Their plan was to move into the building in three phases, the first of which would include the first, second and fifth floors, a total of 96,000 square feet that would include a 12,000 square-foot dining facility, a corporate data center, offices and common work areas, and an executive suite.
The overarching challenge of the first phase of the project was to transform a generic office building — not built with one tenant in mind — into a stylish workplace with a unified corporate image, and an environment that welcomed young employees and seasoned executives alike. The company loved Middle Tennessee’s beauty, business climate and highly educated pool of workers, and were eager to invest in a workplace that would match the area’s quality of life and vibrancy. Jackson National is known for having a hands-on approach, which meant the company’s leadership would be heavily involved in decisions about design — from material selection to chairs for the boardroom. The GS&P team was challenged to work collaboratively with the client, more so than is typically required.
“Jackson National is a company with extremely high standards,” says design leader Jack Weber. “They had ideas about what they wanted. We were charged with establishing good lines of communication so we could execute their vision."
Jackson National Life is a large national company with over $680 million in annual revenue. Despite holding a power spot as one of the country’s top three largest sellers of variable annuities, the company keeps a low profile when it comes to marketing. They have little or no national advertising and possess little desire for extensive corporate branding. The company simply didn’t need or want to make their corporate stamp with brash logos or other marketing-oriented techniques. But they did want to give full expression to the company’s core values and cooperative corporate culture. The GS&P team worked alongside the Jackson National leadership team to translate key concepts considered integral to the company: impeccable professionalism, a strong belief in the value of collaboration, an ironclad commitment to quality, and a willingness to be playful and casual when the time calls for it.
Jackson National had several priorities for the space, and at the top of the list was a focus on making an impression on current and future employees.
“The client wanted to make sure they could find the best and the brightest young employees,” says senior designer and project manager Kelly Hodges.
“They wanted to have an inviting space for them; an environment that would add to the excitement of working for a great company and would not only attract them but retain them.”
The GS&P team conducted vision sessions with Jackson National’s real estate and executive team led by Dennis Blue, and worked especially closely with Mike Wells, president and CEO. It took time to narrow the focus and agree on a combined vision.
“We had to go back and forth a bit,” Weber says. “We knew the client wanted a contemporary look that would be appealing to young professionals in their 20s and 30s, but interpreting the vision precisely was a challenge. Our first designs were a little too retro. We went back to the drawing board and simplified the designs and made them less tied to a period style, although they still had the sleek, uncluttered features of modern design. The focus on young professionals guided the direction of our interior design image with a nod toward colorful graphic accents and a large collection of original art throughout the building.”
First impressions, unifying graphics
One of the project’s most important challenges was to transform the entry lobby area from a pass-through zone, originally designed for multiple tenants, into a reception area what would create a very strong first impression.
“We needed to scale the lobby down and make it more personal,” Weber says. “It was an opportunity to define the character of the entire project, so we needed a big element with personality.”
The collaborative team solved the dilemma by including an oversized inspiration image — a feature wall and ceiling — that acts as a dynamic focal point for visitors, and as a visual barrier to the elevator lobby. Shapes used for the large image became a consistent, balancing theme used repetitively and creatively in several key areas of the building.
“Working with our internal environmental graphics team, we took the basic patterns and translated them into other graphics to unify the concept throughout the space,” Weber says. “We kept with very neutral colors in the main lobby, with wood or stone elements, but with one important exception. We included a bright reception desk that not only acts as the focal point of the lobby, but also hints toward the more playful splashes of color of the interior spaces.”
Circular shapes in the feature wall, ceiling and throughout give an abstract nod to the company’s logo, the profile of a horse contained within a red circle. The gentle suggestion of the company’s logo is in keeping with Jackson National’s understated — but highly sophisticated — corporate image.
Additional steps were taken to further the goal of replacing the formerly conservative pass-through space at the building’s entrance with an entryway that would make a bold — but calm and orderly — first impression. Traditional ceiling light was replaced with pendant linear fluorescent and floor mounted lights that could wash the coffered ceiling and feature wall with light. A stone floor was added with overlapping bands of grey, black and white, which reflect the geometric design of the new ceiling and desk.
