Snow Kreilich Architects creates a crisp, open studio for a creative agency on the top floors of a midcentury tower

By Joel Hoekstra

Last winter, McCann Minneapolis (then called Mithun) vacated the glassy downtown skyscraper it had inhabited for decades and moved five blocks up the street. In doing so, the company abandoned not only a workspace that seemed increasingly dated but also the work styles of ages past. Gone would be the perimeter of offices usually reserved for management. Siloed efforts would be replaced with dynamic collaborations.

To realize that vision, McCann leased the top three floors and penthouse of the 510 Marquette building, whose nearly century-old, Cass Gilbert–designed base had been topped with 10 additional floors in the 1950s. The agency then hired Snow Kreilich Architects, a local firm known for its elegant modern aesthetic. The building wasn’t new, of course, but McCann’s managers hoped the architects could create a clean-lined, contemporary work environment—a place where creativity and clear thinking would stand out in sharp relief.

“What we discovered when we first toured the place was that it had this amazing light,” recalls firm founder and principal Julie Snow, FAIA. “It was reflected off other buildings, but it was warm, and when people walked into the space they just gravitated toward the windows.” From the start, Snow Kreilich focused on keeping walls to a minimum. Barriers to light, they reasoned, were also barriers to creativity.

Snow and designer Kar-Keat Chong, Assoc. AIA, mapped out floor plans that left much of the rectangular footprint open. They clustered conference rooms and individual offices into an L-shape along two sides of the building, and they dedicated large swaths of space along the street-facing windows to community gathering areas. Open staircases in these areas add to the sense of easy circulation. The center of each floor is filled with workstations, but their low partitions invite conversation and glimpses of projects others are working on.

Whites and grays prevail, reflecting the daylight that enters the space. Comfortable furnishings by Herman Miller, Knoll, and B&B Italia give the community spaces a relaxed, modern feel. And by leaving the sandblasted masonry of the exterior walls exposed, Snow Kreilich found a way to acknowledge the building’s history. “We wanted to defer to the historic envelope of the structure,” says Snow. “The colors that enter the space are mostly the colors of the buildings outside and the city beyond.”

“The space was conceived with the idea of fluidity and movement,” says Chong. “Work is dynamic and mobile. And getting up and moving around is also good for your health.”

The biggest challenge was integrating infrastructure into the space without adding clutter. Lines and ducts for power, HVAC, lighting, and fire-protection systems were threaded almost seamlessly behind false sides on columns and beams. And Chong didn’t shy away from insisting that the details related to such work be perfect. One custom-made surround for a bank of desks—composed of light-diffusing matte aluminum—had to be redone several times to meet Chong’s exacting specifications.

At the top of the stairs that rise through the McCann space is a penthouse that opens up onto the roof. Snow and Chong saw it as a place where employees could escape, either outside in good weather or inside in bad. Outside, they added a deck with chairs; inside, a cozy fireplace. “It’s somewhere you can go when you need a quiet place to read or think,” says Snow.

“The studio offers both remote quiet spaces, where you can work alone, and open, relaxed collaboration areas, where you can bounce ideas off your coworkers,” she continues. “Our job as designers was to make sure the environment would encourage both kinds of activity—and boost the total creative output.”

Location: Minneapolis, Minnesota
Client: McCann Minneapolis
Architect: Snow Kreilich Architects
Principal-in-charge: Julie Snow, FAIA
Project designer: Kar-Keat Chong, Assoc. AIA
General contractor: Swervo Development Corp.
Size: 51,694 usable square feet
Completion: March 2015
Photographer: Paul Crosby