Apr 30, 2019

The newly expanded, fast-paced Echo Logistics headquarters in Chicago is organized around a streets and neighborhoods concept, with lighting to guide the way

By Rebecca Falzano

As a provider of technology-enabled transportation and supply chain management services, Echo Global Logistics connects businesses that need to ship products with carriers who can transport those products. Founded in 2005, the company has grown significantly since its inception almost 15 years ago. When it came time to accommodate 1,000 additional employees at its Chicago headquarters, Echo sought a space that was not only big enough to consolidate all staff under one roof, but one that also better reflected the high energy company culture. Luckily, Echo didn’t have to look far: the building they were already in had space available, and with the help of architectural/engineering firm CannonDesign, they embarked on an expanded headquarters that would bring their “one-company” culture to life.

At 225,000 sq ft, the expanded headquarters more than doubles the size of Echo’s original space. According to lighting designer Raisa Shigol of CannonDesign, the project was about more than just adding seats. “Echo wanted the new environment to capture the company’s spirit and essence and make a statement for employees and clients alike about who they are and what sets them apart from other logistics companies,” she says. With more than 2,000 employees, the answer to the question of “who they are” is obvious upon entry: fast-paced, energetic, buzzing.

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So how do you make a bustling office nearly a quarter million sq ft in size feel a little more navigable? CannonDesign did it by breaking up the space into smaller areas. The team created a “streets and neighborhoods” concept designed to organize the large space and provide a balance between active work areas and more subdued common spaces. The office is organized around two main “streets” that run the entire length of the headquarters north to south, which help to break the environment into smaller “neighborhoods.” The building’s 18-ft tall ceilings and unobstructed walls of windows also help lend a sense of openness to the highly populated workplace.

According to Shigol, the lighting design celebrates the space, which in its first life was a catalog warehouse facility and somewhat of a concrete maze. “The design thoughtfully uses more industrial materials so that new elements feel like they belong, creating opportunities for vibrant graphics and dramatic lighting to achieve the client vision of a dynamic workplace,” says Shigol. Materials that nod toward the transportation industry itself—steel and chain link—lend some edge and grit to the architecture. Cues taken from streetscapes create an organized system of lighting that evokes streetlamps, signage and other urban lighting elements.

Driving the neighborhood and street layout were the building’s massive columns that are spaced 17 ft apart. “Lighting became a way to help organize the interior concept, with ‘streetlights’ guiding employees along wide boulevards to the open workstations,” says Shigol. The pools of light from these column-mounted LED cylinder sconces with direct/indirect distribution create ambiance and a visual rhythm to support intuitive wayfinding. “Luminaire mounting details and product selection, as well carefully coordinated conduit entry into the fixtures, paid off to create a clean, minimalistic and comfortable environment,” says Shigol.

The spacing of the columns presented the biggest challenge when it came to the open-office lighting layout. Carefully tested batwing optics enabled the exceptional 17-ft spacing of the linear pendants, generously illuminating workstations while minimizing fixture quantities, saving both cost and energy. The high-performance LED pendants light the open work areas with an even wash—designed deliberately for flexibility so that if Echo needs to add or reconfigure seats in the future, the lighting would not need to be altered. The pendant luminaires had their performance limits tested in regard to optics, spacing and possible glare. Taking into consideration surface brightness and eye/luminaire positioning, the final result was a low-contrast, visually comfortable, highly efficient solution for the monitor-heavy work zone.

The lighting also supports the design goal of providing balance within the workplace. The open workplace areas are kept at a brighter level—like busy, light-activated neighborhoods—while the wide streets and social areas are dimmer, allowing employees to immediately feel a measure of relief from their desk work. “Moving through the workplace, one passes through areas of light and shadow, syncopating one’s experience of the environment,” says Shigol.

Lighting also supports other key moments within the space. Both “streets” terminate at the north end at the company’s café—which serves breakfast and lunch and includes a coffee shop (with full-time barista), pub and “town square”-type space—with a curving LED fixture tracing the contours of the bar countertop. Other design elements are clever nods to the transportation industry: focus rooms resembling loading docks feature recessed integrated spotlights highlighting the frame with volumetric lighting creating a glowing void within the room. Feature walls with supergraphics allude to big rigs. LED trackheads illuminate the four blocks that were added within the space to meet restroom requirements. Creative lighting solutions, coupled with flexible, energy-saving controls, maximize function and efficiency.

According to Shigol, accurate zoning of accent and ambient treatments allows the lighting composition to be visually balanced and compliant with the demanding requirements of the energy code. “Coordination with the interiors team enabled the integration of subtle curb highlights and the use of mirrored materials to maximize a very low LPD,” says Shigol. How low? Only 0.35 watts per sq ft, beating LPD allowances by 57%.

“The challenges of a minimalist palette, a tight budget and big design aspirations were overcome to create an effective, distinctive workplace,” says Shigol. This all-LED installation met its delivery guarantee, arriving within budget and meeting the construction schedule and client move-in date.

While the lighting experience is evident throughout all 225,000 sq ft of the new headquarters, no element better encapsulates the entire project than the statement lighting feature upon entry. On the street-level lobby wall the company’s name is branded with a internally illuminated signage element that morphs as one traverses its length, creating an optical “echo” and a striking visual experience. The four large letters of “ECHO” made of sculpted voids of weathered steel are set at different angles to create an experience as to how each is viewed, with perception shifting with distance and time. When one is aligned with the “E,” for example, the letter is luminous and bright while the “O” farther down appears darker and more abstract, like a shadow. As the individual moves, each letter comes into similar focus as the others change shape, altering perception with distance and time. This idea is one that plays out repeatedly throughout the entire Echo headquarters: light and its absence are considered equally meaningful. And so too are fast-paced work and time for quiet focus.