Atop the Sears Tower in Chicago, Perkins & Will fulfills a law firm's desire for ultimate flexibility
Anne Guiney -- Interior Design, 11/1/2003 12:00:00 AM
The bigger your office, the bigger your paycheck. For most professionals, that's a long-held belief. But the equation stopped making sense to the lawyers at Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal—for two reasons. One, when associates move to a bigger office after making partner, they lose the network they've developed with colleagues working in proximity. Two, the move often requires new construction, and that represents a significant expense. To renovate a 16,000-square-foot space on the 83rd floor of Chicago's Sears Tower—and to disprove that hoary theory—Sonnenschein contacted Perkins & Will, which had handled the firm's 1995 renovation on floors 76 through 81.
"We started with a blank slate, with fresh thinking that would allow for future expansion. The space had to be utilized more intelligently," says Sonnenschein partner Michael M. Froy, chairman of the corporate and securities practice group.
After a series of focus groups with staff at all levels, Perkins & Will principal Jim Prendergast came up with a solution flexible enough to handle future changes, without requiring additional construction. The thesis: Most spaces do double duty. "The firm is growing. So the interior's base structure has to be adaptable," says Prendergast. "Multifunctioning allows for that."
Common work rooms are scaled to transform into offices for paralegals, when needed. A plasma-screen TV in the employee café allows it to host presentations. Even "case rooms"— used to store sensitive documents for cases in progress—have been eliminated, replaced by moving stacks like those in libraries. The stacks push together and lock when not needed, spread apart to create a work area when they are.
Most important, an office for an associate easily becomes one for a partner, thanks to Perkins & Will's innovative solution. As willing as the Sonnenschein attorneys were to look toward the future, the new-partner office upgrade was a milestone most weren't willing to forgo, and Prendergast realized that offices had to reflect a promotion's prerogatives. So instead of recently anointed partners switching to another location, their current office is reappointed with more luxurious furniture and fittings—cherrywood file cabinets rather than black metal, for example—to mark the occasion.
All 26 offices are a relatively modest 200 square feet, due to a limitation of the Sears Tower floor plate: a cross made up of five identical squares, with a column grid on a 15-foot line instead of the more usual 30. The happy result is that each office gets its own 15-foot-wide window.
Natural light gets diffused to internal work areas via the office partitions, Piet Mondrian– like compositions of wood panels, clerestory windows, and vertical frosted-glass panels alongside each door. And the offices' compact size leaves more space for support staff. For partner Michael Froy, whose unofficial title is Mayor of the 83rd Floor, that means a much happier constituency.