Railroad Freight Terminal Turned Creative Studio: theLab

Railroad Freight Terminal Turned Creative Studio: theLab

Gregory Han
Aug 22, 2012

David Bridges, president and CEO of thelab, a media arts company headquartered in New York City, recently gave us a tour of his company's space in the Terminal Warehouse Company Central Stores Building, formerly a railroad freight terminal and the location of the infamous Tunnel nightclub (the curved structure in its reception area, above, pays homage to the building's history). Here, David talks about the advantages of an open, collaborative workspace and gives us a look at thelab's extensive collection of Herman Miller pieces, both vintage and new. While the photos barely do the large office justice (stay tuned for a video tour coming soon), they do give a glimpse at what it takes to be a thoroughly modern workspace.

What is the benefit of having such an open plan? You overhear conversations; you learn by osmosis. And you're expected to collaborate. You get to turn around, look over somebody's shoulder to see what they're working on, and ask questions. We're very open about communication here, and it may sound funny, but it does really help when you hear people talking about something you're not familiar with, especially if you're from the same industry. You become curious about it and you start to learn about it. Over a period of time, it doesn't seem so foreign.

An open plan also helps me understand the attitude and the vibe of the place without having to seek it out. I walk in and see who is and isn't engaged. I can see if we're not busy, or if we're overwhelmed and stressed. You can read it much more quickly.

Additionally, it creates more interaction and helps people get to know each other better, which makes for a warmer, more friendly environment and culture. It allows for more transparency for everyone. And it's important for people to be able to hear what's happening on a project without having to call a meeting for it. You can just turn your chairs around and talk. A more free, flexible environment allows for things to happen, to get figured out quickly.

What are the drawbacks? Some people like it, some people don't. It definitely takes people who are not insecure and aren't afraid of admitting that they have things to learn. Competition is tough and we are doing things that are different than a lot of other companies, so there is a lot of learning that has to happen. We evolve on a daily, weekly, monthly basis. The setting supports that.

It also helps us flush people out a lot more quickly. There's no hiding here. This business is fast-paced, relationship-based, and project-based, so you never know if you're going to get that next project. It's important that we're all working toward the same goal without any hidden agendas, because that would ultimately cost us business or a relationship or have a negative impact on the quality of our work.

Because things don't stay the same here for very long, we move people around based on teams or specific projects. You can't become attached to an office or a spot. But every workspace is the same, so you can just get up and sign into another station, and that's where you'll work for the day or for the week or the month. You have to be flexible to be successful here.

Why did you choose Herman Miller furnishings for the space? How do they add to the environment? This is a setting that takes some getting used to it because it's non-traditional in structure, from the open environment and open communication, to the flexibility of with whom and in what space you'll work in. So I wanted the things that our teams have and use to be comfortable and beautiful, with special features and touches. Furniture is something I love. It's like art. It creates an overall feeling of comfort, like you're being treated a little bit special. Even though there are some things that perhaps people here feel they're compromising on, they still have a beautiful chair and they still get to look at beautiful things.

I think it's inspiring, especially the creatives in our company. It makes a difference that you have pieces of art all around. It doesn't have to be something on the walls--it can be a shelf or a chair or a couch or a table. That's what I love about our Herman Miller pieces. They're functional art. Those pieces, along with our two outdoor spaces and other furnishings and features, keep people happy and comfortable being here. It makes them appreciate the space and have a sense of ownership. They are proud of it. It's good to feel that way coming to work each day.

Thelab is quickly growing with plans for more regional offices around the country and possible offices abroad. As you're expanding, how do you keep your employees motivated and feeling creative? I am definitely a big believer of environment and space. Our new space in Columbus, Ohio, is in an old furniture warehouse with incredible 40-foot tall ceilings with skylights. We tried to keep it unique, but also bring in a lot of the elements from this office. So a lot of the furniture is very similar. We have several Herman Miller tables, a lot of Aeron Chairs, Eames Molded Plastic Chairs with wooden bases. The furniture is something that helps us create a consistent "creative" look and feel. This keeps us on brand because we've really used interior design as a way to help distinguish ourselves as a specific kind of company.

So what does your interior design say about thelab and the message you're communicating? It says that we're a visual company. That we understand what looks good and what doesn't. That we have some taste. And that we care about our environment enough to make this kind of investment in it. And I think that translates into how we approach our work and what people can expect from us if they do business with us: an attention to detail, the ability to go a step further than somebody else, and a passion for creativity.

(Images: theLab)

lifework2012-02-22 at 2.10.00 PM.jpgRepublished in partnership with Herman Miller Lifework. Originally posted by Amy Feezor.

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