From Filene's Department Store to Creative Headquarters

Summer 2015
The multistory, multifunctional forum at Havas and Arnold Worldwide’s Boston headquarters works as a connector, an informal meeting area and a large-scale event space. Robert Benson

A 20th-century department store building is transformed into 21st-century office space for Havas and Arnold Worldwide’s Boston HQ.  

WHEN THE LEADERSHIP team at global advertising giant Havas decided to look for a new home for their more than 600 Boston-based employees across four of the company’s brands — Arnold Worldwide, Havas Media, Havas Health and Havas Edge — they knew the end result would have to be something special. Working from an old insurance agency office in Boston’s Back Bay neighborhood, Havas employees felt their existing space lacked personality and authenticity, and dreamed of moving into office space that would better fit their company culture and the creative work they produce for major brands like Fidelity, Jack Daniels, Progressive Insurance and more. 

The firm partnered with Sasaki Associates and worked closely with its architects to determine the essence of the Havas brand, survey employees about their work location preferences and visit over 20 buildings throughout Boston and Cambridge in search of a new office site.  Two main themes emerged from this effort. First, the leadership team at Havas was looking for a space with a story, one that represented greatness and authenticity in its bones, but that could be converted into a workplace that would also convey creativity and innovative thinking. Their second requirement was that the new space have a “wow” factor that speaks to the agency’s clients, prospects and employees. Pam Hamlin, global president of Arnold Worldwide, put it best when she said, “when people get off the elevator and walk into our lobby, we want them to say, ‘wow — I need to work with these people.’” “Wow” became a defining benchmark for the project.

interior office space

Individual workspaces are clustered into small neighborhoods near a variety of collaboration areas, with abundant natural light. Anton Grassl/Esto

In September 2014, the Boston-based employees of Havas moved into their new office — a space with over 100 years of history living in its walls and an impressive design that wows visitors every day. 

A Building With History

As the Havas team began the search for their new home, real estate developer Millennium Partners had recently purchased a building that not only housed the original Filene’s department store — the first department store in the country — but was also the last work of the great American architect Daniel Burnham. Burnham designed the Filene’s building in 1911 to anchor downtown Boston’s bustling commercial life. The day it opened, on September 3, 1912, the store attracted more than 235,000 people, about one-third of Boston’s population at the time.  

Filene’s long stood as a symbol of the prewar boom years and was the focal point of Boston’s downtown, but it faded over time as the area suffered. The building suffered as well; its decorative ironwork was removed, its terra cotta ornamentation was replaced with fiberglass and its large display windows, considered innovative in the building’s early days, were eliminated. The structure had been empty since Macy’s, which had purchased the Filene’s chain, closed the flagship store in 2006. Redevelopment of the site had been stalled since 2008.

interior office space

Open and enclosed collaboration areas are located adjacent to individual workspaces. Robert Benson

With Millennium Partners planning to resurrect this landmark as a focal point for Boston and the historic neighborhood, the building was a clear front-runner in the eyes of the Havas site selection team. Havas recognized a rare opportunity to work with over 100 years of tradition while looking toward the future, and Millennium got the anchor tenant it needed to begin the redevelopment process.

Havas is in the business of telling stories, after all, so the longtime home of the first department store in the country intuitively felt like a good fit. Hamlin reflects back on the search, explaining, “the DNA was so aligned with ours. Filene’s was also about where creativity meets commerce, and for the first time I can say that our space actually reflects what we do within these walls.”  

map of Boston

Havas and Arnold Worldwide’s new Boston headquarters is set in the city’s historic Downtown Crossing neighborhood.

Flexible Workspace

The new offices, spanning the top four floors of the renamed Burnham Building, are designed to foster the kind of close collaboration needed to generate the creative work for which this advertising, public relations and media conglomerate is known. Only five of the company’s 640 employees have private offices; all others sit at open desks and benches. Over 60 collaboration areas, including conference rooms, workshops, project rooms, open spaces and flexible-use workstations are integrated into the workspace, speaking to Havas’ vision for a new way of working.

