When envisioning the design of their Chicago operations center, C.H. Robinson placed a high priority on building enough space to house a growing employee population well into the future. As the project took shape, the shipping logistics firm’s goals for the project expanded to include a focus on employee well-being, productivity and professional development, an attention to architectural and design detail, and most importantly, a space connected to their brand and culture. Vocon created a dynamic and high-performance workspace that reflects in C.H. Robinson’s personality from the lobby to the rooftop, collaborating with Skidmore, Owings and Merrill as the base building architect.
Located in Chicago’s Lincoln Yards development by Sterling Bay, C.H Robinson’s new flagship operation center on Webster Avenue is a four-story, 207,000 square foot office building that is nearly twice the size of their previous workplace. The new space is situated along the Chicago River and offers views of downtown Chicago and is right on the water. It is located on a public transportation hub and the surrounding area offers bike trails, pedestrian paths with bike and vehicle parking options onsite.
The exterior is almost entirely glass with sleek architectural lines, with a minimalist and modern approach to design, extending to the interior design choices. The headquarters is designed around an open central atrium that spans the four stories of the building, with a dramatic glass skylight roof overhead. Open staircases anchor the atrium, promoting movement and creating a hub of activity and a sense of community.
Vocon put employees at the center of the planning strategy for the new work environment, supporting the broad variety of tasks they conduct daily. The first floor is home to the firm’s large meeting, learning and gathering spaces. Upper floors efficiently accommodate more than 1,800 employees, intermixed mixed with areas to focus and collaborate, grab food and beverages, or drop into a wellness/serenity room for quiet reflection.
The first floor features a lobby area with ample seating, all minimalist but comfortable furniture in blues and purple shades that reflect C.H Robinson’s blue branding colors. There is also a large cafe area with a variety of seating options directly off of the atrium, which helps the space retain an open feel. The cafe incorporates booths that evoke the feeling of train cars or shipping containers, and features sleek stainless steel appliances. There is also a conference suite designed for utility, used for training sessions to board meetings.
Key design choices that reflect the company’s roots with dark wood, exposed ductwork and metal accents in a nod to the various modes of transportation the company relies on daily, such as trains and air transport. Vocon also incorporated several personal interior design touches, such as a wall of miniature trucks with client’s names in the cafe space.
The open atrium also offers several seating options, such as several white and natural wood modern benches. The building’s focal staircase also serves as a gathering space and seating. The network theme is reinforced by a large illustration of Chicago’s transport maps with blue accents behind the four-story staircase.
The three stories of office space are all designed in an open office layout that works well for C.H. Robinson’s customer service employees, who spend significant time on the phone with customers. There are also small breakout spaces for group meetings and one on one mentoring sessions, all with floor to ceiling glass walls to highlight the company’s commitment to transparency throughout the space. The design choices of exposed ductwork and muted colors continues here. Employees also have access to lounge and pantry amenities on each floor.
The open corridors utilize glass to maximize the light, airflow and the views. The hallways feature art graphics and murals to add character to the spaces, and adds to the flow of people constantly coming and going between spaces and floors.
One of the most unique aspects of the space is the 5,000 square foot rooftop, which has sweeping views of the river and of downtown Chicago. There is significant seating and green space, making it work just as well for employees taking a break as it does for as an entertainment space for company and client events.