New Haven, Conn. (PRWEB) June 28, 2012
How do buildings and workplaces reflect the companies for which they are designed?
That’s a question answered easily by Higher One, the New Haven-based technology and payment-services company that recently moved into its new and widely praised workplace adapted from a 1915 munitions factory building.
According to the architecture, art and advisory firm Svigals+Partners, the architect of the corporate workplace project, the 150,000-square-foot adaptive reuse of the historic and long-abandoned Winchester Arms Factory located in Science Park in New Haven, Connecticut, perfectly mirrors the philosophy of the tech-savvy company founded in 2000 by three Yale University students. The new workplace reflects several Higher One beliefs, including its super-flexible work schedule, promoting healthy lifestyle choices, and elevating individual achievement for company-wide success.
“Higher One is a fast-paced and dynamic organization, and although the company has grown significantly since it opened its doors, the founders and staff still maintain an entrepreneurial spirit,” says Shoba V. Lemoine, media relations officer for Higher One. “We offer a fun environment that is a bit unconventional at times but always dedicated to continued growth.”
For Svigals + Partners, which has experience in innovative workplaces for companies like PepsiCo and institutions like the Yale School of Medicine – and deep experience in adapting old buildings for new uses – this was the ideal assignment, too.
“Our collaborative work approach and our interest in creating healthy workplaces that boost individual recognition and creativity with compelling visual imagery dovetailed perfectly with Higher One’s uniquely creative outlook and emphasis on teamwork,” says Jay Brotman, AIA, partner-in-charge for Svigals+Partners.
At Higher One, says Lemoine, team members work on creative and exciting projects in an open, sunlit environment, allowing for an inspired and free exchange of ideas. “Executives don’t sit in offices and there is not a cubicle in sight. Innovation, interaction and communication are all encouraged,” says Lemoine. “In fact, open communication and teamwork are two of the company’s core values.”
Higher One: Elevating the individual
The focus on workplace continues to pay off for Higher One. Recognized as a Great Place to Work® by Entrepreneur Magazine – it was listed as No. 12 in the United States – and as one of Connecticut’s “Top Workplaces” Higher One saw its new headquarters in New Haven as an opportunity for even better performance.
The challenge for Svigals + Partners was to create work zones and collaboration spaces that reflect the company’s belief that every employee is critical to their success. The innovative services offered by Higher One depend on the company’s core values: focus, open communication, teamwork, creative thinking, stellar service and integrity, says the company – an outlook that helped earn Higher One the title “Corporate Citizen of the Year” from a regional business magazine.
“Our design concept started with the open-plan work areas rather than enclosed spaces. We created central nodes on each floor by clustering larger conference rooms in the central core so that staff from various departments would run into each other, rather than segregated conference rooms within individual departments,” says the architect Brotman. “Staff lounges with adjacent copy-work rooms were also located on each floor of the central in-fill building near the conference rooms, creating heavily travelled go-to spots that benefit from their adjacency to the open staircases.”
Creative focus – and no office hours
Higher One is best known for helping college business offices manage operations and providing enhanced service to some six million students at institutions of higher education. This collegiate service is reflected in a sculptural focus piece designed by Barry Svigals, for the main lobby: an abstract interpretation of the tapered college pennants that Higher One had collected from the various colleges and universities that they serve. With colorful translucent resins and lighting, the artistic gesture is a sophisticated emblem of the company’s mission.
Svigals + Partners also had the opportunity to support Higher One’s unusual work approach, called “Living Focus.” The upshot: There are no set office hours for most roles—employees work when and where they are most effective.
“That’s right, no set office hours,” Lemoine confirms. “If you prefer working on a Saturday morning or at 1am on Tuesday – and if you’re able to meet your individual and departmental goals and customer expectations – then you can choose the hours that work best for your work style and lifestyle. It’s all about the results.”
For Svigals + Partners, this meant creating an efficient, inspiring workplace that would have the adaptability and security for 24-hour operations. It had to reflect the company’s interest in collaboration and community, not in schedules and time clocks.
While employers around the country have created programs that address work/life balance, Higher One’s program is different: It’s called Living Focus because it’s about “focusing on what matters, and about empowering employees to decide the best way to get the job done,” Lemoine explains. The company’s founders believe that the employees should focus on what matters most to customers: creating value, managing risk and living the Higher One culture.
