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Table for Two: Thom Ang and Rocco Giannetti on the Mad Dash to Lower Manhattan

Image © Gensler

After a decade-long revitalization effort, Lower Manhattan is flourishing, and creative tenants are playing a significant role in the transformation of this neighborhood—the number of tech and creative employees in Lower Manhattan has increased by 71% in the past five years.

Gensler Principal and Co-Managing Director of the firm’s New York office Rocco Giannetti, who managed Condé Nast’s relocation to One World Trade, recently sat down with Thom Ang, VP Creative at High 5 Games, the leading content provider for land and online-based gaming markets, to talk about how this gaming company plans to engage with the Lower Manhattan community and how the company’s relocation has enriched workplace culture.

Rocco: Are you still enjoying your space? You’re right up there in the weather.

Thom: Definitely. The views are spectacular.

Rocco: That’s great to hear. I want to ask you about your business and what you think of the location downtown. It seems as though you moved to One World Trade at a transformative time. How do you see what’s ahead for the gaming industry? What do you see that’s changed or will be changing?

Thom: The industry has changed quite a bit. The shift away from land-based to social and online-based gaming has completely transformed our business. At High 5, we still provide content for the traditional market on the casino floor. But three years ago, we dove into the social market via an App on Facebook. Since then, our primary focus has changed from land-based to online and mobile-based markets. We look forward to expanding our digital presence and see many opportunities for growth in this sector.

In terms of location, choosing One World Trade Center was meant to be a statement. Our relocation downtown signifies our step onto the big stage. High 5 Games is no longer limited to a niche market, but rather open to the global market with global competition. This notable location in Lower Manhattan fits with our mission to reshape the gaming industry.

Rocco: I want to revisit that, but you just offered an interesting insight about the shift towards the digital realm. It’s clear that the proliferation of technology is changing so many people’s businesses. A lot of times when we talk to our clients, they attest that parts of their businesses are more like technology companies. I wonder if that’s something you also share, even though a lot of what you do is based on content and creativity. How would you classify the nature of your business?

Thom: The growing presence of technology into the industry is changing the nature of our business. We identify ourselves as a creative company, but the technology component is essential to High 5. Technology and creativity are dependent variables that function simultaneously. For instance, we establish our own distribution methods for online and mobile content. In building these means of technology internally, we take ownership of the entire process, from content development to large-scale distribution. We wanted to build it from the ground up rather than relying on the off the shelf technology.

Rocco: I remember in some of the early meetings we had, you in particular were an early adopter of the selection of One World Trade and felt that the site was characteristic of a global company. Now that you’re there, do you think it’s changing your culture or the way you’re doing business?

Thom: The international significance of the World Trade Center aligned with our global initiative. Now that we have moved, the layout has given us a cultural transformation. The Financial District is changing how we interact with clients, business partners, and internal investors. I personally have had the pleasure of giving tours of the new workplace to our network of people. The response is overwhelmingly consistent; everyone is both in awe of the panoramic views and impressed with the strategic design. One of our international partners admitted to having “office envy”. Others have said that the space resembles a design company, which I thought that was actually really telling. We are not so much a technology company but definitely a company that designs things. We are not all about corporate or all about tech but about designing products. The new space is in keeping with our creative culture. We have achieved a duality of creativity and modernity within the parameters of the new space.

Rocco: You’ve referred to that part of downtown being the Financial District, which appears to be emerging as a new epicenter of the next growth industries, creative companies—over finance and banking. In particular, Condé Nast’s move to One World Trade affirms the entrance of creatives into the historically finance-oriented neighborhood. What are your initial impressions of the downtown community?

Thom: Yes, the area is not what I would have pictured even a year ago. Being a visual person myself, I am constantly observing my surroundings. Once I edit the tourists out of the downtown neighborhood, I see a strikingly heterogeneous, diverse group of professionals. Condé Nast can undoubtedly be credited for the smart fashion sense and youthful vibe. The vibe is not financial, but current and modern. We would like to think we contribute to the changing culture as well.

