In 2011, OPN started working with Principal to redesign its corporate headquarters in downtown Des Moines. Our work began as a straight-forward study of the campus environment with the goal of modernizing existing facilities and consolidating open space. With leadership from Principal, the design team embarked on an intensive discovery process. We began by analyzing the existing campus and buildings while concurrently conducting in-depth conversations with Principal about history, culture, work practices, and the company’s vision for the future. It quickly became clear that Principal had an opportunity to re-imagine its environment and work practices.
Architectural Record christened 711 High Street the Building of the Decade the year it was built. By 1939-standards, the beautiful art deco building incorporated many unique and innovative systems. Principal leadership clearly understood the building’s significance as well as impact it would have on current and future employees. An abundance of documentation — construction photographs, fabrication drawings, and numerous letters — saved from the original construction describe why systems and materials were selected and shed light on other considerations that shaped design decisions. One letter written during construction predicted that 711 High’s pioneering design would stand the test of time for 75 years.
The author was not off base. It was 74 years after 711 High was complete that OPN Architects began to design what would be a transformative renovation and restoration of the iconic building. Construction began in 2015 and was complete in 2017, 78 years after the original building was first occupied by Principal employees.
Creating a modern facility to attract and retain world-class talent was as important to the current generation of Principal leadership as it was to their predecessors. OPN embraced this challenge. The resulting design thoughtfully blends history, modern design, and a cutting edge workplace strategy.
The city-block size campus at 711 High was completely gutted and remodeled creating a space that will serve Principal for another 100 years while still respecting and restoring much of the art-deco materials and character.
Employees at Principal are no longer tethered to a workstation. Embracing the concept that a campus is an extension of the workplace, the traditional cubical has been replaced with flexible neighborhoods. These neighborhoods are designed to respond to the needs of an individual business unit; layouts accommodate how, not where, the employee works. Kitchenettes, community zones, drop-in rooms, traditional conference rooms, and unconventional workspaces reinforce the flexible work environment.
The following signature spaces were renovated and reimagined to support Principal’s new workplace strategy as well as the company’s primary goal of attracting and retaining world-class employees:
The High Street Lobby leaves a spectacular first-impression with visitors and employees. The new design created a single four-story lobby at both of the two main entrances on first and third floors. A 60-foot high by 16-foot wide LED screen visually connects all four floors. Original green stone floors, travertine stone walls, and ornate brass and wood art deco elevators were preserved and celebrated by the new modern design.
The Atrium is the heart of the global headquarters campus. The renovation created a soaring three-story space by enclosing an original exterior courtyard and connecting three buildings with a glass dome. The original 1939 exterior stone wall anchors the new atrium and hearkens to the building’s rich history. During design, circulation, activity, aesthetics acoustics, lighting, furnishing, color, and corporate branding were all considered. Primary circulation paths on third floor, conferencing, food service, and employee recreation areas activate the atrium. Electrochromic glass on the new roof incorporates a never-before-used control strategy optimizing daylight and providing movement within the glass. Exposed stairways encourage wellness and support an energy saving strategy by diverting circulation away from the elevators. Cantilevered drop-in rooms and interior corridors offer unique views from the upper floors and add to the activity of the third floor. Canopy structures along with thoughtful furniture selections create space for individual and collaborative work beyond the confines of a traditional cubical or conference room, reinforcing the idea that the campus is an extension of the workplace.
The Pavilion to the north of the atrium was wholly reimagined. Exterior views were opened up to the newly renovated plaza and campus. A new stairway promotes wellness by providing easy access to adjacent floors while new, larger openings between floors enhance the sense of space. A 10-foot by 10-foot LED screen provides a visual connection to high street lobby. Artwork enriches the space as well as providing a gallery-like connection to 750 Park Avenue.
A new skywalk connecting 711 High Street to 750 Park Avenue completes the campus loop and dramatically decreases the time required to pass from building to building. The .25-mile interior walking path created by the new skywalk also reinforces Principal’s commitment to employee wellness.
Auditorium Pre-function space was carved out of a covered exterior drop-off added in 1976. Capturing the space created a large gathering area to support auditorium events as well as other parties and gatherings. Features include an original 1939 stone relief prominently displayed outside the auditorium, an architectural wood wall, and display space for artwork. Both the pre-function space and auditorium are accessible for public events through a dedicated exterior entrance.
The Wellness Center features state-of-the-art equipment as well as aerobics and group fitness rooms. Locker rooms feature individual showers and group saunas. Bold colors and graphics generate a dynamic environment that inspires health and wellness.
Other renovations included major modifications to the sixth floor executive suite incorporated campus standards and strategies. Existing office walls were replaced with glass to foster collaboration and allow natural daylight to filter into interior space; kitchenettes were added; and technology was updated.
On the seventh floor, the boardroom was modernized with switchable glass while the past was preserved by the uncovering and restoration of original walnut walls and an art deco fireplace. Other modernizations included new restrooms and updated technology and furnishings.
Throughout the design and construction, sustainability was always at the forefront. OPN guided Principal in the development of a sustainability strategy for the renovated building and as well as day-to-day operations. Energy models informed architectural and mechanical system material selections and performance requirements. LEED Gold certification is anticipated.
Another common thread throughout the design process was the incorporation of Principal’s new corporate brand and messaging. Across multiple mediums — LED screens, static images, and environmental graphics — the theme and message remains consistent. Principal empowers customers and employees to “live their best life.”