Perkins and Will helps Land O’Lakes cultivate its future with a LEED-Platinum headquarters expansion that’s big on work-style flexibility while reducing the cooperative’s overall footprint

By Joel Hoekstra

Land O’Lakes, Inc., was bursting at the seams. As 2014 drew to a close, the Arden Hills–based cooperative—created to serve dairy farmers a century ago and still one of the largest producers of butter and cheese in the U.S.—had little available space in its headquarters or several rented spaces in nearby buildings. With leases coming up for renewal at year’s end, leadership needed to decide what to do. Renew? Relocate? Build from scratch? Looking for additional perspective, company officials turned to the Minneapolis studio of global design firm Perkins and Will.

“They said, ‘We need more space,’” recalls Perkins and Will principal Lisa Pool. “But we said, ‘Hold on. Before you add more seats, let’s talk about your business strategy and objectives. Let’s look at how your employees work.’”

The design firm had a longstanding relationship with Land O’Lakes. Years earlier, the company had retained the Minneapolis studio to refresh its visitor lobby and, shortly thereafter, revamp the interiors of its main headquarters building. The original campus, built in 1980, consists of two red-brick structures—one for offices, one for research and development labs—that overlook a small lake. The remainder of the site was covered with woodland and parking lots.

Before settling on a course of action, Land O’Lakes surveyed its workers. Not surprisingly, it found that employees were eager to have more access to daylight and more collaboration spaces, as well as lounge-like spaces for individual work and an up-to-date fitness center. But perhaps most telling were these findings: If you factored in time spent working remotely, traveling, and in meetings, the typical employee worked in the office just three days a week and sat at a dedicated desk just 40 percent of the time. This information begged the question: Did the company really need a bigger workplace—or just one that could more efficiently accommodate different approaches to work?

Ultimately, Land O’Lakes decided to consolidate its ancillary spaces into one new headquarters building. Set atop a plinth of red brick that matches the original buildings, the new structure—Building C—is four stories tall and clad mostly in black corrugated metal, with long, horizontal bands of windows. Its footprint is long and thin, oriented lengthwise to the south to allow daylight to permeate nearly every inch of the interior.

At the center of the building is a multistory atrium with “social stairs” where workers can meet informally and larger gatherings like employee recognition ceremonies are often held. All-employee-access facilities, including a fitness center, childcare center, credit union, and health clinic, are located on the ground level. A large conference center was also woven into the design. “Events that used to occur offsite at rented venues, like our national sales meeting, can now be hosted here,” says Land O’Lakes real estate and facilities director Marcia Droege.

The building received LEED-Platinum certification for its raft of environmental measures: Rainwater is harvested for irrigation, photovoltaic panels are used to offset energy demands, and an outdoor air-ventilation system brings fresh air into the building. High-performance materials were used throughout and tabletops in several community areas were made from wood harvested onsite. Heating and lighting costs are offset by daylighting.

But the real magic lies in how the building works, says Perkins and Will managing director Tony Layne, AIA. Employees equipped with laptops are given free rein to sit anywhere within a “neighborhood” related to their department. For some, that means working at a desk they chose that day; for others, it’s working in a comfy chair with a view outside or in a high-backed booth in one of the kitchen areas. Groups can gather in glass-walled conference rooms or, in nice weather, outside in a courtyard landscaped with native plants. “If you need to get away and focus, you can find a place to be alone,” says Layne. “If you need to pull together a group to brainstorm ideas, you can find a corner to do that too. You don’t have to schedule a conference room for an hour.”

“Some employees were worried at first about not having a desk,” says Droege. “But that quickly changed.” Employees can put personal items in day-use lockers and work files in secure drawers assigned to them. Finding someone is easy: Each desk has a reference number, so a quick call or email can help locate a coworker. “Or you can just say, ‘Meet me in the atrium or at the community table,’” says Droege.

Perhaps best of all, the new space does more with less. Measured in terms of square footage, the new space is actually seven percent smaller than the combined space previously leased by Land O’Lakes. What’s more, there’s still room to grow the overall headcount by 20 percent. Says Layne: “We found a way to give people more flexibility, more comfort, and more natural light while decreasing the total square footage required to house everyone.”

Location: Arden Hills, Minnesota
Client: Land O’Lakes, Inc.
Architect and landscape architect: Perkins and Will
Principal-in-charge: Tony Layne, AIA
Project lead designer: Doug Bergert, AIA
Energy modeling: The Weidt Group (now Willdan)
General contractor: McGough
Size: 165,000 square feet
Completion: June 2018
Photographer: Gaffer Photography