Havas employees fondly refer to the new headquarters as a “village,” reinforcing the firm’s community-oriented culture. With informal collaboration held up as a critical underpinning of the Havas model, Sasaki’s team supported that preferred style of working by placing a company cafe in the heart of the office to fuel organic conversations and teamwork over cups of coffee. 

meeting rooms

Flexible meeting rooms open into wide circulation paths to maximize use by a wide range of different-sized groups. Anton Grassl/Esto

The roughly 125,000-square-foot plan is oriented entirely around group work. Notably, it departs from a traditional office floor core configuration, which places elevator banks and core structural supports in the center of the floor plan and inhibits gathering and collaboration. Instead, the floor plate is split into two halves. The center of each floor is left open to house the glass-walled conference rooms and collaboration areas that open onto spacious corridors, which in turn take on roomlike qualities. The design team deliberately created a seamless flow to support Havas’ goal to go from an 85 percent enclosed office to a full open floor plan.

Today, agency leaders are fully integrated into the open floor plan, sitting side-by-side with the rest of the workforce. To help this succeed, each workstation has two seats — a desk chair and a flexible, padded bench — to facilitate more collaborative activity. For the creative agency, organic, face-to-face collaboration is the “secret sauce” for cultivating constant innovation, so creating a modern office where employees are excited to come in and team up every day was imperative.  

building floorplan

The open plan office space includes a variety of collaboration areas and conference rooms.

The “Wow” Moment

As noted earlier, one of the most significant pieces of direction articulated by Havas leadership was their desire that visitors experience a “wow” moment upon arrival through their doors. When prospective employees, current staff, existing clients and new clients step off the elevator under the massive skylight and stand in the large, open lobby facing a large wooden staircase, they feel like they are in a space that is amazing, comfortable, and entirely reflective of the way Havas employees work, as well as the thinking and invention that occur there.

building cafe

The Burnham Caffe, which opens onto a rooftop terrace, is the heart of social activity; it also serves as alternative workspace and event space. Robert Benson

The design is focused on the structure’s exposed brickwork and original terra cotta flat arch ceiling and floor slabs. Portions of old radiators have been repurposed as light fixtures, and old banisters have been reused as white board marker trays. This approach lets the essence of the heritage building shine through in subtle ways, while still giving Havas the reins to create a custom, contemporary environment that is fueled by its own identity and culture.

interior office space

The base of the main staircase connects to the main presentation space, serving as informal collaboration space, additional seating or a stage. Anton Grassl/Esto

Good for Business

Another important aspect of the new space is that it has resulted in swift and significant impacts on the company’s business. For the first time, Havas’ workspace reflects its creative business ethos, supports its work culture and furthers strategic goals — which has translated to immediate new business and personnel growth in just the few short months the firm has been in its new headquarters.

Hamlin happily reports, “from a business standpoint, the office reflects the direction and future of the agency. It’s been a catalyst not just for emotional charge and pride, but also for driving business impact. We’re incredibly proud to be here.”

Revitalization of a Historic Neighborhood 

Not only is the new Havas headquarters good for Havas’ business; it is also playing a crucial role in an even bigger story — the revitalization of Boston’s Downtown Crossing, a neighborhood that was once a bustling retail district, but was left empty and obsolete when city dwellers fled to the suburbs in the 1960s. Since then, the neighborhood remained busy during work hours, but shut down after dark.  

table with a list a items

Other tenants in the old Filene’s building include the following:

  • AOL, which occupies a partial floor of office space.
  • Irish clothing chain Primark, with four floors of retail space.
  • Roche Brothers Supermarket — the first large-scale grocery store to be built in Downtown Crossing — which occupies 25,000 square feet on two floors, including the ground floor, which it will share with Primark, and the lower level, site of the original Filene’s Basement.    

In addition to renovating the old Filene’s building into office and retail space, Millennium Partners is building an adjacent 625-foot skyscraper, Millennium Tower, that will contain over 425 luxury condominiums and ground-floor retail space. New loft apartments are also going up across the street, and a 240-room hotel is opening around the corner.  

With the highest pedestrian traffic and transit accessibility in New England, Boston’s Downtown Crossing is primed to be a full-time neighborhood where people not only work but also live, dine and shop. Havas is proud to be part of this unfolding story.