After leaving the Motor City in the 1970s, marketing and ad agency Lowe Campbell Ewald has returned in a big way. The firm’s new $14 million headquarters, inside Ford Field, home of the Detroit Lions, provides 500 Detroit-based employees with a creative space for their creative work. And, the sustainable and comprehensive rehab project within the nearly 100-year-old building makes a statement about Detroit itself: the city is rebounding, and companies across many industries are rushing to be part of the action.
Frank Campbell and Henry Ewald started their company in 1911, and today the full-service, fully integrated marketing and communications agency has offices in four major cities and serves major clients such as USAA, OnStar, Kaiser Permanente, the Lions, Unilever, and the United States Navy. Jari Auger joined the company in 1995 and is now COO and CFO. She says the move back to Detroit was fueled by the need to escape an outdated suburban facility and the desire to be part of the city’s recovery. “We wanted to find a place where we could attract the best clients and the best creative talent,” she says. “We landed on downtown Detroit and are returning to our roots at a time when the city is in a turnaround.”
Lowe Campbell Ewald occupies five floors at the old J. L. Hudson Co. warehouse, which sits inside the stadium at 2000 Brush Street. The space stands in stark contrast to the firm’s former cubicle farm in Warren, Michigan, where creative employees toiled at computers in isolated stations or sterile, closed-door offices.
To access the new office, employees, clients, and guests actually walk the concourse of the NFL stadium. Then, when they pull the doors open, they can see the whole agency with one look, and they’re likely to be swept along by the energy of the place as employees crisscross the bright, open, spacious atrium.
When the agency found the space and signed the lease in early 2013, it was a blank canvas—nothing more than an empty box with cement floors. The executives worked closely with Neumann/Smith Architecture to fill the 122,000-square-foot cavern with innovations and design elements that would inspire collaboration and creativity.
The revamped space is all about functionality, technology, creativity, and sustainability. In a nod to the company’s history, antique brass printing plates—the oldest materials in the office’s building—cover the lobby’s ceiling. Steel beams cut across an expanse filled with wooden stairs and moveable furniture. And, a three-story, 42-foot-tall LED video wall displays agency and client social media feeds, webcasts, or, at times, Detroit Tigers day games.
From an outdoor patio, employees can actually see Comerica Park nearby, where the Tigers play. An indoor patio overlooks Ford Field. These patios are popular meeting places, but employees can also choose from more than 100 other unconventional gathering spaces built into the design. Each floor has six small wooden meeting pods built from locally reclaimed doors, and the office has two tree houses and dozens of other “ideation areas” made for groups of 2–100. Wi-Fi and roughly 50 flat-screen monitors, each equipped with satellite and Apple TV connections, fill the office.
With its flat, reflective surfaces, the office might seem like a loud and chaotic place, but spray foam, Tectum panels, and a modern noise-cancelling system create a surprisingly quiet environment. The building is driving Lowe Campbell Ewald’s creative efforts forward, but Auger says it’s also bestowing a sense of pride. The agency hosts industry events to bring its business community together and provide employees with learning and networking opportunities. “There’s a fun factor, and people love working in this space,” Auger says. “They can bring their families through, and they’re proud to show off this place and to work here.”
Creating a new headquarters in a historic warehouse did present a few challenges, though. Detroit-based contractor Turner Construction Company had to wire the whole structure for power and data and also installed a new HVAC and soundproofing system, navigating around unexpected surprises and structural issues along the way. Complicating things further, all materials had to come in through Ford Field’s freight elevators when the stadium wasn’t in use for home games or other events.
When designing the new space, Lowe Campbell Ewald and Neumann/Smith took every opportunity to increase efficiency and decrease operating costs. “We decreased our footprint [by] one-third and electrical consumption [by] two-thirds by going to an open floor plan and using things like motion-activated LED lighting,” Auger says. The building includes reclaimed wood from Michigan barns, work counters made from recycled pallets and concrete, pre- and post-consumer recycled carpets, FSC-certified workstations, eco-friendly chairs, locally sourced materials, a variable air-volume mechanical system, and VOC-free adhesives. Additionally, in preparation for the move, the company encouraged employees to downsize and go paperless, which has now become habit.
Perhaps most importantly, the innovative environment is helping the agency meet its goal of attracting talent and clients alike. Giant multitouch interactive screens anchor ideation stations where agency presenters can use four different digital-content feeds to talk about brands, social media, and research ideas. “Having clients in here for pitches is great,” Auger says. “They like the space, and we’re really able to use it as a marketing asset.”
The building, which has won a CREW Impact Award for renovation and adaptive reuse and an AIA Honor Award, has already helped Lowe Campbell Ewald land new clients such as Detroit’s Eastern Market, De’Longhi, the US Fund for UNICEF, and Energy Upgrade California.
BLACK CUSHIONS ON WOOD
YELLOW & GRAY CHAIRS
TREE HOUSE’S BLACK CHAIRS
LOBBY FELT CHAIRS
CHAIRS IN TRAINING ROOM
MAGENTA & MESH LOUNGE CHAIRS
MEETING ROOM’S STRIPED CARPET
ORANGE TRANSLUCENT CHAIRS