How Art & Design are Ushering in an Office Renaissance & Revitalizing Downtowns
This is the first installment of our ongoing series "PlaceMakers: Art & Design of EQ Office" – telling the stories of the artists, architects, designers, and makers who partner with us to shape enriching and effective spaces for our tenants and communities to enjoy.
What is the role of art and design in society? Gertrude Stein, distinguished novelist and literary advocate of the 20th century puts it plainly, “The subject matter of art is life, life as it actually is; but the function of art is to make life better.” Throughout history, the impact of art and design has been tangible, and often, a propellant of paradigm shifts.
Can art and design usher in a renaissance of our workplaces and downtowns, just as we have seen throughout history?
From the High Renaissance of Europe, an era marked by its innovation and thought exploration spurred by the artistic masters, to the 20th-century Modernism movement of architecture, shaping the boom of urbanization through the art of structures, we see how art and design are intricately woven throughout civilization; each thread inspiring connections, innovation and tranquility.
Today, architects widely consider human-driven experiences when designing a building. Cities commission local artists to paint murals and turn faded streets into vibrant pathways. Now, it's the workplace that’s turning to art and design.
Can art and design usher in a renaissance of our workplaces and downtowns, just as we have seen throughout history?
The Metamorphosis of the Office
For many, the cinematic 90’s comedy OfficeSpace is still the quintessential representation of corporate, American workplaces. But as those who have stepped foot inside an office over the past two decades can tell you, it has come a long way since its fictional Initech depiction.
Over the past several decades, offices have enjoyed their own renaissance as innovative tech companies challenged the status quo and reclaimed the workspace as epicenters of connection and collaboration — even managing to infuse some fun (cold brew taps and ping pong tables, anyone?). Office sentiment was so positive that it even spawned an industry centered around creating these workplace experiences for freelancers and remote employees. But in March of 2020, everything came to an abrupt pause.
While remote work may garner similar productivity levels, what can’t be argued is the significance of human connection, collaboration, and belonging that only an in-person experience can provide.
The pandemic fueled an entirely new office era — the home office. While home offices and remote work existed in a pre-Covid world, they were never the focal point for the vast majority of office workers. Employees adjusted to their new normal and many of the pre-Covid work perks lost their allure. Many have shown resistance to return-to-office policies; arguing they’re more productive at home without the stress and disruption of long commutes.
While remote work may garner similar productivity levels, what can’t be argued is the significance of human connection, collaboration, and belonging that only an in-person experience can provide. So what can companies do to inspire employees to return to the office? Cue, art and and human-driven design.
Using Art & Design as a Catalyst for Workplace Change
Gertrude Stein claimed art should make life better. Why not the office? Art and design having the ability to completely transform physical space, and workspace is no exception. More importantly, it has the ability to bring people together and create a sense of place and space for dialogue that otherwise wouldn’t have existed.
Dr. Greg Metz, senior lecturer at UT Dallas, and his research assistant Katrina Saunders proved just how impactful art is in increasing employee engagement. The team curated a project called Derive Art that specializes in bringing contemporary artworks to the workspace. After each installment, they survey the employees to understand the impact (if any). What they found was promising— ”75% of employees had new things to discuss and formed new lines of communication between employees that hadn’t existed before. Also, an interest in art increased over time among workers and the presence of it brought creative stimulation to projects.”
Art and design, with their ability to boost engagement, enhance creativity, and lower stress, are the perfect catalyst for office revitalization.
In addition to boosting engagement, a study conducted by the University of Exeter found that art in the workplace also promotes productivity and reduces stress. Dr. Craig Knight who conducted the study said, “When people feel uncomfortable in their surroundings they are less engaged – not only with the space but also with what they do in it. If they can have some control, that all changes and people report being happier at work, identifying more with their employer, and are more efficient when doing their jobs.”
Offices, more than ever before, play a critical role in fostering creativity, connection, and culture for companies across the globe. Art and design, with their ability to boost engagement, enhance creativity, and lower stress, are the perfect catalyst for office revitalization.
By using thoughtful design that alleviates in-person pain points and enhances office life, we can shift the mindset about the workplace from an obligation to an experience.
These two elements can elevate the workplace and help transform it into a destination — a place where work and life intersect. By using thoughtful design that alleviates in-person pain points and enhances office life we can shift the mindset about the workplace from an obligation to an experience.
Art Takes On Life, In Office Form
Workplace art and design should do more than just exist — they need to inspire. Hanging a piece of art is not enough if you’re looking to evoke emotion and a sense of belonging. Instead, we need to think about how human-driven design creates value. As we launch our series "PlaceMakers: Art & Design of EQ Office", we invite you to scroll through this collection of spaces that illustrate how art and design can span beyond four walls and create a sense of connection for tenants and local communities alike.
