Lots of glass, plenty of daylight and wide-open spaces were on display during a sneak preview of the new Mercedes-Benz USA headquarters in Sandy Springs on Nov. 13.
“The idea of the building is cooperation and working together,” and it’s built to encourage that, said MBUSA president and CEO Dietmar Exler during the media tour.
Scheduled to open in March 2018, the 200,000-square-foot new headquarters for the luxury carmaker’s North American division is still under construction. MBUSA currently has a temporary headquarters in Dunwoody after a 2015 relocation from New Jersey, and a little more than 1,000 employees will move into the new building through May 2018, Exler said.
The building is rising at the corner of Abernathy and Barfield roads, with its frontage of Barfield soon to be officially renamed “Mercedes-Benz Drive” in a compromise reached after a dispute with a neighboring Mormon temple. Its 12-acre site was formerly a wooded part of the Glenridge estate, most of which is now being developed by Ashton Woods, including the Aria housing subdivision across Abernathy and a mixed-use project in the early preparation stages adjacent to MBUSA.
While the new facility is MBUSA’s corporate headquarters, its on-site employees will be more specifically focused on sales, marketing and customer service, not designing or manufacturing cars. “So there [are] no secret labs,” Exler said.
On the outside, the headquarters is a relatively modest glass-walled box. Inside, it features a huge atrium and open-plan office spaces with floor-to-ceiling windows, with managers located among the employees in glass-walled rooms. The design follows a millennials-driven trend in corporate headquarters for collaborative workspaces that emphasize socializing over hierarchy.
“The more relaxed kind of opportunities to get together…we find the better it is, because we want to foster communication,” said Exler.
Architect Stephen Swicegood of the firm Gensler said his firm is working on similar office interiors for other major corporations, including a renovation of the Coca-Cola Company’s downtown Atlanta headquarters and the new NCR headquarters in Midtown
Swicegood said that at MBUSA, a design theme was to “always think about spaces as having more than one use.” So that atrium will double as both a cafeteria eating space and as an area to stage informal “town hall” meetings of all employees.
Another example is a coffee bar where employees can naturally socialize, but also plug their laptops into monitors to do some work, or sit in booths for more private conversations.
In Exler’s favorite saying, the building is “about ‘we’ space and not so much about ‘me’ space.” However, everyone needs “me” space sometimes, and the building will have those as well, he said. They include small “huddle rooms” for private conversations and closed offices for human resources and legal departments.
A downside of huge collaborative spaces is echoes and noise. To tackle those problems, the designers are adding partial drop ceilings and piping in a broadcast of white noise, Exler said.
“Branding was really important” in the design as well, Swicegood said. In the most obvious sense, that will include huge black-and-silver metal logos going up on the exterior. More subtly, he said, designers set out to “think about it like a Mercedes car.” The result, he said, was “not a crazy, zooming, curvy building,” but rather the simple lines, company color scheme on the trim, and windshield-like glass that is darker on the outside but transparent from the inside.
Quality of life is another goal of the design. “No person sitting in this building will be more than 30 feet from daylight,” Swicegood said of all that glass.
Amenities will range from a fitness center and a day care indoors to an outdoor walking trail around the building shaded by 784 trees. The fitness center was a popular feature at the old New Jersey headquarters, Exler said, though he indicated an unwillingness to repeat former CEO Steve Cannon’s practice of leading 6 a.m. spin classes for executives.
Exler said the day care – which includes a sizeable outdoor playground – as a necessary feature. That’s partly because “the average age of our employees came drastically down,” by 10 to 15 years, with the move from New Jersey. That’s because the company long had little staff turnover, but is now hiring new employees, either for new positions or to replace those who were laid off or did not move with the company. Exler said age diversity was an unintended “fringe benefit” of the move.
The new building will have some displays for visitors. A glass-walled corner of the parking garage will exhibit new cars. The lobby area will have what Exler called “exciting art exhibits,” with works he declined to describe beyond saying some would be made “out of spare parts of cars.” A private grand opening event will include a display of a Benz Patent-Motorwagen, a pioneering tricycle-style automobile first sold in 1886 by Karl Benz, one of Mercedes-Benz’s namesakes.
These days, Mercedes-Benz SUVs are a hot trend, and “that won’t change,” Exler says. An Austria native who now lives in Brookhaven, Exler has his own driving tastes that are better suited to the Southern weather.
“I’m still driving a controvertible year-round,” he said. “Georgia is really nice.”