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McDonald’s new HQ makes it look more like a wellness startup

Hopefully it signals the way McDonald’s is thinking about its actual product, too.

In 2018, McDonald’s moved from its suburban headquarters in Oak Brook, Illinois, to downtown Chicago’s white-hot West Loop. Designed by Studio O+A and IA Interior Architects, the nine-story complex houses 2,000 employees, along with its Hamburger University management training center, and even a McDonald’s restaurant that serves menu items from around the world.

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Close to public transit, a new Google HQ, and the city’s most opulent restaurant scene, the new global headquarters is every trend of modern corporate America come to life. But for McDonald’s, it’s also meant to function as a statement of rebirth following years of sluggish earnings.

[Photo: Garrett Rowland/courtesy McDonald’s]
“McDonald’s envisioned a new HQ that would speak to an increasingly urban and health-conscious culture,” writes Studio O+A in a project brief.

While the headquarters is not open to the public (save for the restaurant downstairs), what the firms created feels like it could be a McDonald’s location thanks to plenty of nods to the familiar brand, but also many subtle hints at its new focus on health and wellness. The lobby features hickory wood arches and mesh walls meant to evoke the golden arches and the fry basket, but in a high-brow way. A seating area features a living green wall. In what McDonald’s calls a “sustainability lounge,” wall installations appear to feature abstract art–look more closely and you realize they are patterns of crops viewed from above. Overhead, huge felt leaves hang from the ceiling, like a tightly pruned forest canopy.

[Photo: Garrett Rowland/courtesy McDonald’s]
On the 6th floor, a supersized toy cabinet features hundreds of Happy Meal toys from throughout history. The playful design features triangles, ovals, and other geometric windows that resemble toy blocks. Meanwhile, designated “quiet rooms” for employees look like plush living rooms, covered in soft, sound-absorbent materials meant to provide relaxation and focus. If you want to leave the confines of the office, a rooftop terrace features natural light, green space, and superb views of the city.

The architects seem to have succeeded at their health-focused project brief–the new HQ does seem to feel like a nourishing environment to work. Overseas, McDonald’s has taken steps to evolve beyond its red meat and cheese product lineup that’s rich in saturated fats–in which even the fries contain traces of beef fat–by offering vegan burgers, Special Sauce, and even McNuggets. While the new office certainly evokes feelings of health and wellness, it would be wonderful to see more of that ethos make its way into the company’s U.S. menu.

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About the author

Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company who has written about design, technology, and culture for almost 15 years. His work has appeared at Gizmodo, Kotaku, PopMech, PopSci, Esquire, American Photo and Lucky Peach

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