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By Marge D. Hansen

When Larry Perkins founded Perkins+Will, he articulated a philosophy based on creating designs that “honor the broader goals of society.” Little did he know that 70 years later, this basic principle would align so perfectly with the objectives that drive Haworth Inc., a global leader in office furniture and architectural interiors. His namesake firm employed this philosophy when designing the Haworth Chicago Showroom, its new exhibit space. It was this conscious commitment to Haworth’s business principles and the deft execution of flexible, sustainable qualities that won Perkins+Will | Eva Maddox Branded Environments the prestigious Best of Competition award in IIDA’s 2005 Interior Design Competition.


Flexibility is a non-negotiable characteristic in today’s design climate, especially in work spaces. Staying true to this standard is imperative when designing for a leader in the work space field. Perkins+Will | Eva Maddox Branded Environments’ multi-layered approach to designing the award-winning showroom accomplishes flexibility not just for trend’s sake, but also to honor Haworth’s position as an expert in the office environment.

The overarching intention of the space is rooted in adaptable, holistic design. Entering a plaza-like expanse, visitors cross into the showroom almost without really realizing it. “It’s open and feels very free in terms of movement,” says Eileen Jones, LEED AP, Principal, Perkins+Will | Eva Maddox Branded Environments.

There are no barriers, no typical set of glass doors or predictably fashioned entry. In fact, the 29,000-square-foot space isn’t predictable in any way. A reflecting pool, built into the raised flooring system, commands immediate attention. “People thought it was crazy, particularly our using the raised floor and creating the pool,” says Kurt Vander Schuur, Brand Manager at Haworth and head of the showroom design team. “But Eva (Maddox) and Eileen were incredible in helping us push the limits of our product applications.”

The surrounding space is arranged in what appear to be floating pavilions cantilevered over the water. Full-height, moveable walls fit with fixed walls to form integrated workspaces. “Overall the space is light, bright and soothing,” Jones says. “At the same time, interest and excitement are added area by area. Whether it’s discovering the water or the workspaces, people begin to understand how they can work with products to successfully create these environments.”

Modular sections of Indiana Limestone provide a handsome design element. Set in the stone, a sleek, stainless band chronicles Haworth’s headquarters, manufacturing facilities and showrooms worldwide. Also embedded in the floor, screens are used to convey information. One series of message boxes talks about user control and comfort; another addresses sustainability.

“Digging down one more layer, ‘work’ and ‘restore’ are the two concepts pursued in the showroom,” Jones says. “Work explores adaptable workspace and designed performance. It is organized by work styles that express the needs of workers: privacy and views, control over the workspace (light, quality of air, amount of air) and the ability to effectively work with tools around them. It all goes toward creating a user-centric environment.”

“Touchdown Offices” allow for concentrative work, while “Casual” areas support workers who feel more comfortable in a less-than-traditional setting. Modular private offices combine glass and wood-paneled walls to allow for privacy while sustaining an open feel and visibility. Workstations mimic high-performance cockpits.

Restore spaces serve the need to escape from job pressures such as information overload and being on call 24/7. It’s a 10-minute refresh area or a spot for private, one-on-one conversations in a restorative space that balances the workspace. Nature is represented via the reflecting pool and greenery.


In addition to earning its Best of Competition designation, the Haworth Chicago Showroom also earned gold-level certification in the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design for Commercial Interiors (LEED-CI) pilot program. “Sustainability deals with preserving an integrated approach. Recycled content is important, but it’s the tip of the iceberg,” Jones says.

For example, the showroom lighting system uses 60 percent less power than the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America (IESNA) standard. Under-floor air distribution cuts energy costs by 20 to 30 percent. Cork, wheatboard and sisal were used extensively, exceeding the LEED-CI requirement for rapidly-renewable materials by five times. Ultra-violet light purifies the reflecting pool water.

In an impressive feat of engineering, the raised floor houses the low-energy, higher-air-quality system, which can be individually controlled at each work area. It also allows for distribution of data and voice technologies. “Glow Walls” bring brightness to areas that lack natural light. They also house HVAC duct transfers.


Flexibility and sustainability have held such importance in the past decade of design that their consideration has essentially become standard. What isn’t standard is the ability of a design to be flexible, sustainable and aligned with its inhabitants’ business goals. Haworth recently adopted a brand strategy that focuses on the three key ways they interact with their customers: Adaptable Workspace, Designed Performance and Global Perspective. “Adaptable Workspace doesn’t deal with just furniture,” Jones says. “Haworth creates fluid spaces—complete solutions from floors to desks to walls and more, with the ability to easily reconfigure and re-task the components.”

Designed Performance pairs aesthetics with functionality, and Global Perspective solves problems in the best way possible in any location that a company does business. This brand strategy comes to life in the design of the Haworth Chicago Showroom. That designed message, plus its innovative commitment to sustainability and flexibility, sets this space apart from its peers. “It ups the bar when a manufacturer takes showroom design seriously enough to invest in unusual features and make it exciting for visitors,” says Lauren Rottet, IIDA, FAIA, a competition judge and Principal of DMJM/Rottet in Los Angeles. “The quality of the space when you are in it creates a memorable experience—you remember Haworth.”

Jones agrees Haworth’s vision for change was realized in this environment. “It was exciting to help them create the three-dimensional reality of their vision.”