Saturday, July 19, 2008

Creative spaces for creative faces

Marketing culture is unique in many respects. In the workplace, there’s a high need for interactivity and stimulation to catalyze innovation. Additionally, the multi-team collaboration required on client projects means that openness and team participation must be cultivated. Style wise, this translates to open-form offices, lots of public spaces or ‘idea rooms’, and a design aesthetic that often runs the gamut between edgy and exposed or frosted and futuristic. In Toronto, the head offices of Cossette or Capital C might be good examples of the former while Wunderman is a good example of the latter.

Of course, it would be nice to have a space like this for B!G and not have to work out of the dark basement of the Schulich building, but as we’re a non-profit, I’m happy for whatever we can get!

I am saying all this because today I stumbled across a really amazing workspace downtown, called 401 Richmond. This is a converted 1899 factory that has been restored and now houses about sixty arts and media related tenants, including ad shops. Creaky wood floors, 15 foot ceilings, and big open windows invite casual passers-by and tourists into the 401 to walk through the floors and see the boutiques and bookstores. On top of the building is a beautiful flower-filled roof garden with terrific views over the neighbourhood and downtown core. But really, it’s a space for artists with working studios and galleries side by side.

Thrown into the mix are a few small boutique media and marketing shops (Boxx3G, Agito Internet Marketing , and Meta Strategies.

I can appreciate why these companies would want to set up business next to artists and creatives. Not only is the building beautiful and occupies a fantastic site in downtown Toronto, but it’s also the model of the agency interior design taken to a larger, macro level. Idea diffusion and new visioning among creative heads is far quicker and clearer when you’re working next to each other. Think of this like a perpetual motion machine that moves faster and faster, it’s the same reason why research universities and technology firms always seem to be grouped together (e.g. Stanford, MIT, UNC Chapel Hill). Innovation spreads faster when the relationships among individuals and firms are mercurial and proximate.

You cannot be creative if you’re in an artistic and cultural vacuum. Agencies should learn from examples like 401 Richmond and internalize this to mean not just sleek, sexy desks with exposed brick walls, but also collocation with artistic people who will inspire and tickle the imaginations of their creative employees.

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