A Minneapolis brand agency grows its studio home and its creative capacity with an airily industrial addition

By Joel Hoekstra

In 2010, KNOCK, a creative agency that specializes in retail branding, set up shop in a renovated Asian market on Glenwood Avenue, a light-industrial corridor that runs west out of downtown Minneapolis. The 7,000-square-foot property, crisply redesigned by Snow Kreilich Architects—the project won a 2011 AIA Minnesota Honor Award—was just big enough to house its 35 employees. “When we moved into the space, we were at capacity,” says KNOCK’s chief creative officer, Todd Paulson. “And we continued to grow.” Soon, the agency needed more space.

So when a neighboring parcel—a former gas station—became available, KNOCK hired an architect not only to design an 18,500-square-foot addition but also, in some sense, to reflect significant changes in its own brand. The agency had developed a reputation for being very collaborative, and Paulson and his business partner, KNOCK president and CEO Lili Hall, wanted the new space to embody and encourage that kind of creative dynamism. The interiors also needed to incorporate elements of KNOCK’s new visual brand, which had shifted away from dark backgrounds with canary yellow highlights to a lighter gray with brass-colored accents. Plus, the building needed to straddle a property line—which required some negotiation with city officials.

Architect Christian Dean, AIA, produced a facility that meets all those needs yet also seamlessly blends into the industrial profile of Glenwood Avenue. Use of pleated zinc siding on the exterior gives the building a kinship with the street’s many corrugated-metal structures. Its base of cast-in-place concrete is exposed and, in some sections, animated with decorative geometric patterns. But passersby who give the building more than a glance will also notice the floor-to-ceiling windows and the whitewashed cedar that lines the bays. “I wanted there to be a familiar but unexpected twist on the industrial vernacular,” says Dean, who began the project as a partner at CityDeskStudio before launching Christian Dean Architecture.

Visitors entering KNOCK step into a glass-walled foyer that bridges the property line, connecting the old building with the new. Pass the angular wood-paneled reception desk with sculptural brass details and turn left, and you enter a bright white space that now houses the majority of KNOCK’s 60 employees. But it’s no cube farm: The energy and activity shift as you move from the southern side (sun-drenched and social, outfitted with a kitchen, foosball table, casual chairs, and a constantly playing video projector) to the center (which contains cafe tables and high-backed Vitra booths that promote small-group and private meetings) to the northern side (where individuals work quietly side by side at desks). A few multi-person offices ring the central gathering areas, but for the most part the space is open. Employees are encouraged to meet and work wherever they wish. “Every three months, in fact, we reassign desks so people are exposed to new views, new people, and fresh perspectives,” says Paulson.

A pair of conference rooms is available for client meetings, and there’s a critique area with glass-paneled walls where creative work can be hung, previewed, and discussed (comments can be scrawled directly on the surface with dry-erase markers). Business partners Paulson and Hall share an office dominated by an enormous glass wall and a brass-colored metal-mesh curtain that can be drawn for a bit of privacy. But only the restrooms and a couple of small spaces designated for nursing mothers and private phone calls are completely closed off, Dean notes. Generally, transparency reigns.

Underground parking lies below the building. (Remediation of the former service-station site required removal of much of the soil on the sloped property. “We saw that as an opportunity to create the kind of indoor parking that is coveted during Minnesota winters,” says Dean.) And the building’s structure was designed to accommodate two additional stories, allowing for potential growth.

Paulson says the building has given KNOCK much-needed room to grow, collaborate, and create. “I’m most pleased when I walk through the space and see some people working in pods, some at desks, some in offices,” he says. “People are working and thinking in a different way.”

Location: Minneapolis, Minnesota
Client: KNOCK, Inc.
Architect: Christian Dean Architecture, LLC, jointly with CityDeskStudio, Inc.
Principal-in-charge: Christian Dean, AIA
Project lead designer: Christian Dean, AIA
Landscape architect: Travis Van Liere Studio, LLC
General contractor: Timco Construction, Inc.
Size: 18,500 square feet (including underground parking)
Cost: $3.6 million
Completion: October 2014
Photographer: Chad Holder Photography