When architects presented their plan for Nissan North America Inc.'s new U.S. headquarters to the automaker's chief of design, he did what designers do best: He whipped out his pen and started making changes.
Reaching for a napkin to draw on, Bruce Campbell told the architects, "I was thinking of something more like this."
When it is finished in 2008, Nissan's new $100 million headquarters in Franklin, Tenn., will look remarkably like Campbell's quickly sketched napkin design.
"I couldn't pass up the opportunity to influence what we're doing," says Campbell, vice president of Nissan Design America. "It was like redesigning the Sentra. It's too important to who we are and how the world perceives us. It's not just an office building."
As envisioned by the Nashville architectural firm Gresham Smith and Partners, the headquarters would have featured a largely red brick exterior. The proposed design was conservative in appearance in an effort to blend in with Nissan's new suburban neighborhood.
At a meeting in Farmington Hills, Mich., Campbell instead proposed a modern glass and steel building. He sketched an S-shaped outline to convey what he called "a company in motion."
He asked for town-square meeting areas on each of the building's floors to encourage large employee meetings. He also proposed extrawide center stairways to permit impromptu conversations and idea exchanges as people move between floors.
After sketching his concept, Campbell turned the napkin over to Alfonso Albaisa, design director at Nissan Design America, who spent an hour manipulating the drawings with Adobe Photoshop software. They then sent the ideas to Gresham Smith, where architects translated them into the building plan.
"The architects presented us with a great design," Campbell says. "But you had the sense that the building was trying to blend in to its surroundings -- not stand out. I don't want to blend in. We want to use colors and materials to project Nissan as a forward-thinking company.
"There probably aren't many architects who are used to dealing with clients who ask a lot of abstract design questions. But that's what car designers do. We ask, 'Why this material?' And 'Why this line here?' "
Nissan isn't the first company to make its headquarters resemble its corporate culture or products. Perhaps the most famous example is the Longaberger Co. home office in Newark, Ohio. The company, known for its high-end household baskets, built its headquarters as a replica of its market basket.
You may e-mail Lindsay Chappell at [email protected]