Offices from around the world: McDonald’s headquarters in Chicago.
Magazine Contact #29
At the centre of the building, a giant atrium with glazed walkways, galleries and stairways and landings running criss-crossed hither and thither, seemingly jerkily. Here and there, glazed meeting spaces over several floors protrude into the empty space, as if you wanted to have a curious peek in or out. And between all this, there is an installation by New York artiest Jacob Hashimoto hanging from the ceiling and filling the room. The oeuvre is called A Gateway to a Whispered Possibility of Existence, and it consists of hundreds of coloured, patterned, sometimes weightlessly translucent kites made from bamboo, resin and acrylic. It is as if you were caught in an exhilarating dream – somewhere between flower power, M. C. Escher and the elegance of a recently opened Louis Vuitton flagship store.
For 47 years, McDonald’s headquarters has been at its traditional address in Oak Brook, situated around 30 kilometres west of Chicago. The offices were scattered over several buildings arranged across a large, green campus. With the identity change away from the suburban fast-food provider, however, to the urban lifestyle restaurant, as the burger empire likes to claim, the necessary symbolic step must also be made on a management level. In 2018, the company gave up the campus at the edge of the city and all 2,000 employees moved to Randolph Street, Downtown Chicago.
The eight-story building designed by Gensler Architects looks amazingly tasteful. The brick façade with its steel strips and square glass panels doesn't give in to the tried and tested McDonald’s aesthetic. Rather, the 50,000 square-metre structure incorporates the construction materials typical of Chicago and conforms to the plot like an obvious piece of a jigsaw, where once there was a sober warehouse and logistics hall. Three partitioned entrances lead into the office headquarters, into the so-called Hamburger University, where future employees and franchisees are trained, and into the McDonald’s global menu restaurant where you can find all the burgers, fries and shakes on the menu that are sold all over the world.
“The furniture and interior design is timeless and discreet, in places perhaps even a little minimalist,” says Ruben Gonzales, chief architect and project manager at IA Interior Architects, the company which designed the inner workings together with Studio O+A and made these a reality. “Here, you can look for extensive corporate colours in vain. The only exception is the McDonald’s yellow which sets an accent here and there in the form of chairs, sofa niches and wall padding.” There are plasma touchscreens for the necessary digital communication, which are distributed throughout the whole building. Acoustically as well as atmospherically, you barely notice that the majority of the offices have an open-plan design.
Niches and heterogeneously designed small areas counteract the usual appearance of an open-plan office. The floors themselves are designed in different ways. Like the layers of toppings in an oversized Big Mac, the themed departments of history, hospitality, world of flavours, packaging culture and design and architectural identity are stacked one on top of the other. The departments aren’t just condensed into the management system, but also in the architectural design of the floors. The crowning glory is a milestone gallery with the most important achievements in the history of McDonald’s, as well as a collection of Happy Meal toys from all ages.
Perhaps the most beautiful and respectful gift to the employees is the so-called wellness suite which is set up on every floor. As well as a classic quiet space, this also includes a library, a playroom and parenting room as well as a prayer and meditation room. The Big Mac office could hardly have been built in a more tasteful and sustainably nourishing way. I’m lovin’ it. At the end, you ask yourself: when will the wellness and health formula applied here finally spill over onto the menu? Would you like an apple pie with that? No, thanks.