Fresh take: Renovated Cummins headquarters updates iconic building

A rendering of the terrace remodel at the Cummins Corporate Office building. Submitted

Those who walk into the renovated portion of the Cummins Corporate Office Building are struck by a difference that is like night and day — literally.

An infusion of light and colorful art pieces on the walls has brightened and energized the global headquarters of the 100-year-old diesel engine maker and power systems company, replacing the dim mauve and beige feel of the 1980s.

In addition, the renovation of the 36-year-old building designed by renowned architect Kevin Roche has time-warped the interior ahead by decades, replacing high cubicles and closed offices with work spaces that are open, communal and flexible.

Cummins Inc. announced in July 2017 a two-year, $50 million project to rejuvenate its flagship office at 500 Jackson St. in downtown Columbus.

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Interior renovations began in June 2017. A portion of the completed Phase I of the project, which includes the southern half of the building and the lobby, was open for people to see during a tour on June 15, when the company celebrated its centennial with a huge party for employees and their families. About 450 employees moved back into the space on June 17, said Josh Duncan, the COB project leader.

Phase II of the project, which affects about 750 employees and includes the northern half and the outside park area, is expected to be completed by July 2020, Duncan said.

The transformation to date has impressed company leaders and employees.

“It’s pretty unanimous that people like it,” said Rich Freeland, president and chief operating officer.

A renovation of the COB was needed because the work space no longer matched the company’s modern needs. Cubicles that hid people and were designed for paper storage no longer aligned with the digital world and collaborative needs, Freeland said.

Also, about 1,200 people were working in a space designed for 700 to 800.

Employees described the original setup of the COB as old and dim, not reflecting the company’s family-like culture and maze-like and difficult to navigate, Brad Manns, Cummins executive director of global integrated services, said in April 2018 during the Preserving Historic Places Conference in Columbus.

New-look lobby

Dramatic changes are noticed as soon as one steps through the COB’s main entrance, greeted by a transformed lobby.

The iconic “Exploded Engine” art piece is visible immediately to the left, relocated from the museum space off to the right.

The museum space in the lobby also has been transformed. New, mobile display cases not only tell about the company’s founding and history, but also about its employees, customers and global communities, Duncan said. The new lobby experience is typically open to the public during business hours.

Additionally, the display cases can be moved to accommodate an event for about 150 people in the lobby, Duncan added.

Different atmosphere

As people step from the lobby into the work space, a bright, open atmosphere greets them.

The main thing that people like with the renovation are the changes with windows and light, Freeland said. Under the old setup, the main work space lacked overhead lights and instead used skylights — which made for darker conditions on cloudy days or during the winter when there are fewer daylight hours, Duncan said.

Now, the ceiling has LED lights integrated into it, Duncan added.

In some areas by the courtyard, walls have been replaced with new larger panes of glass to bring in more natural light and allow employees to see outside. When the COB was designed, the walls were precast concrete components. Some of the walls had larger windows and others had narrow, ribbon-like windows — a design change prompted by the oil embargo of the late 1970s and energy-consciousness.

Also, mirrors throughout the building have had a film placed over them. The mirrors were a concept to draw in more natural light, but created an unpopular fun-house effect with employees.

Employees also have said the artwork makes the renovated space feel more alive, Freeland said.

A mural depicting a Midwest landscape, which Cummins commissioned New York artist Jason Middlebrook to create, adorns one south-side wall on the mezzanine level.

Much of the art work now displayed was already owned by Cummins, but it was underutilized, so the pieces have been redeployed, Freeland said.

Modern work space

Works space areas have changed dramatically with the renovation, embracing the Smart Office Space concept of shared spaces for working, casual settings and various sizes of meeting rooms.

Work areas are divided according to certain segments of the business, and are called “neighborhoods.” Each includes unassigned work stations, but assigned lockers for employees to store their personal effects.

“You have a sense of place with your neighborhood,” Duncan said.

Every work station is height adjustable — allowing an employee sit or stand — and can be adjusted to the employee’s body size and type, Duncan said. Employees have said that without the high cubicles and having better sight lines has made the building easier to navigate.

Also, because many employees are traveling, in meetings or working in alternate spaces, a neighborhood for 120 or 150 employees might have only 100 work stations, Duncan said, describing it as a more efficient use of space.

Located near work areas are social hubs, which are intended to be like an informal coffee-house space. These areas help people interact, and offer a place for people to work, meet or eat, Duncan said.

One of the noticeable changes with the renovation is that employees no longer work in the basement level. Previously, about 300 people worked in the basement, Duncan said. Now, everyone works on either the main floor or mezzanine level.

Now the basement is used for meetings, featuring some spaces that can accommodate 20 and a seminar room capable of handling 90.

The redesigned COB features about 65 percent more meeting space, because employees spend a large amount of time in meetings, Duncan said. The renovation includes meeting spaces as small as focus rooms, intended for one or two people.

Some of the focus rooms are intended for pop-in use when needed instead of having to be scheduled, Duncan said.

Freeland said the goal of the COB renovation was to maintain the feel of the Kevin Roche building, which is “special” and has a “gravitas” to it, but to make it modern.

After helping lead a tour of the renovated space, Freeland was asked what he thinks of the project so far.

“It has exceeded my expectations,” he said.

[sc:pullout-title pullout-title=”About the building” ][sc:pullout-text-begin]

What: Cummins Corporate Office Building

Purpose: Global headquarters building for Cummins Inc.

Where: 500 Jackson St., Columbus

Opened: 1983

Designer: Pritzker Prize-winning architect Kevin Roche

Number of employees: About 1,200

Size: 385,000 square feet (about 250,000 being renovated)

Renovation cost: Estimated $50 million

Project timeline: Interior renovations started October 2017; expected completion July 2020.

[sc:pullout-text-end][sc:pullout-title pullout-title=”Renovation highlights” ][sc:pullout-text-begin]

Highlights of the Cummins Corporate Office Building renovation project:

  • More than 100 meeting and enclosed spaces being added
  • Smart Office Space concept being used, which features flexible work spaces
  • More glass windows being added to some walls
  • Greater sight lines of the Cerealine Building
  • Mitigation of mirrors
  • Doors being added to allow people access to the courtyard
  • Updated museum and lobby

Lead designer: RATIO Architects, Indianapolis

Consultant: Deborah Berke Partners, New York

General Contractor: Taylor Brothers, Columbus

Other notable work:

Dunlap and Company, Columbus (HVAC, plumbing)

Kenny Glass, Columbus (exterior and interior glass)

Indiana Glass Coatings, Columbus (mirror and interior glass film)

DAVID RUBIN Land Collective, Philadelphia (landscape design)

Art Strategies, Indianapolis (art consultant)

The Brand Experience, Cincinnati (lobby exhibits)