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Inside Bohlin Cywinski Jackson’s new minimalist office at East Market

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The architecture firm is one of the first to set up shop at East Market

Bohlin Cywinski Jackson’s Philly office has a new setup at East Market.
Photos by Jeffrey Totaro for Bohlin Cywinski Jackson

Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, the design firm known locally for the Liberty Bell Center redesign and Penn’s New College House dormitory, recently became one of the first tenants to move into their new office at 1100 Ludlow at East Market, a $600 million mixed-use development.

For principal Tom Kirk, the move couldn’t have come at a better time. The firm had spent the past two decades working in a small office in the Wells Fargo building on Broad Street. “We came from this very tighter, U-shaped configuration where people were in their cocoons,” he says.

Their new 18,525-square-foot office on the sixth floor of the renovated warehouse at 1100 Ludlow is the complete opposite, with an open-office layout and soaring ceilings held up by large concrete pillars. In addition, the designers are surrounded by three walls of floor-to-ceiling factory-style windows.

The building’s original architectural details meant that the firm didn’t have to do too much in terms of actual design. Instead, BCJ went for a more minimalist take on their new office, creating an open-office setup with a few trademark aesthetics that the firm is known for.

The desks, for example, were designed by BCJ and were also used in the firm’s Ballard Branch of the Seattle Library. Made of maple veneer multi-ply wood, the tables are based on notching, so that no screws are required.

“In all of our work, we have this appreciation for wood finishes and woodwork,” says senior associate Daniel Lee. “At the same time, you don’t see fasteners in our design. In our design process, thought goes into the details and how things join and come together.”

It also helps that the Philadelphia team now has enough space for a much larger workshop in the back of the office, where there are two rooms reserved for 3D and laser cutting printers. The modeling shop, says Kirk, “is a huge change for us. We had one that was the size of a broom closet in the old office.”

Top photos by Melissa Romero

Top left: The work desks are surrounded by break-out sections where designers can gather to collaborate on a project. Top right: The all-hands area of the office features a kitchen, a large chalkboard and a conference table, where designers are encouraged to eat lunch together.

The layout is also purposefully democratic, says Kirk, who notes that the work area is located in the center, while the edges are reserved for gathering spaces. In one corner, for example, is the office’s new virtual reality center, where clients can don goggles to view ongoing work.

BCJ also purposefully left plenty of open space in the center of the office, which will allow for the office’s potential expansion. “Optimistically, we might grow,” says Lee of their 50-person office. “So we don’t want to pin ourselves in for any potential overcrowding.”

As for the open-office layout, which in recent years has had its few share of critiques, Kirk says, “I think architecture is a little bit a different beast in terms of the open-office model issue.” And, he continues, it’s a much better setup than their last, where “people would be standing over each other shoulders at their desks. It was awkward.”

That’s what the wide desks ands break-out sections of the new office are for. Says Lee of their new setup, “It creates more community, as long as you allow the space to also create those more quieter moments.”