When I get off the elevator, I’m not sure that I’m in the right place. I cannot tell if the receptionist is a receptionist, or just someone who’s decided to work at the marble end of a long, wooden communal table. I cannot tell if I should have brought marshmallows to roast s’mores at the fireplace. I cannot tell if this is actually Hyatt’s global headquarters, with 1,100 people working around the corner. Because at this moment, I feel like I’ve stepped into a high-end hotel. And of course, that’s entirely the point.
Chicago-based Hyatt has spent the last month moving into its new location in Chicago’s downtown Loop. Designed in a collaboration with global architecture firm Gensler, the new space isn’t just built to enhance the boilerplate corporate ideals of flexibility and cross-team collaboration. It’s actually modeled to give Hyatt employees a taste of the hotel experience Hyatt designs for its customers.
The office is modeled after Hyatt’s own seven “touch points” of the hotel experience: arrival, social spaces, drinking and dining, guest rooms (in this case, those rooms are “work suites” for teams of 12-20), activities and services, meetings and events, and departure.
“A lot of our employees who work in this building don’t travel to hotel properties, or spend time in hotel properties, at all,” says CEO Mark Hoplamazian. “The only time they visit our hotel properties is when they’re staying in them as a guest. The idea of having a daily experience, that is reminiscent of the experience people have in hotels or our hotels, is a not-so-subtle reminder of the business that we’re in.”
The oversized arrival area is the pièce de résistance of the space, and the most obvious articulation of the hotel-to-work space mentality. As expansive as this welcome area is–it puts your usual couch by the receptionist’s desk to shame–it’s not as cold as an airy, modernist loft would be. The space feels comfortable, bordering on cozy. It’s an effect created by generous sight lines, coupled with plenty of seating nooks that reside beneath an undulating ceiling. If you subscribe to some architectural theory, people feel safe when they’re ensconced by a low roof but have a view of the room. The phenomenon is one of evolutionary security, born from an era when humans feared beasts in the night. The same principles drove much of Frank Lloyd Wright’s interior design, and has been studied by Hyatt with over 60 years of consumer research.
“These are things we’ve thought about. The ideas of human scale within high volume, or the sort of intuitive nature of space that makes you feel secure,” says Kristen Conry, VP of global design services at Hyatt. “Because we hear from our guests when we do research, and they’ll say things like I want to feel safe, and if you take that at face value, it’s ‘I want to survive the night,’ or something like that. Another way is to say, ‘I’m going to feel confident and comfortable in this space. I’m going to come in, know where I’m going. I’m going to have those sight lines that I can navigate the space even on my own.'”
Employees or visitors are free to work here, but the welcome area flows into drinking and dining. That includes a dual-purpose coffee and booze bar and a cafeteria. Again, it’s impossible to shake the feeling that I’m inside a hotel, lounging around on a business trip. If I worked here, I’d be tempted to grab a glass of wine and crank out some emails in the pleasant cognitive dissonance of working away from work . . . at work.
This food and drink area is a nice place for employees to eat and mingle, but it could also serve as an important test bed of Hyatt’s own offerings. Hoplamazian mentions the possibility of trying out new menu items through impromptu taste tests with their own employees.
The rest of the space is admittedly more office-like. The “office suites” group 12-20 person teams together in pod-style desks. But each has its own plush seating areas for casual meet-ups, and private rooms for impromptu chats. In fact, Hyatt built out 192 small private rooms for calls and meetings for a max of five people, on top of over 40 formal meeting rooms. The smaller rooms are ensconced in silencing glass, while many of the meeting rooms feature stellar views of the Chicago River.
But in case work feels too much like work, each of the office’s 10 floors have lounge “hubs” too–basically mini versions of the large arrival area for working, eating, or casual hangouts. Even as I admire a long, marble slab table, I’m again reminded that this space is built for hospitality as much as work. Because underneath that stone, I’m told, the table is fit with induction burners, meaning it can go from work surface to buffet space at a moment’s notice. Which is exactly the way this furnishing works in Hyatt’s own hotels, which are also loaded with similar mixed-use spaces.
From a single walkthrough, it seems like Hyatt and Gensler succeeded in building the hybrid of an office and a hotel. Because while it’s clearly designed for work, the possibility of kicking your feet up in an oversized chair with a glass of rosé never feels that far away. And sooner or later, you just know someone is going to tipsily roast some s’mores in that fireplace.