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Walking the Walk

The corporate executive suite. The term might conjure up images of a cavernous, wood-paneled private office with fireplace and an over-sized portrait of the founder, or maybe a stark white modernist take a la a Bond villain. There’ll be huge windows with million dollar views, a luxurious private washroom, and maybe even a terrace. Television and movies have shaped most people’s conception of the C-suite; fictional extremes of reality and, truth be told, they weren’t always so far off the mark.

But it’s less and less accurate today. The stark contrast between the C-suite and the rest of the workplace is increasingly fading. As executive excesses have come under increasing scrutiny, a more modest turn on C-suite design has emerged. Corporate executives have realized their own offices offer a tangible opportunity to communicate values, mission and vision rather than money, power, and luxury.

The most apparent change is in space allocation. Gone are the oversized corner offices. The C-suite is embracing the same large office type used throughout facilities, generally around 225 USF. They are often interior offices and have some level of glazing that allows views to and from the rest of the office. In smaller headquarters, we’re seeing an even greater shift toward universality and little to no separation from the rest of the workplace. Call it the Bloomberg effect, but more and more executives are positioning themselves as open, transparent, and always accessible.

While some things have changed, others have remained the same. C-suites continue to have a more upgraded palette and level of furnishing than the rest of the workplace, though the difference is not nearly as marked as in the past. C-suites continue to be located within the main headquarters campus or building at or near the top level of the building stack. There is some level of enclosure or separation from the general workplace and adjacent departments. Suites vary in terms of included spaces (boardroom, conference rooms, catering pantry, etc.), but at a minimum have adjacent administrative support.

One interesting trend is who isn’t housed in the C-suite. We’re seeing a trend toward business unit heads more often seated with their departments and a much smaller executive group within theexecutive suite. This decision is driven by operational strategy.

It’s still good to be the CEO, of course. But the rarified air of the luxury office is less and less one of the perks.

Kate Clemens Davis is a Design Director with Gensler’s Chicago office, the North Central Regional Leader for the Workplace practice area and an Aries. While demonstrating the ability to fulfill a project’s practical design requirements, she also finds opportunities for enriching the human experience through creative space planning and experiential design. From discovery, strategic real estate analysis, programming and space planning to project and construction management, Kate’s diverse experience translates to a thorough understanding of the project’s “before, during and after.” If she weren’t doing this, she is convinced she would be a regular on SNL or 30 Rock. Feel free to contact Kate at Kate_Davis@gensler.com

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