In the 1980s and 1990s, when I was finally getting regular commissions as an architectural photographer, cost-benefit analysis was the driving force in the design and execution of office and commercial work environments. Carpets, wall colors, and posters were the most decorative elements apart from some of the public spaces and executive offices where sparse paintings hung. 

At the same time, I was photographing the work of William Purcell and George Elmslie, Prairie architects deeply influenced by Louis Sullivan and the Beaux-Art school who worked in the late 19th Century in the heartland of America. Every entry, molding, floor, and surface was an opportunity to be creative and install, carve, or paint something beautiful. In the banks they designed, people still wait in lines looking around with dazzled faces. The experience of the two contrasting approaches to the importance of beauty in buildings seemed like the opposing ends in the arc of a pendulum’s swing.

Artful Office Spaces

A living wall graces the seating area of a dining area with decorative screens separating and artful lighting in the Adobe Headquarters mentioned above.

The pendulum is swinging back now with more artful approaches to offices and commercial buildings that must be inspiring and uplifting for those who work there and their clients. 

Artful Office Spaces

Staying in the Adobe Headquarters, an artist painted this enormous floor-to-ceiling mural in place in a second-floor employee break room/restaurant. It’s dazzlingly beautiful. 

Artful Office Spaces

The wall opposite the elevator bank not only identifies Health Catalyst’s offices, but it sets a tone of a healthy environment with the clusters of living wall in the design. (Okland Construction)

Artful Office Spaces

In Health Catalyst’s break and dining room, a teal suspended ceiling lowers the height as it defines the space. Suspended from this ceiling is another with hanging plants that is the same shape as the long, rounded-end island. 

Artful Office Spaces

The glass of private offices is colored and with artistic representations of genes in the Myriad Genetics headquarters. (Okland Construction)

This is an employee break-away room in the dining area of Adobe Headquarters in Lehi; Okland Construction.)

Artful Office Spaces

Background and company history are printed in the squares placed in a band in the wood partition that represent genetic coding on the main level of Myriad Genetics. 

Artful Office Spaces

This artist installation represents the progress of understanding and modeling genetic data. (Myriad)

This entry at OC Tanner’s headquarters and production facility subtly sets the tone for the care the company pays to details and to aesthetics. (FFKR Architects)

Artful Office Spaces

In this wellness/respite room at the University of Utah’s new student residence, you can see how the artistic detailing of the privacy window, the wooden ceiling, lights, living wall, and even mat colors make a considerable difference in experiencing the space. (Okland Construction)

I am delighted with the return pendulum swing. First, the spaces are so much more interesting and beautiful to photograph. Second, I believe it represents a shift in attitudes toward valuing the people who work there. The extremes of the stark offices of the past still live in my mind. It will take me a long time to warm up to a maroon and teal medical offices. However, I might feel a bit nostalgic for breakrooms with posters of cats doing chin-ups. 

All photos are by Scot Zimmerman


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