A sleek office brightened by bespoke art

Natural light, art and outdoor space are striking elements of this new WeWork space in Chicago

Every WeWork space is intentionally designed to promote inspiration and collaboration. Designed to Inspire delves into the architectural and artistic elements of these spectacular buildings.

Chicago’s new WeWork 448 North LaSalle St, housed across four floors in a newly constructed boutique office building designed in sleek 1960s modernism style, is as unique to the city as deep-dish pizza and Millennial Park. 

The 13-story Class A building is located in the heart of River North, a neighbourhood awash in cultural history. It was a stronghold for Sicilian immigrants at the turn of the 20th century and a hot spot during the Prohibition era. The area even played a key role in the 1970s punk scene. Today, River North has more of a financial district vibe, balanced with dozens of art galleries located mostly between LaSalle and N Orleans Street. 

‘Chicago is rooted in modernist design,’ says Alexander Leonard, senior design lead at WeWork, who was part of the team that designed WeWork 448 North LaSalle St. ‘There are many architectural landmarks in the city that are artistically ambitious and convey a sense of luxury,’ he says. 

Near 448 North LaSalle St., there are two architectural landmarks: a notable Mies Van der Rohe building at 330 N Wabash Avenue (home to another WeWork location), and Marina City, the mixed-use complex designed by architect Bertrand Goldberg, also known as ‘The Corn Cob’, on State Street. Leonard also notes the Kohler headquarters, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Prairie-style Rookery, and the Classical-revivalist Chicago Cultural Center as points of reference for the project. 

Designing for the new normal

In a hybrid world, Leonard says, people are looking for a workspace that encourages both in-person connectivity and solo deep focus and productivity. To satisfy those desires, the space fosters in-person collaboration through a mixed-use design approach that centres ‘active’ and ‘focus’ areas. ‘Active’ areas promote idea sharing and collaboration, including brainstorming and educating. ‘Focus’ areas have sit/stand desks for heads-down, distraction-free work. Strategically placed seating in lounges alongside coffee tables and small bistro-style tables clearly indicate social areas for gathering and for hanging out. 

The architectural structure of the building allows for widespread access to natural light.

Alexander Leonard, senior design lead at WeWork

For those who need privacy, the traditional phone booth was given an upgrade, both in size and structure. A new phone room amenity, which was piloted in this location, offers more space to take calls, a full-size desk and office chair, and acoustic wall panels for added privacy. Members can also host formal or informal meetings in a sleek, bookable boardroom that’s directly adjacent to the main lounge.  

For private office members who crave fresh air without leaving the building, the building has a shared rooftop with lots of amenities: a fitness centre, a gas-powered fire pit with built-in seating, a dog run and an outdoor lounge turned cinema space. 

Sleek, vibrant modernism

The interior design of WeWork 448 North LaSalle St is marked by the clean lines and linearity of wood, concrete and metal. ‘We wanted to make the classic hard lines of these materials resonate a warm and inviting tone by bringing out their inherent richness,’ Leonard says. Existing concrete floors in transition spaces, like main lounges and lift lobbies, received a polishing treatment to give them an elevated look. Textiles were used to create subtle patterns and textures that give both tactile and visual depth. The black-stained wood pantry off the main lounge offers a different sensory experience than similar pantries finished with white oak on other floors. 

‘We wanted the furniture and the millwork to have a calming palette, so we opted for umber and linen upholstery to soften sections of the wooden banquettes for seating,’ Leonard says. Navy seat cushions and other jewel tones were added to bring in some of the bold colours from a large custom mural in the space. The furniture and millwork were also strategically designed to draw the eye to the windows, making the unobstructed, expansive city views a focal point. 

The art programme was designed to be an immersive amenity at 448 North LaSalle St for both WeWork members and the local community. WeWork commissioned well-known Chicago artist Kate Lynn Lewis to create a colourful mural that pays homage to Chicago’s iconic Art Deco architecture, its ‘Windy City’ nickname, and the famed Lincoln Park Conservatory. It can be seen right next to the community desk upon entering the WeWork space.

WeWork also partnered with Artlifting, an art consultancy company that sources works from artists impacted by homelessness or disabilities. These art pieces can be found in conference rooms at WeWork 448 North LaSalle St: ‘Green II’, an abstract painting by Brian Rush that largely employs the colour green, ‘Sacred Geometry Turquoise’, by Alicia Sterling Beach, which is reminiscent of Hilma af Klint’s geometric symbolism, and ‘Wildflowers’, by Shannon R, a psychedelic vision of bright colours.

‘The architectural structure of the building allows for widespread access to natural light,’ Leonard says. It’s built with post-tensioned slabs – in other words, the floor plates contain tensile steel members that are anchored to all edges, almost as if there were a suspension cable bridge inside each floor, resulting in the need for fewer columns at the window. ‘More people get more light. It’s as simple as that,’ he says.

WeWork 448 North LaSalle St was designed bearing in mind not only the vibe of Chicago and the mood of the River North neighbourhood but also the needs and comforts of modern companies and their employees. Every carefully considered detail results in a workspace environment that inspires productivity, creativity and success. 

Angelica Frey is a writer and translator who covers the arts, fashion and food. Originally from Milan, she currently lives in Brooklyn.

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