Is The Grand Lobby Still Grand?

Business has always been obsessed with first impressions. Traditional business thought says that when you walk into a prestigious office building, you should experience a grand entrance. True, when you step into a breathtaking lobby, one like The Rookery’s or 311 S Wacker’s atrium, something happens, you feel a sense of awe. But what if that space facilitated something else, something less about the grandiosity of business and more about the individual.

Retail in office lobbies has been the alternative approach and adds something more experiential, and useful. A well-chosen high end restaurant or trendy coffee shop says so much about the building’s culture. And it is inviting, impressive, and gives tenants another amenity (provided it’s the right retail). A snack and shoe polish shop doesn’t have nearly the amenity appeal as a Dollop cafe.


Is the grand lobby still grand?

But is the grand lobby, retail or no retail, still the necessary status symbol it used to be? As the trend in office space continues to be open and collaborative (for now anyway), corporate lobbies are shifting that way too. “Casual” and “inviting” are the new emotions we want to invoke. Lobbies are becoming places to sit and stay a while, rather than beautiful but empty spaces to power walk through. Zeller Realty hired a hospitality firm to redefine its spaces in its Minneapolis 5th Street Towers, giving every visitor a clear message to stay awhile. Prudential Plaza also boasts a sprawling lobby with hip furniture for that great escape from the office.

Yes, office lobbies are strategically becoming more like hotel and residential lobbies. With those type of lobbies, it’s all about making people feel at home. This easily translates to modern office space. Work and life are now being blended instead of balanced. So why not make the lobby a “living room” and lounge? Lobbies are providing those quite open zones where employees can escape. But there’s still a lot to learn from the way the hospitality and luxury residential industries construct them.


Alternate workspaces

Lobbies are also becoming alternate workspaces. Lobbies that were once dark and covered in ornate marble and granite are getting opened up to let in natural light, their materials replaced, and getting new lounge spaces put in.

225 N. Michigan Avenue is one such building. CannonDesign, a Chicago-based architect, and a tenant of the building, is making the lobby feel modern and also changing the functionality of the space. They’re making it a place where people can work, meet, or take a break, instead of just pass through. Another building that’s getting a whole new lobby is the old Chicago post office, along with many other changes by Bear in its planned $500M renovation.

A lobby that’s a mix of decorative and functional is that of 181 W Madison. Stunning and massive, it definitely makes an impression. But it’s a place of community. Events such as sports game and movie viewing parties are held there, made possible by its giant media wall. They even hold a yearly 3-on-3 basketball tournament.

As office space changes, office building lobbies change too. Where the value of an office lobby used to be in showing status and quality, perhaps now it’s in providing more “together alone” spaces for brainstorming and focus.