Rocco: Now, you’ve been in your space three months, and you’ve observed the demographics shifting away from finance. Is your group connected to the community outside the Trade Center, given that you have Tribeca and other creative districts nearby? Is that something you have tapped into or plan to in the future?

Thom: Absolutely. We are looking for new opportunities to integrate with the neighborhood and further introduce our employees to the surrounding areas, including Tribeca. We look forward to planning social events that unite High 5 employees with the community and with each other.

Rocco: Shifting back to focus on your team, have you observed any changes in terms of how people are reacting to the new space and to the new destination? Since moving into the space, have you noticed any changes in employee behavior?

Thom: I walk around and ask people how they’re using the space and how they like it. Some of the design is coming to fruition. We sat people who used to spend most of their day in meetings together in close proximity to one another. They co-mingle directly from where they sit and work. This has been a huge improvement. Upon moving here, there has certainly been an increase in collaboration. People are talking to each other more often, and there has been an increase in chance meetings due to the availability of collaborative workspaces. People were worried about the fact that they might not have access to conference rooms at a given point in time. We have found that meeting spaces are readily available, and many people meet on an ad hoc basis. Obviously, we couldn’t seat everyone together. We knew that would happen due to the limitations of physical space. We’re hoping to address this limitation and connect people when there isn’t a physical proximity.

Rocco: That’s a common obstacle we have been seeing a lot of recently. Especially on trading floors, where 500 or 600 traders all want to sit together. There are other ways to adjust the space and bring people together besides sitting directly with one another. You can bring people together through food services or stack people with a central staircase. Without a visual or audio connection, you can achieve better physical adjacency when you provide a stair – vertical connections with central destinations such as food, meeting spaces, social space, etc. It’s another way to create that connection when you’re on different sides of the building or on different floors.

Thom: I agree. That would help us out in the future as we mature in this space.

Rocco: One final question—since you said there’s more cross-team collaboration. Do you see the workplace as a tool to achieve other business goals?

Thom: Yes. Our employees are utilizing the big ideas that have been designed into the space. It is possible that we would take this design initiative one step further and add a stairwell to connect our two floors, reinforcing the collaborative culture while connecting the office.

It was difficult to get two teams that work together to sit together. This was a major hurdle that I had to get everyone to overcome. Once we got the same people who were adamant about not wanting to co-mingle with people they used to only see in meetings, we started to break down barriers. I expect us to push future programs further and continue to stray from insular human nature. Getting them to embrace and see the advantage of the new layout has been very beneficial. I can’t stress enough how it has opened things up for us.

Interestingly, the same people who were resistant to change in the workplace have reached out to me to tell me how well the new layout is serving them. They have now embraced the changes, recognizing the positive impact of the new seating arrangements and design elements. I do have some questions. Are there any other kinds of programs you’ve designed in other spaces we could utilize here besides the vertical connection?

Rocco: One thing we do in our New York office is a rotating art show. This allows us to have an opening where outside people and business partners are also invited to attend, and it gives us another opportunity to exchange with them.

Thom: That’s great. We should definitely connect and get some of our neighbors to our office. It would be a great opportunity to mix it up internally. We have an internal casino; people could come in and do a little gambling and try out some slot games.

Rocco: That would be fun!

High 5’s new home at One World Trade has made a tremendous impact on the company’s identity, culture, and future outlook. The relocation affirms their influence on the gaming industry, both in their own backyard and on the world stage. As pioneers of creative innovation and technological advancement, High 5 is certainly contributing to the ongoing cultural shift within the storied New York district.

Rocco Giannetti is a Principal in Gensler’s New York office and a Fimwide Leader of Gensler’s Work Sector practice areas. In addition to the clients mentioned, Rocco’s projects have included workplace interiors for The New York Times and the Bank of America Tower as well as Condé Nast’s relocation to 1 World Trade Center. Contact him at rocco_giannetti@gensler.com.