CANVAS – Costa Mesa, California
CANVAS is a powerful example of transforming the workplace into a public art gallery. Prior to its renaissance, CANVAS, formerly coined the South Coast Corporate Center, was as innocuous as its name. The two granite and brick low-rise office buildings offered little deviation from any other office park in the area. EQ decided to lean into the urban art direction that the surrounding SOBECA neighborhood was moving, and the result is a vibrant, inspiring workplace aptly dubbed CANVAS.
The vibrant display has piqued the interest of the local community and transformed CANVAS into a destination — and not just for those who work there. People flock to CANVAS for social media photoshoots and beyond, driving a rich community experience celebrating art and design.
999 Third Avenue – Seattle, Washington
Some of the most powerful examples of art in the workplace are happening on the street level of major office buildings, such as in Seattle at 999 Third Avenue. We redefine expectations of art in the workplace by giving a voice to local artists within the community.
Throughout the summer, 999 Third Avenue has featured a women-owned and managed independent creative company Bianco Artists and her opening of three gallery experiences. The first was entitled “Little Victories” and featured a contemporary look at what victory means to 14 contemporary photographers, drawing on the moment where opportunity and ambition intersect in the everyday, and the feeling of triumph takes over.
Bianco Artists established 999 Third as a destination not only for tenants to experience but for the local community to explore as a legitimate local art gallery. This inspired new creatives, many looking to host their first-ever gallery, to expand their reach as artists in an unexpected location — a workplace.
Willis Tower – Chicago, Illinois
The renouned Chicago icon infuses art throughout its spaces, featuring both local and globally acclaimed artists at every turn through their campaign Art of the Neighborhood. Some recent examples include 2018’s “Being Here” exhibition which featured contemporary artists from the Chicago Artists Coalition, 2021’s Beehive Murals painted by artists from Marwen, a local creative youth development organization, and 2021’s Time Travel Series featuring abstract acrylic paintings in the Adams Lobby by Chicago-based designer and visual artist BOJITT.
Willis Tower has been a landmark in Chicago for decades, and now its legacy is expanding to include free and accessible ways to experience world-class art outdoors in the Loop. Accessibility is an important aspect of art in the workplace, and key to establishing rich community connections.
Accessibility is an important aspect of art in the workplace, and key to establishing rich community connections.
Globally acclaimed artist Olafur Eliasson led the way toward accessible art at Willis by debuting his first public art installation at the renowned skyscraper. Entitled, “Atmospheric wave wall”, the art is prominently displayed on the exterior Jackson Boulevard entrance wall and is an original piece designed specifically for Willis Tower.
NorthPark – San Francisco, California
In many instances, retail spaces sit empty while they wait to be filled by a new tenant. At NorthPark, the team saw an opportunity to transform a vacant space into a public art display by partnering with Problem Library, a nonprofit organization dedicated to creating sociatal change through art, education and cultural infrastructure.
Together at NorthPark, they invited local artists in San Francisco to reimagine the empty space as a blank canvas. The result? Powerful, thought-provoking pieces such as Jennifer Klecker’s “Exploring the landscapes of California” exhibition that’s both inspirational and educational.
The pop-up gallery concept is an opportunity to provide an additional amenity for tenants while at the same time an invitation to the neighborhood to come and experience something new.
Art’s Modern-Day Renaissance: Revitalizing Downtown
Perhaps the most powerful aspect of art and design in the workplace is the ripple effect felt throughout the entire community. Art is intrinsically communal, having the ability to revitalize entire neighborhoods and inspire those within them. The same goes for Placemaking — thoughtful, human-centric design that when done right has the ability to transform communities. Similar to its tangible impacts at the workplace, studies link the presence of art in neighborhoods to increased livability, community identity, and social wellbeing.
Art is intrinsically communal, having the ability to revitalize entire neighborhoods and inspire those within them.
Metropolitan areas have been slow to awaken post pandemic lockdowns. And while we’re slowly getting back to the new normal, downtown America could use a resurgence of energy. Art is the perfect way to bring energy and enrichment back to these areas and ease the return-to-office transition. Most importantly, art can help us rekindle our sense of community.
Throughout our series, “PlaceMakers: Art & Design of EQ Office”, we will continue to explore the workplace renaissance taking place and the positive impact it’s having on both the workplace and local communities — inspiring connections and a renewed sense of belonging for all.