know. If they look “at home” in their workspace, then you’ve accomplished the mission: a space that is a perfect cultural fit.


Scott E. Spector, AIA, is a principal at Spector Group, one of New York’s premier architecture and interior design firms and a leader in corporate tenant and building owner-based design. The award-winning company has affiliate offices nationally and internationally. To date, it has completed more than 1,500 projects.

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