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Coca-Cola’s Headquarters Have A Refreshing New Look

The company taps Gensler to spruce up its Atlanta offices with communal areas, treadmill desks, and recycled glass bottle flooring.

Over its 131-year history, Coca-Cola has reinvented itself time and again, first as a remedy for ailments, then as a beverage, then as a marketing machine selling refreshment, youth, and happiness.

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But at a time where science links sugary drinks to negative health effects like obesity, diabetes, and heart disease, there is growing skepticism around its namesake product. Soda sales in the United States have plummeted, and Coke is diversifying its portfolio to include more non-soda beverages. Today, the company hopes to reinvent itself once again–this time as an innovation leader, and to do so, it has turned to its own headquarters.

[Photo: © Garrett Rowland]
Built up between the 1960s and 1980s, the company’s Atlanta headquarters was woefully stuck in the past and hadn’t undergone a revamp since the 1990s. Working with the global architecture firm Gensler, Coca-Cola embarked on a renovation to transform its campus–and work culture–into the brand’s best advertisement for itself.

[Photo: © Garrett Rowland]
In 2010, then-CEO Muthar Kent argued that for the $188 billion brand to grow, it had to invest in spaces that promote creativity, productivity, and engagement in the 13,000 associates who work there–and attract top talent in the future. The company is in the midst of a reorganization strategy to “support our growth strategy as we transform our business into a true total beverage company,” Coca-Cola said in a release about 1,200 layoffs planned for this year and next year.

Rather than rebuild a campus anew to help execute this shift, the company looked for ways to overhaul the buildings it already had. At the heart of the renovation is what Gensler and Coca-Cola call the “Mainstreet Experience,” which earned an honorable mention in Fast Company’s 2017 Innovation by Design Awards. The architects turned the ground floors of six buildings on the campus into communal space and physically linked what was formerly six “silos” into a network of buildings.

[Photo: © Garrett Rowland]
Totaling 350,000 square feet, the spaces are open for all employees to use freely and are outfitted with conference rooms, cafes, and lounges that encourage employees to mingle. Before the renovation, employees only had two choices for where they could work: their desk or a conference room. Now they can choose from myriad spaces, including treadmill desks, sit-stand workstations in the communal areas, and soft seating. There’s also a two-acre outdoor space, which was redesigned to include patios and courtyards where people can take a break or bring their laptop out to work.

“We had a kind of a dream with this [would feel like a] really vibrant student center at a great university,” Julie C. Seitz, the Global Director of Coca-Cola’s Global Workplace team, says. “And we’ve gotten that. People are spending time with each other, having conversations they wouldn’t otherwise have.”

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[Photo: © Garrett Rowland]
Coca-Cola’s campus approach mimics what a lot of tech giants are doing: ensuring employees never have to leave the campus for their day-to-day needs. The company also built a medical office, pharmacy, convenience store, fitness center, bike storage, and dry cleaners into Mainstreet. Decorative embellishments, like a pixelated logo wall composed of 55,000 movable discs, and subtle details, like using recycled green-glass bottles in the flooring, connect the spaces back to the brand and give iconic emblems a modern update.

“We looked beyond the obvious trademarks to find inspiration in things that were more timeless and tangible,” says Michael Lutz, a senior designer in Gensler’s Atlanta office.

Since the renovation, the company has noticed that managers are now hosting more multi-day internal meetings (some with hundreds of attendees) at the campus instead of renting out space in hotels, which has reduced operating costs–and made the campus feel more effervescent.

About the author

Diana Budds is a New York–based writer covering design and the built environment.

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