A long-standing client, Jackson National Life Insurance Company (Jackson®) has solicited GS&P’s professional services for numerous high-profile projects across the country, including several major renovations and the design of its 150,000-square-foot regional headquarters in Franklin, Tennessee. In 2013, Jackson selected GS&P to provide architecture and interior design services for a two-phase expansion project at the firm’s headquarters in Lansing, Michigan. Phase I included a 40,000-square-foot multilevel conference center and dining facility expansion. Phase II comprised a new 230,000-square-foot office building and a 500-foot enclosed bridge connecting the new construction through existing woodlands to the current building.
“Jackson was quickly outgrowing its existing headquarters, which was at maximum capacity,” explains Steve Johnson, executive vice president of GS&P's Corporate + Urban Design market. “They ultimately decided that expanding their current headquarters to consolidate off-campus staff presented the optimum solution in terms of anticipated growth over the coming decade.
“Since the campus is spread out, Jackson wanted to create spaces that would allow their associates to interact and connect in various ways. They were also in desperate need of flexible conference space because employees were using conference rooms for office space in the existing building due to the rapid growth. So, along with the workplace expansion, they desired a large conference center that attached to the current building, as well as an expanded dining facility that could accommodate twice as many employees.”
Jackson’s overarching goals for the project included the incorporation of sustainable design principles, a seamless connection between the existing lobby and the new conference center, unhindered sight lines, and minimal impact to the surrounding environment.
Connecting a Conference Center
Lacking the space to accommodate its firmwide and community events, one of Jackson’s top priorities was developing an on-campus conference venue that was both functional and comfortable. Senior architect and principal Jeff Kuhnhenn explains the challenges involved in connecting the new conference center to the existing office building:
“The conference center needed to be immediately accessible to the existing building’s main lobby for ease of access by guests and employees. However, a main feature of the lobby is a floor-to-ceiling glass wall that opens the space up to the woods to the west. This is such an iconic view that we had to avoid interrupting it with the conference center. To preserve the outlook, we moved the conference center entry to the south so it aligned with an existing elevator core and stayed out of the framed viewpoint from the lobby.
“The client also expressed a desire for the existing lobby and new conference center connection to appear seamless. To create continuity between the new and existing buildings, we used a similar material pallet for a more unified aesthetic. So the path was more open and inviting, we took the curve from the existing corridor and rotated it out to form a wider corridor that spins off the lobby space. This corridor culminates at a monumental stair, connecting to the conference center and linking the dining expansion.”
Creating a true sense of corporate community, the new Class-A conference center has the capacity to seat up to 400 people. It includes a versatile pre-function hall as well as three multipurpose rooms that can easily be opened up into one conference room.
“The pre-function space is an important part of the building because it also serves as a gathering space,” says Kelly Hodges, vice president of GS&P's Corporate + Urban Design market. “It’s essentially a staging area for conference events, but when employees aren’t using the meeting rooms, it also acts as a free, collaborative space where associates can meet or perhaps grab a cup of coffee.”
“This conference center is a whole new concept for Jackson,” adds Jack Weber, senior vice president of GS&P’s Nashville Design Studio. “They didn’t have anything like it before. Since the conference center/pre-function spaces opened, employees have increasingly utilized the collaborative spaces as individuals, as small teams, and for large meetings.”
Also providing additional space for interaction is the campus’ expanded dining facility, which connects to the conference center and is located on the ground level of the existing building.
“Jackson already had a dining facility on campus, but it wasn’t nearly as dynamic as what this expansion offers,” says Weber. “A dining area needs to serve as a positive distraction—a place that’s inspiring and offers respite from the workspace. This dining expansion offers exactly that type of respite while adding an extra 5,180 square feet to the existing dining facility that’s more playful and much livelier. Jackson reports that food sales have increased by 30 percent since the new dining center has been open.”
Raising the Roof
Maintaining existing views as well as creating additional vistas was the main driver for the siting and form of the conference center. With this in mind, the design team aimed to preserve as much of the natural topography as feasible.
“This natural forest area is such a prized and treasured amenity for the people working within the existing building, and the client didn’t want anything to spoil that view,” says Kuhnhenn. “So we came up with a solution that took its cues from the surrounding topography.
“We thought about what it would mean to insert this building into the landscape, which involved manipulating the natural environment by removing trees and excavating the ground. But our goal was to mitigate the impact to the surrounding site. So we considered the possibility of slicing out the ground—the footprint beneath the conference center—and then raising up the lush groundscape and tucking the program underneath. That design concept ultimately became the genesis for how we approached the conference center’s rippling green roof.”
By using the footprint of topography to create the green roof, the design team preserved the view of the woodlands beyond, and created a scenic foreground vista for the existing building.
“There was very little site disturbance considering the monumental effort that took place,” says architect Ryan Rohe. “We hand-picked what trees to keep and what trees to demo, and reused some of the trees we took down for components in the interior design.”
A Next-Generation Office Building
During the programming phase of the project, the design team determined that locating the new office building too close to the existing headquarters posed a number of drawbacks, and that placing the new facility on the other side of the woodlands presented the best solution for Jackson’s needs. To connect the new facility to the existing headquarters, GS&P designed a 500-foot elevated walkway that traverses the delicate wetlands and allows wildlife to pass beneath.
“We designed the connector to be more than just a long corridor,” notes interior designer Amy Klinefelter. “It provides an opportunity for casual interaction as well as moments of transition as employees move through the campus.”
Situated in the corner of the large agricultural site, Jackson’s new 230,000-square-foot office building provides capacity for more than 1,200 state-of-the-art workspaces and offers employees stunning vistas of the surrounding woodlands. The building is composed of two wings of office space connected by a large atrium. Each wing of office space is narrower than the typical office building to increase access to daylight. The angled relationship between the north and south wings is narrower toward the main entry and wider toward the woodlands.
Monumental stairs rise from just past the entry lobby to provide access to all floors. Elevators are tucked back into the core space to encourage use of the stairs. In the center of the building, collaborative spaces were designed to encourage employee interaction as well as a sense of camaraderie.
“Large meeting and break areas are collected around the atrium space, which concentrates activity in the core of the building and provides an improved sense of community,” explains architect Adrienne Ciuba. “For example, a centralized meeting and break room in what we call the ‘treehouse’ provides a variety of meeting, social and wellness areas that deliberately nudge people together.”
Along with collaborative spaces, sustainable design elements including energy-efficient LED lighting and an underfloor air distribution system were incorporated into the building.
“The new facility runs 40 percent more efficiently than the original office building,” says Kuhnhenn. “One of the major energy-saving strategies was the underfloor HVAC system, which delivers air directly to where people need it as opposed to blowing air down from the ceiling through space that isn’t occupied. It gives users flexibility because everyone has their own adjustable vent in their workstation. The building also has high-performance glass so it’s well-insulated. In many respects, it’s a next-generation building compared to your typical office building.”
Evolving a pre-existing headquarters into a vibrant and sophisticated string of workspaces, collaboration rooms, dining and entertainment zones, GS&P’s design supports Jackson’s continued growth and flexibility while minimizing the impact of the built environment on the cherished site.
“From an interiors perspective, our key focus was creating spaces where people could connect,” says Weber. “The original building simply wasn’t designed as a place for the type of interaction that Jackson is looking for today. So each key component—from the conference center to the new office building, and even to the connector that ties everything together—was an aspect of trying to find places for people to interrelate.”
“I think the most impressive thing about this project is how the overall campus came together,” concludes Kuhnhenn. “There is a seamless connection between the two different office buildings that are on the one hand separated by the woodlands, but at the same time feel connected in a very intimate way.”