From biophilic designs and yoga lawns to nitro coffee bars, myriad workspaces, bold color schemes, Bohemian interiors, original murals and the occasional giant Lite Brite wall, today’s workplaces are taking on new, eclectic and attractive styles.
A growing commitment to unique and engaging workplaces was evident in the nominees and winners of this year’s NAIOP Maryland Awards of Excellence.
“Best Interior was the most difficult category to decide because there were so many great options this year. Interior designers and architects are coming up with new ways to create distinctive, collaborative work environments,” said Ryan Burrows, co-chair of the NAIOP Maryland Awards of Excellence Committee.
“Attracting workers back to the office is a struggle that people are talking about. Also, the Great Resignation is making it harder to attract and keep talent right now, so some companies are putting more money and creativity into their spaces,” said Nicole Wilhelm Smith, co-chair of the Awards of Excellence Committee.
Tenable’s new headquarters in Columbia, winner of the Best Interior Award, breaks traditional corporate office architecture molds to deliver 150,000 square feet of surprisingly eclectic high-tech workspace.
During early discussions about Tenable’s vision for the space, “the word ‘quirky’ was used quite often. They wanted no repetition throughout the space,” said Brian Frels, Principal of Arium AE.
The Arium team ultimately developed an urban planning approach to designing the six-story office. Pathways would lead people through different “villages” within the space. Each village provided a different environment: some were industrial and gritty, others more collegiate or retro. Employees would have the freedom to migrate among different workspaces, including the urban-square-style cafeteria, to work the environment that best suited them at any given moment.
Any walk through the villages would also expose employees to the quirky design features Tenable desired.
“Everything was on the table. We had a lot of hairbrained ideas that ended up in the project, like the giant Lite Brite wall and glass walls with ping pong balls sandwiched between them,” Frels said.
And then there was the tree. Tenable had arranged to create a two-story open space for a grand stair and event space with tiered seating. A large, structural column, however, sat in the midst of the grand stair space.
“The column could never go away and it’s not something that we could minimize or hide, so we decided we might as well celebrate it,” Frels said. Working with a local carpenter, Arium used the column to support a huge wooden sculpture of a tree.
Fireline Corporation – a 75-year-old, family-owned business providing fire protection services – executed an entirely different design to create a unique and engaging work environment on its campus. The company initially planned to raze the four industrial buildings on its property and construct a new office building. When construction pricing precluded that option, Fireline and Arium took a fresh look at how to breathe new life into the space where the company had grown for decades.
The project, which won the Best Renovation Award, involved a complete interior demolition and renovation of the buildings to provide modern and varied spaces for collaboration, quiet work and employee gatherings. The décor featured dynamic red accents, contrasting rich gray surfaces, modern lighting and a mural wall that depicted the company’s history.
Outside, Fireline and Arium also embraced bold and unique design.
“The company had this wayfinding, numbering scheme where they numbered their buildings based on when they were built,” Frels said. “We took the large step and risk and said, ‘Let’s brand the outside of your buildings. Let’s do something with geometry and bright red signage and super graphics that cover the sides of buildings.’ They loved it. It gave them a larger vision of what they could do with that property.”
In the Columbia Gateway Innovation District, Corporate Office Properties Trust created Wayline — office space shaped by biophilic design principles and a Bohemian aesthetic. Winner of the Best Amenity Award, Wayline’s amenities stretch beyond the inviting lounge (complete with handcrafted furniture, a one-of-a-kind chandelier and ample natural light), coffee bar and fitness center to include a Sweetgreen Outpost, food truck stop, yoga lawn and outdoor basketball court.
There’s an expansive green space and terrace with beds of native plants, moveable tables and chairs, and Wi-Fi service so that individuals can go outside to work, conduct meetings, have lunch, attend happy hours or simply relax.
“Wayline is gorgeous and cool and very high end. I wish my home looked like that,” said Wilhelm Smith. “It’s space that you just want to be in and that’s a very good thing for companies that are trying to attract employees back to the office.”
In Hunt Valley, Merritt Properties created its version of a modern, attractive office property with Schilling Green III, winner of the Best Low- to Mid-Rise Office Award.
Merritt purchased 226 Schilling Circle in 2019 and proceeded to transform the vacant building. Extensive demolition left only the structural steel, concrete slabs, elevator shafts and stairs in place. From that shell, Merritt developed a 98,640-square-foot Class A office building with a sleek façade, extensive floor-to-ceiling windows, a modern two-story lobby, outdoor patio and all new building systems.
A community lounge, known as The Core, provides collaborative seating, a private chat room, micromarket, kitchenette, smart television, wall graphics and biophilic design features. The building also offers Merge by Merritt – a suite of offerings by Merritt that enhances the workday by providing on-site events and services.
“Merritt took an antiquated office building and turned it into a brand new, best-in-class office property in Hunt Valley. They pulled together a really cool project,” Burrows said.