Unlike the typical corporate culture, at Higher One employees never talk about being “late for work” or “working late,” and they are not fixated on a nine-to-five work day. “We don’t think about our work in term of ‘time,’” says Lemoine. “And this strategy succeeds. The company and its employees are thriving off this new philosophy.”
Another important workplace value was reinforcing healthy lifestyle choices, says Svigals + Partners’ Brotman.
With a new state-of-the-art cafeteria on the top floor and an landscaped roof deck patio that overlooks the city, every employeecan enjoy the best view in the house. There is a free, healthy lunch provided, with many local and organic options included. A Fitness center and “OneFit” program as well as many other healthful programs encourage a healthy lifestyle.
“The firm’s management is dedicated to helping employees make healthier choices, even while at work,” says Miles Lasater, chief operating officer and cofounder of Higher One. “We encourage our staff to bike to work, allow for the time to integrate exercise into their life, and provide access to healthy food choices.”
With that in mind, Svigals + Partners worked with Higher One executives and staff focus groups to envision not only the right amenities that would serve this mission but also the right visibility and spatial sequences to keep them easily accessible – and top of mind.
The new headquarters offers a bike storage room, a fitness center with locker rooms, a complimentary coffee bistro in the main lobby and on-site healthy cooking facilities. The cafeteria serves the adjacent conference center, which was specifically chosen to be located on the top floor with the best views over the city in order to afford all staff this inspiring amenity, rather than reserving this choice location only for executive offices.
Historic factory helps revive city
Even the building’s location and its adaptive reuse reinforce Higher One’s message about health, community and collaboration.
Part of the former Winchester Arms factory in New Haven, Connecticut, this adaptive reuse reinvents two buildings dating to 1915. The original four- and six-story buildings still retain their unmistakable historic factory building character, even as they have been transformed into a modern, corporate workplace. The strategic addition of a new, four-story glass atrium building connects the two existing structures to form a dynamic new entry and circulation core, creating the heart of this new development.
According to Brotman, it was this infill addition that transformed the way that the two buildings could function together, creating a modern infrastructure that could support a fast-growing company like Higher One. In this infill atrium building, staff from all departments can meet, and collaborate to advance the company’s mission. It was this novel approach to planning for the complex of abandoned buildings that attracted the attention of Higher One leaders and convinced them that they could create a modern headquarters at Science Park and continue to grow the company in New Haven where they were founded it.
“We worked with Higher One’s leaders at their previous location, so we knew what features and level of quality they would appreciate in their new headquarters,” says Chris Bockstael, project manager for Svigals+Partners.
“Keeping up with the brisk pace of work was our biggest focus,” adds Bockstael.
Higher One is the first tenant in the Science Park development known as Tract A, which will in time develop into a larger mixed-use community of offices, apartments, and retail spaces Svigals+Partners, known for its innovative approach to client mission and a deep expertise in challenging building projects, designed this historical renovation for Winstanley Enterprises, Forest City Enterprises and in cooperation with the Science Park Development Corporation.
Regional business and government leaders have been vocal proponents of development at Science Park, which connects New Haven with the Newhallville and Dixwell neighborhoods and continues the renaissance of a previously depressed area. The building’s turn from a factory to a high-tech services headquarters mirrors changes in the New Haven economy – and a path forward making the most of New Haven’s historic and high-tech assets.
For more information, interviews and images, please contact Chris Sullivan at (914) 462-2096 or chris(at)ccsullivan(dot)com.
About Svigals + Partners
Based in New Haven, Connecticut, and founded by Barry Svigals, FAIA, the full-service architecture, art and master planning firm Svigals + Partners has specialized in the design and construction of multiple building types since its inception in 1983. Known for its original and imaginative integration of art, planning, and design to service a broad range of client goals, the firm is committed to recognizing the embedded value of what exists to create meaningful change in the world. Svigals + Partners offers a complete range of architectural services from master planning, site selection and feasibility studies through design and construction. The firm’s expertise lies in the design of major laboratory projects, corporate office design and renovation, multiple project types for private and state universities as well as K-8 schools. For more information visit http://www.svigals.com and http://www.architectureplusart.com.