The Community Space Movement is Here

Every day IA helps clients to become a part of new communities in the most literal sense. Our clients put incredible amounts of thought and effort into making sure that their next location (or current location) is tailored to their specific business goals and the needs of their employees. As collaborators, one of our most important duties is to make sure that as many parties as possible benefit from this process. 

Announcing a business presence to the local community is an art in and of itself that public relations experts, marketers, and human resources departments have been perfecting for decades. But advancing that relationship to the point of sharing physical spaces seems an altogether newer trend and requires new considerations beyond what the typical design process might explore. Depending on the industry, business drivers, or the culture of the businesses we work with, welcoming the community into the spaces we design can take many forms and can have a significant impact on how the space is built.

Starting Small: Harness the Local Aesthetic

Creating additional space for non-employee users is not always possible or practical. But making sure that the local aesthetic is incorporated into a space, however, is generally much more within reach and is practically required of most retail or hospitality spaces. We spoke to this theme somewhat in a blog post entitled Office Customization and Multinational Branding: Competing Forces. The reasons for designing to the local aesthetic are many, but here are the highlights:

  1. 1
    Making your space feel like home can help inspire employee ownership.
  2. 2
    It’s nearly impossible to incorporate the local look and feel authentically without making some local partners. This can serve as a wonderful tool for creating positive business relationships in the local community and investing in the local economy.
  3. 3
    Creating local office autonomy (and a feeling of friendly inter-office competition) may be a healthy part of your organization’s culture. Designing to the local aesthetic can support such efforts.
Rapid7 Headquarters

In the process of moving into their new Boston headquarters, the team at Rapid7 partnered with local non-profits and historical organizations to find historically-accurate images and locally-crafted art that helped them embrace the neighborhood and, as one employee put it, “make it feel like home.” Photography © Robert Benson.

We’ve found that there are three important concepts to keep in mind when designing the neighborhood into your space:

1. Involve the End Users

“Collaboration with end users on connection to local culture always leads to a more meaningful design solution. At Rapid7’s Boston Headquarters, it was critical that the engineers Friday cocktail tradition carry on and flourish in the new space. After working with a group of end users, the end result was an activated speakeasy inspired by local venues that makes everyone feel at home. Cross pollination is achieved.” - Sara Brophy, Design Director

2. Be Authentic

“Making sure you do your research and authentically reflect the local culture on a micro level is critical because it personifies the area in which the concept was created. It can make the difference between a disengaged aesthetic and a truly custom experience.”- Lacey Johnson, Project Manager

3. Be Inclusive

"It's important to be mindful of the end goal. When you're creating a space that reflects the community, it's a disservice to everyone when you make even a small subset of people feel unwelcome. You have to speak to aesthetics or messages that the whole community supports...that lift everyone up." - Julia Dane, Designer

Invite the Community In

As anyone who has been a part of a grand opening ceremony can tell you, your physical location can be invaluable in creating a buzz for your organization at a local or regional level. But some organizations take this one step further. “At Austin’s Eastside Tech Hub, for example” begins Design Director Manuel Navarro, “the H-E-B/Favor team has hosted over 40 community events in the short time that it’s been open. The goal there is to support initiatives their employees care about and connect with the city.”


H-E-B/Favor knew that they wanted to regularly host large numbers of people, so this informal meeting space was designed to be incredibly flexible. The stadium seating, high ceilings, and stage allow it to double as an event space for all-hands meetings or community events. Photography © Peter Molick.

General Mills seems to have taken a similar approach, regularly hosting community-engaging events from their Minneapolis headquarters and taking opportunities to interact with local students, reinforcing their commitment to the local culture and generating future prospects. Long time IA client-partner Bacardi regularly builds in flexible event spaces that can adapt to a variety of functions, and help to welcome the community and press for promotional opportunities. Such a space was particularly necessary for Bacardi’s U.S. headquarters in Miami. Says IA Project Manager Adam Treiser, "The event area is a multi-functional space for Bacardi. We have color changing lights that wow people right off the elevator and can change to match the color of any number of Bacardi’s many brands. The warm color palette is inviting, and the room's flexibility allows the Bacardi team to create a number of different intimate areas depending on the occasion."

Movable partitions and color-changing lights allow Bacardi to customize event branding as each opportunity arises in their Miami offices. Photography © Robin Hill.

Dedicated Community Space

The most recent development in this trend towards workplace and community cohabitation is perfectly personified by Google’s “Grow With Google NYC Learning Center.” A comparatively small part of their sprawling Chelsea campus, this space (located in the New York City Port Authority building) has been converted into a dedicated community digital learning center. Classes are regularly held on topics like web development, job searching, educator-focused themes such as using digital tools in the classroom, and more.

Such efforts create opportunities for Google to cultivate stronger ties with the local community and may open new tributaries to critical recruitment pools.

A similar STEM-based program that took root in a tech company campus has now spread across the United States and has impacted the lives of over 65,000 students.

The QualcommThinkabit Lab originated out of the company’s San Diego headquarters, but has since evolved. Now, there are dedicated locations, such as their Virginia Tech facility, devoted entirely to STEM education. 

The community space movement has partnered businesses with communities all over the world, but San Francisco, where several IA Interior Architects partner- clients, including Okta and Twitter, have dedicated physical space to local non-profits or other neighborhood initiatives, seems to be a current hotspot thanks to recent tax incentives and community involvement. Twitter, for example, has created the Twitter Neighborhood Nest, a facility that provides support to local families in need, teaches valuable tech skills, and provides childcare and other services in partnership with local non-profit Compass.

Spaces like these are providing organizations with opportunities to generate goodwill within the community. In many cases, these efforts are being led by volunteers from within the host organization. Companies such as Health Care Services Corporation are reporting that regular employer-sponsored volunteerism can lead to employee retention boosts of up to 50 percent in addition to improved employee performance scores.

Twitter’s IA-designed San Francisco offices are one block away from the Twitter Neighborhood Nest space. Photography © Chad Ziemendorf.

A Word on Spaces for Super Fans

Photography © Eric Laignel.

IA clients recognize the need to honor their biggest fans, and it's not surprising that this has led to the design of some unique, brand-forward spaces. McCormick and Co., for example, has incorporated a small retail location into their Maryland headquarters where they give fans the opportunity to engage with their products, apparel, and brand. Similarly, McDonald’s chose to operate a fast-food location out of its Chicago headquarters. Both enterprises feature museum spaces for the ultimate super fans in their respective headquarters. When you create highly desirable consumer products like Maryland’s beloved Old Bay or the Big Mac, creating brand shrines like these can be imperative, and tie into product marketing initiatives.

Photography © Garrett Rowland.

Specific Skills Set the Scene

Experiential Graphic Design Studio Director Amanda Westenberg has used experiential graphic design (EGD) to bring the community into spaces on countless occasions. “Experiential graphic design connects people to place. My favorite projects are spaces designed to reflect the personalities of their users, highlighting local culture or celebrating the community’s vision and values. Visitors should feel like they’ve stepped into a physical expression of the company’s brand and that they are part of that story.” 

There is no end in sight for the community space movement, especially as it is proving to be mutually beneficial for both organizations and communities. Centered on strong partnerships, authenticity, and transparency, IA Interior Architects is excited to be a part of the next iteration of this trend that ultimately aims to generate a sense of individual purpose and cultural impact that makes companies and spaces more engaging, inclusive, and human-centric. 

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