When you’re walking into a place called Ignition, you’re expecting to blast off. The single-tenant elevator that carries you to KPMG’s new Denver office from the mezzanine at 1001 17th Street feels every bit like an office tower elevator always does—sterile, steady, and silent. The only difference is you’re ascending but one floor and you know that going in, making the prospect of actually blasting off seem impossible. Instead, the doors open to reveal a visual tapestry of vibrant design, innovative thinking, unusual building materials, and a workplace experience designed to promote choice.
For starters, that sterile elevator just dumped you out into an anti-room fashioned from a shipping container boldly framing a fishbowl view of Ignition Central—a loungesque workspace featuring billiards, shuffle board, and a wide array of public and semi-private seating opportunities. KPMG Advisory Managing Director Lou Trebino happens to be working from Ignition Central when we arrive. He is on a call at one of a bank of booth-style workstations—also framed by a shipping container on the far side of the room—and he’s so integrated into the space we don’t even realize he’s the guy we’re looking for.
"Ignition grew from a need to develop energetic, creative space for several groups of new types of employees KPMG acquired through intellectual capital investments in disruptive technology," said Trebino. "Instead of trying to fit those people into our systems, we developed systems that would create alternative ways to work—both physically and personally—not just for creative people but for everyone."
KPMG is a Big Four accounting firm comprised of a global network of professionals providing audit, tax, and advisory services employing more than 174,000 people in 155 countries. When asked what a typical KPMG office is like, Trebino paints a picture of the buttoned-up accountant in a three-piece suit seated behind a massive cherry wood desk surrounded by walls of books encased in walnut millwork. Designed by acclaimed international architecture practice, Perkins+Will, Ignition builds on KPMG’s previous workplace of the future concepts including open workspaces, brighter colors, and glass top reception desks. "We had a fantastic opportunity to go quite a bit further and rethink our environment," said Trebino, casually dressed in jeans and a sweater. "Perkins+Will really listened to our needs and proposed dynamic and innovative workplace concepts including the fact that there are absolutely no private offices here regardless of level."
KPMG Ignition is designed around three primary concepts—vibrancy, choice, and integrated technology—and walking around the space all three are pretty hard to miss. Bold hues cover most every surface while employees are spread out between workstations and a variety of conference rooms, gaming lounges, chess sets, and other relaxed spaces. Each space offers multiple seating postures, and workstations can be raised, lowered, moved, or otherwise reconfigured at the touch of a button. For every person sitting and working, there is at least one doing the same thing standing. While some employees may choose to spend the day seated at a single desk, others may find themselves in a new spot every few hours. Rather than simply thinking of the workspace desires of millennials, Ignition seems to recognize that professionals of every generation can benefit from a combination of traditional work stations, open, socially inspired spaces, library-like reading nooks, and virtually everything in between.
Within the work areas, the office’s variety of functions are loosely grouped departmentally, with each team’s core work area named after one of Denver’s hipper neighborhoods—LoDo, RiNo, and Highlands. Each neighborhood adjoins to the next by way of one of the infused recreational respites. The Wii gaming station, for example, boasts an elegant low slung couch and a lifesize cardboard cutout of Trebino playing tennis.
Material choices and textural combinations are defined by a theme Perkins+Will refers to as "urban park." Inspiration is drawn from Denver’s urban fabric, composed of an eclectic combination of old, reused non-precious and industrial materials counterbalanced by fresh modern forms and sophisticated furnishings. A light fixture made from recycled bicycle parts hangs above a counter top bar referencing Denver’s bike culture; a living moss wall decorates one passage way in embrace of Colorado’s magnificent outdoors; and a backlit wall of green bottles illuminates an alcove featuring air hockey and foosball in a salute to the many local microbreweries. "KPMG wanted Ignition’s multitude of recreational activities to be integrated throughout the entire office rather than in a single area," said Perkins+Will Senior Interior Designer, Kim Klingeisen. "Creating adjacencies with high-energy, potentially loud spaces next to conference rooms, and common workstations presented some acoustical challenges." In response, the loudest recreational areas, though open, are slightly recessed into the building’s core, while common workstations all abut exterior walls, giving every employee immediate access to views and daylight.
Throughout Ignition the integration of technology is constant. Old-school flip charts on easels have been replaced by mobile, digital pads where impromptu notes can be taken and printed, saved electronically, or emailed around the world at the touch of a button. Virtually every wall in every conference room is a writeable surface allowing white boarding to take place anywhere. In several places mega-large touch screen monitors sit on rolling platforms waiting for a brilliant idea that requires immediate human interaction from the far corners of the globe. KPMG is beta testing them in secrecy for one of the world’s largest software producers. When you have the coolest workspace, you get to try out the coolest new toys first.
As with any innovation, owners are eager to measure the value of their investments, and in design, the challenge can often be quantifying effectiveness. In the case of Ignition, measuring success isn’t hard at all. For starters, KPMG employees visiting from other offices are immediately awestruck when they walk in the door. Since the Denver office opened in 2015, a new Ignition Center was established in Grand Rapids, Michigan, while three more are scheduled to open in Atlanta, New York, and San Diego. Perhaps more importantly, Trebino shares that within a few months of opening, a group of KPMG employees from different departments happened to be playing a game of pool when they suddenly realized they were all solving the same set of problems several different ways. Within a matter of minutes, they began rethinking their processes, taking the best of each department’s ideas and streamlining them into a single synthesized solution that improved processes for three distinct groups. "Ignition presents all of us with new and exciting ways to work and to improve communications both face-to-face and remotely," said Trebino. "The space compels us to think beyond ourselves and to continually consider how we can be better at what we do, not only for our clients, but for each other. We used to take the majority of our meetings at our clients’ offices as a sort of an industry tradition. Now clients not only insist on having meetings here, many of them ask if they can use the space for their own engagements, as well."