Bright repetitions, rejuvenating spaces
The graphic patterns established in Jackson National’s entrance lobby are repeated as brightly colored design elements on every floor. For instance, large framed panels of patterned glass provide colorful focal points at either end of the elevator lobbies. The panels also act as a separation wall that sets apart a gathering place for employees before or after meetings in adjacent conference rooms.
“In contrast to the white graphic elements used in the lobby, the graphic elements in other areas are more playful,” Hodges says. “The bright colors are much less formal.”
Screen wall colors alternate from floor-to-floor to help employees and visitors with wayfinding throughout the building. Colorful graphic elements are also used in break rooms on wall coverings and framed glass panels. Graphics in the dining area depart slightly from the strong colors in other parts of the building, but still reflect the grid patterns established by the lobby screen wall. Circles are not the suggestive logo emblems but large, bright disc-like ceiling lights and are replicated on a stained concrete floor.
“We wanted the break and dining areas to be places of relief and rejuvenation,” explains Hodges. “You have similar elements in this space but it’s not quite the same feel as the rest of the building. This is a less formal place to eat, meet, play ping-pong or foosball. It’s all about the client’s desire to offer unique amenities to their young workforce.”
Jackson National also wanted to create a modern, flexible work environment where employees feel valued, not tucked away in dark offices or stuffed into tiny cubicles. The office floors are organized to reflect this concern.
“Years ago, executives and senior employees had exclusive claim to the window office,” Weber says. “Our solution uses less standard office space and more open space and common working areas. We organized the floors to maximize views and natural light for everyone. We stacked the private offices away from the glass. Even within the executive suite, where offices are planned on the perimeter, they have full glass fronts that allow for natural light and views for other employees.”
The fifth floor executive suite needed to blend in with the elements used on the first and third floors, but also be set apart as a more conventional area for formal events such as international board meetings or high-level planning sessions. The same inclusionary principles of stacking offices and providing pre-function areas for congregation points were used, but colors are largely neutral with high-quality materials used for furniture and other decorative elements.
Examples of more formal elements include the high-end millwork used in the executive boardroom, and a row of sleek pivot doors that act as both a grand entrance into the boardroom and a convenient way to open the room to the rest of the space.
“The level of sophistication comes out in the details,” Weber says. “They are almost always a gesture, a touch or flourish of excellence and beauty, not something that screams at you. Success comes in the selection of the very best materials, and the most elegant small features and details.”
A dose of patience and ultimate success
Despite the comparatively trouble-free execution of the interior designs, a few structural obstacles became some of the bigger challenges in the project. The GS&P team had to work closely with the local codes department to rework and upgrade the space from standard business occupancy to one that permits multiple uses and assembly, and had to reconfigure the space to house two important areas — the corporate data center and the large employee dining area.
“It was a difficult task to get all the elements of the first floor to work,” says Hodges. “We had to combine blocks of spaces to solve it, to get the flow, circulation and all the entrances and exits to work. We were forced to put the data center close to the glass and not on the interior, which would have been the ideal place for it. We finally solved the problem by building a drywall partition in front of the exterior glass. It’s a solution that kept the effects of heat and sunlight low.”
The Jackson National Life Insurance building debuted in April 2011, bringing with it almost 300 jobs and much fanfare in the community. The success of the project led to additional projects with clients in Lansing, Michigan; Tampa, Florida; Denver, Colorado and other cities. The GS&P team landed a national agreement with the firm and will be included as an integral team member for future projects.
“The client did not originally intend to bring a design consultant on board for the project, so we had to build a strong, reliable, consistent rapport with them,” Weber says. “Initially, we would never have expected the project to turn out with these high-end, high-quality results, but that’s the beauty of working with a sophisticated, informed client. The partnership took time to develop, but the result is that we have a long-term client who really believes in us. We are seen as trusted advisors who can bring smart, innovative ideas to the table.”