By Meghan Hall
Workplace design has changed rapidly within the last decade as companies seek to eliminate the hierarchical nature of the traditional office by removing cubicles and private suites. The change has swept through most industries, from technology to marketing to design. The corporate law space, however, has lagged behind. Constrained by the necessity of maintaining lawyer-client confidentiality and the sensitive nature their work, the open, airy offices typical of the Bay Area’s trendiest workplaces has largely left law firm office space stuck in a time long past. A collaboration between global design firm HOK and New York-based international law firm White & Case, LLP, is seeking to change the status quo with a newly designed 40,000 square foot space at 3000 El Camino Real in Palo Alto, Calif.
“With law firms, they are very traditional in their design in the sense that everyone gets an office,” explained Daniel Herriott, a senior principal at HOK and the project’s design director. “It’s a different vibe, and I completely understand why. But to be able to give a gift of somewhere different where people can work out in the open is something that is very, very different for these guys.”
HOK had worked with White & Case numerous times prior to pairing up for the company’s Palo Alto office. The firms worked together on White & Cases’ spaces in New York and Los Angeles, although, according to Herriott, each space has a completely different feel based on the region and the clientele. Herriott described the New York office as “buttoned-up” to fit in with its financial and corporate clients, while the Los Angeles space Herriott categorized as bourgeois and exploratory.
For the White & Case Palo Alto office, however, HOK sought to emulate the trends set in motion by the Bay Area’s biggest tech companies.
“We brought in space standards and an overall design [sense], where the design strategy was to break down a lot of the hierarchy and make the experience more egalitarian,” said Herriott.
While private offices were still a necessity, HOK worked with White & Case with a layout that would work to promote collaboration and movement throughout the space. HOK designed White & Case’s lobby to be multi-functional. Slide-away glass walls allow employees to create a training facility or an event space to host lectures and seminars.
There are no corner offices in the space; each corner on all three floors of the building is an open space geared toward different types of collaboration and interaction. Some of the spaces are more traditional with large tables and chairs. Others, such as the office fitness center, has cork floors and Peloton bikes, while a respite room is donned with a shag carpet and a massage chair located in a different part of the building.
“We came up with a menu of different options to make those spaces for everybody, which ranged from open collaboration to stand-up meeting areas,” said Herriott.
HOK kept the materials palette of the space simple and casual as another nod to White & Case’s tech-oriented client base in the Silicon Valley. The bones of the space are fairly simple and neutral, with slab floors and exposed ceilings. Reclaimed wood and raw steel can be found throughout the space. The design team also took an existing staircase and stripped it down to its bones in order to serve as a feature in the space.
“It’s that contrast where you can introduce sophisticated furniture and finishes but emphasize the rawness of the architecture and services,” said Herriott. “There’s an openness and an honesty and an informality. It has a sophisticated tech company look.”
The office’s location at the entrance to the Stanford Research Park was not just meant to bring the law firm closer to its clients through location but also through design. HOK drew on regionalisms and the casual feel of the San Francisco Bay Area corporate office space while in the conceptualization phases of the design process. The goal, said Herriott, was to achieve a look that while polished, was less formal.
“For them, this breaks down the preconception of a traditional law firm,” said Herriott. “We made them fresh and current and truly in alignment with the client base and the region that they’re in.”
HOK has likely set a new standard for law office design, but with other corporate offices forging ahead with new and unique spaces, and law firms just catching up to Bay Area design standards, creating a versatile space for White & Case was key.
“We’ve set them up with the best bid to succeed and left a high degree of neutrality with moments of finesse, which are easily interchangeable,” said Herriott of the space’s longevity. “From a more strategic side, there is an allowance within the design for growth and reduction in the future.”
Modularized offices and demountable petitions allow for moveable walls, lightweight furniture and a neutral color palette lend themselves to easy design changes in the future. And, according to Herriott, the streamlined design enabled the team to save both money and time. The use of previous designs and methodology from other projects expedited the entire process, and buildout took about 11 months.
“We were able to very quickly come up with priced options to help White & Case make fast and informed decisions,” Herriott explained.
Overall, he added, both White & Case and their clients were happy and excited about the space.
“I think the patina of it and the atmosphere hit the nail on the head,” said Herriott. “It was one of my favorite projects of my career.”