Week of July 8, 2002
  Special Report

SRAM's Chicago headquarters
Bicycle component maker SRAM's Chicago headquarters (pictured) blends office, R&D and test-track space
A Whole New 'Criterium' for
Fast-Track Design

by ADAM BRUNS, Site Selection Managing Editor

CHICAGO – The general internal reaction to the new US$1.5-million international headquarters for SRAM (www.sram.com), a high-tech bicycle component maker based in Chicago, could be best summed up in the hyperbole of any mountain biker:
        That's exactly what people say when they see the blend of office, R&D and test-track space now occupying a formerly derelict loft building in the city's Cabrini section.
        But while the space itself may surprise and delight the company's staff of design, engineering and sales pros, what may surprise outsiders is that they outsourced the headquarters work - to the Chicago office of RTKL & Associates, led by architect Rod Vickroy.
        "They do everything at this headquarters except for manufacturing," Vickroy says. "It's nice to hear them say that the space is as flexible and organic to their business as they had dreamed it would be."

Doing in Hours What Normally Takes Weeks

The charette design process for the project worked along the same lines as SRAM's regular work process: Everyone touched the project, and they all worked together as the project went through its "production" cycle.
        A typical SRAM moment marked the climax of a planning session that accomplished in a few hours what normally takes companies a few weeks: A SRAM team member jumped up on the table with a digital camera and photographed the marked-up floorplate plan. Just like that, the construction document was in place.
        "By observing that interaction, we understood more about their company than we ever could by weeks and weeks of programming and focus groups," says Vickroy. "They allowed us into their thinking. More and more of our clients allow that, but generally they don't allow us to have their key decision-makers in one room for two to three hours. That's how they work, and they thought it was important to devote that time."
        The architectural team was dealing with a less-than-optimal space too, beginning with the obstruction of a central core in the building, and the challenge of properly placing the heavy CNC machinery so that it was structurally supported without cutting off that area from the rest of the company flow.
        "The ability to have the work in one area, move a process along, locate and co-locate, team and re-team, happens quite readily," says Vickroy of the ultimate flex space that was created. "They can move their desks, equipment and storage and make configurations in real time. It's not just a pastiche. It looks mobile, and they truly use it that way."

Keeping 'the Company's Soul Intact'

That's appropriate for a company that literally started in a garage-like space, which is emblematic of the spirit of the company.
        "They rejected architects who wanted to 're-brand,' and we got the project because we said we would listen," says Vickroy. "It's a matter of good, close listening and an environment of collaboration. A lot of times this blend of external brand and internal culture is a very delicate balance."
        SRAM is a global network consisting of eight facilities in China, Germany, Ireland, Mexico, the Netherlands, Portugal, Taiwan and the USA. Company leaders wanted their global headquarters to reflect that worldwide flow.
        "They chronicled how their people work in Taiwan and Germany, making sure more than anything it's about the culture of the employees, whether they're knowledge, production or engineering workers," says Vickroy. "They all sit in one open space and breathe the same air."
        Known for its urban space and public amenity projects, including the current rebuilding of the Pentagon section destroyed by terrorists, RTKL has gotten more involved in the R&D/industrial sector, Vickroy says.
        "Our health sector is getting more into lab/office, and we've done industrial and manufacturing design for IBM," he says. "As a company, we know how to get to very sophisticated nuts-and-bolts environments, and we're brought there by clients who want to do these sorts of projects with the soul of the company intact."

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