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Under Armour HQ (Courtesy of Gensler)

Companies Are Designing Headquarters Campuses That Serve as Brand Billboards

In today’s world, where office owners and tenants are under more pressure than ever to make office spaces a place workers actually want to be, a number of large companies are reconfiguring and rethinking corporate headquarters to better align design and features with the company’s identity and branding. While this has historically already been the case for many headquarters properties, the shifts in working habits and what younger talent looks for in a potential employer have supercharged efforts by companies looking to stand out from the rest. 

A lot of suburban corporate headquarters campuses have had some hallmark features: large, monolithic structures in a secluded location set away, but typically not too far from, city centers. They tended to have multiple buildings and plenty of parking spaces. Streets within the campuses were often named after the company. Given the large footprint of the sites, wayfinding played an important role in helping office workers and visitors navigate the campus. There may have been corporate cafeterias, fitness centers, and even daycare centers. But generally, they looked like what most people think of when they hear the word “corporate.” As we have seen over the last several years, the future corporate headquarters will look much different. Many companies are using their HQ buildings to promote and solidify their brand and identity, try out new concepts and technologies, and, more recently, bring workers back to the office more days a week. 

Today, suburban corporate HQs are looking more dynamic on the inside and outside, given how offices now need to support hybrid and flexible work schedules and offer a variety of workspace options to meet workers’ needs. That means plenty of collaborative space, outdoor green space and lounge areas, food and beverage options, and a variety of health and wellness offerings. In addition to a more high-tech, welcoming environment designed to support workers’ needs and incentivize more office attendance through amenities, headquarter offices play a crucial role as a branch of companies’ marketing campaigns. They need to connect to the company’s overall identity by serving as a billboard for the brand. Millennials and Gen Z make up nearly half of the full-time workforce in the U.S. More than any before them, members of these younger generations care deeply about a company’s reputation and efforts in areas like the environment and social justice when deciding whether to work there or not.

A good example of a company considering all these factors in developing its new headquarters is sportswear maker Under Armour; the company recently kicked off construction of its new headquarters in South Baltimore. The five-story main building, which resembles a stadium, spans 280,000 square feet and will feature the Under Armour name on the building’s north entrance, complete with a customizable lighting display. The 50-acre spread will have a basketball court, a track-and-field facility, and a full-size multi-use playing field on its property that the company will use to test out products in development and measure athletes’ performance. Nearby schools and community members will also be welcome to use the outdoor athletic fields. In a big nod to the products it makes, Under Armour’s HQ will also have a performance center for employees and visiting athletes to use. “We want this building to pop,” said Gensler Baltimore Principal and Co-Managing Director Vaki Mawema. “We want it to be a really impressive thing to look at but also an amazing thing that you want to go and discover…We want it to be iconic and memorable.” 

Sustainability will be a major focus of the forthcoming development. The HQ will be made almost entirely of mass timber, will be partly powered by geothermal and solar energies, and will feature a rainwater recapture system. The development is slated to house 1,500 corporate employees and is planned to be a net-zero operation. Company leaders said the building will be one of the most sustainable in the entire region and is being designed to achieve LEED-Platinum certification. In developing the design, the firm also looked to mirror the qualities of its athletic gear within the structural sturdiness of mass timber. “With its rawness and simplicity, mass timber evokes the grit of Under Armour,” said Gensler of the project. 

Leaders at the company said the new office design reflected its commitment to sustainability and will also serve as a marketing tool. “It is bold and creates the impact that we know a company needs to promote its brand,” said Gensler’s Mawema when presenting design plans for the new facility to Baltimore officials last May. The campus, which is expected to be fully occupied by 2025, was also designed to align with a sustainability commitment the company previously made in the spring of 2021 (which entailed its new global headquarters being powered 80 percent through renewable energy by 2025, and a 30 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030). The company also laid out plans to use 100 percent recyclable materials in its clothing, using less water while doing so and using more recycled materials in the company’s manufacturing methods. Along with top-of-the-line sports facilities, Under Armour’s HQ will house a flagship retail store open to the public and pedestrian pathways winding through the campus and along the waterfront site. 

Leaning into industry themes was also on the mind of hotel giant Marriott. The brand recently debuted its massive new global headquarters in Bethesda, Maryland, which spans 785,000 square feet over 21 floors. The campus also includes a brand-new Marriott hotel next door with 13 “model” hotel rooms where Marriott will test out new concepts, design elements, amenities, and programming. Marriott’s new headquarters was a long time coming for the company. After six years of planning and developing its new office of the future in Bethesda, the town the company has called home since 1955, Marriott executives unveiled its new corporate HQ this past fall. While planning began years before the pandemic changed how office space is used, leaders at the company knew it was time to reimagine their corporate hub. “It was, quite candidly, a building at the end of its life,” said Marriott International President Stephanie Linnartz. “It just wasn’t the environment for the future.” 

In the new headquarters, company leaders looked to reflect elements of the more than 8,000 Marriott hotels worldwide. The lobby in the new corporate HQ is similar to a hotel lobby, with a cafe open to the public and a three-story atrium in the center of the building. The atrium looks up to an employee food hall and a whole floor set aside for health, wellness, and childcare. Marriott’s HQ also promotes the brand and connects with the outside community through an outdoor public plaza between the headquarters and the connected hotel next door. Within the building, a 20-foot-tall video wall that wraps around the elevator bay is visible from the outside of the building and displays high-resolution views of places and environments across the globe. 

The company has adopted a hybrid work model and designed the new space to accommodate it. Offices make up the core interior of the building, and all associate workstations will have views outside through floor-to-ceiling windows, while every desk will have access to natural light. The office will also have mixed-seating “collaboration stations” lining the windows on each workspace floor as well as more formal tech-centric meeting rooms with things like writable surfaces and video capabilities for larger meetings. On the top floor of the building will be a dedicated space to host development programs, speakers, and networking events. Gensler also designed Marriott’s new headquarters campus, and sought to create a sense of constant movement through the building by dispersing amenities vertically. “The campus ultimately acts as a showcase of Marriott’s commitment to regional transformation, family roots, and a world-class travel experience–all while epitomizing the concept of healthy, engaging work-life integration,” the design firm said.

These days, in order to stay competitive and continue to promote and build the brand, corporate headquarters need to reflect the company identity as much as possible. That could mean using materials that reflect sustainability commitments and that reflect aspects of a company’s products and services. Aside from just adding high-profile amenities and flexible workspace arrangements that will encourage workers to go into the office at least a few days a week, corporate leaders are expanding the scope of their headquarters offices to be able to test out concepts, host workshops, house retail flagship stores, and open up portions of their campus to the community, among other things. As companies look to create headquarters that reflect current and future needs, connecting their core values and commitments to their brand identity should be a top priority.

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