I remember walking into the Los Angeles office of Saatchi & Saatchi for an interview when I was 23 years old and being blown away by the shiny concrete floors, hardwood detailing, and Sunkist-orange furniture. I had never seen interiors like it before, let alone in an office. When I was a kid visiting my father at work, it was all brown carpet and lousy overhead lighting. And then when I finally got my first office job, it was also all equally terrible carpet and lighting, just with slightly newer cubicles. I never got that Saatchi job, but the concept of cool ad agencies offices never left my head—especially two agencies, in particular, both of them in Portland.
Wieden+Kennedy is arguably the most famous advertising agency in the world, currently with eight offices spread across six different countries. But W+K’s global headquarters and flagship office is in Rose City; it was built in 2000 when founder Dan Wieden hired the local architecture firm Allied Works. The result saw a 220,000 square-foot warehouse transformed into a glossy five-story office building. A clever design allowed for disparate workspaces (“mini-agencies”) on the perimeter, each with its own self-contained lounges and conference rooms. Everything would meet in the middle of the building, united by a concrete five-story atrium.
The space’s most eccentric detail is “The Nest,” an arty meeting space made entirely of wooden willow branches collected from a nearby forest preserve. It was created by the artist Patrick Dougherty, who twisted and stretched the wood until it resembled something from a fever dream. Inside sat a sofa is covered with custom fabric to mimic a giant rock slab. (Alongside Eero Saarinen-designed table and chairs.) It is clever and twee and cozy—in other words, perfect for the hipsters that tend to work in advertising.
The other Portland advertising office I’ve long admired from afar belongs to Instrument, a newer and more design-driven shop that popped up in 2011. Their work was slick, and the giant wooden teepee in the middle of their office was once the talk of the proverbial agency town. Four years later, the company moved into the newly built “One North,” a modernist construction from Holst Architecture full of generous curves and staggered floors. The interiors weren’t nearly as groundbreaking; a central atrium acts as the internal courtyard connecting the multiple levels of office space. However, an homage to the original teepee stood on the ground floor.
The central atrium is pretty standard fare for ad agencies these days. (The Saatchi office I visited had one, too.) It is an efficient way to create an airy space and a convenient meeting spot for "all-agency" meetings. (Industry parlance for extremely good news or extremely bad news.) But as remote work has become more prevalent in the agency world, I wonder if these elaborate bizzaro offices are destined to become an object of the past.
In 2011, the famous Wieden + Kennedy office made a cameo in Portlandia, the wide-eyed and absurdist series from Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein. In the sketch, Brownstein's character struggles on her first day to understand oddball coworkers and navigate the labyrinthine offices before being summoned to a meeting in "the basket." (Good satire always involves a name change.) It's a loving send-up of the ridiculousness of agency life, down to the physical space. Sure, W+K never needed "The Nest," just as Instrument never needed that ginormous wooden teepee. But when you're spending ten hours a day using words like "ideation" and "concepting" in earnest—you realize the job is a bit ridiculous. And it's nice to have an office that fits the gig.