The design of Merchants Bonding Company’s new corporate headquarters in West Des Moines honors the firm’s history while simultaneously looking to and embracing the future.
Merchants moved into the OPN-designed 50,000-square-foot facility in August. The company, which was founded in 1933 by the current CEO’s great grandfather, celebrates the new space today with friend and family Oct. 16 at a grand opening.
The new, larger building replaces the former headquarters on Fleur Drive. Prior to moving there in 1995, Merchants operated out of the same Grand Avenue mansion where it was founded more than 85 years ago. Despite doubling the size of their former main building and purchasing the building headquarters, with anticipated room for future growth. It is designed to comfortably fit 160 employees and allows for a possible addition to the south.
The employee spaces are in two wings that radiate from the central reception area.
“They were looking for an open, more inviting and welcoming environment for employees and clients,” says Nate Stieler, one of the architects who designed the building. “They also wanted it to be an exciting place to work, too.”
In response to that request the project team — led by Principal Terry Gebard and Project Architect Brett Mendenhall — of Barbara Gerlach, Chris Carotta, Eli Goll, Nate Stieler, Matthew Jorn and Thomas Martinez, designed a spacious break room, adjacent training area — with retractable walls that allow for three configurations — and fitness center and locker rooms.
The break room features multiple seating options — booths, low and high top tables — as well as a bar with enough electrical outlets to accommodate monthly employee potlucks. There’s also an outdoor patio for socializing or working in warmer months.
The entire building has an open, transparent air. Two corridors create a visual connection through the entire building from east to west. Gllass at either end lets the outside in.
Work stations are flexible, with small informal gathering places that inspire collaboration. President Larry Taylor wanted his employees to know that they could approach him at anytime. So OPN designed his corner office with glass walls and no door.
The transparent theme begins at the building’s entrance where Merchants’ leadership team wanted to leave visitors with a lasting first impression. This was accomplished with a striking fireplace in the reception area as well as a glass staircase and four glass-walled conference rooms.
Another important element was incorporating the company’s history. The lobby was also designed to showcase Merchants’ archives from their first bond to news articles to the founder’s desk. In the main conference room is another piece of the company’s past. A pair of doors from the original building hang in the conference room.
On the exterior, materials meld the modern with the past. A clean design is executed in brick.
“Masonry really has that feel of permanence,” Stieler says. “The precast panels that we employed on the ends of the wings and at the main entries help give it a monumental presence and provide a visual guide to people visiting the building for the first time.”
Biophilic design also informed finishing choices.Warm wood panels, carpet and other finishes reflect the landscaping outside. The lobby curtain walls frame views of the landscaping which was designed to provide texture and color year round. Warm wood panels, the pattern, texture and color of the carpet, and the rolled marble rock bed below the main stair bring nature to the interior.
Though not a LEED building, sustainable methods were employed in the design. For example, all the lighting is LED. And daylight harvesting allows for lighting in areas of the building to dim when the sun is bright.
In fact, light is critical to the overall design.
“We really wanted to daylight that space, especially the main entry, so the lobby would feel open, welcoming,” Stieler says. “We wanted it to be transparent and contemporary, yet monumental at the same time.”