The partners of Morris Manning & Martin decided it was time for a total renovation of the firm’s offices in Buckhead’s Atlanta Financial Center when it renewed its lease in 2011 on the space it has occupied since 1987. Almost two years in the making, the new look is spare, open and contemporary—a big change from the former traditional law firm decor with dark wood paneling and crown molding.
Beige walls, white marble and blond wood floors provide a neutral backdrop for exterior glass walls with views of Buckhead, punctuated by splashes of color from the contemporary art and furnishings. Accent walls in the firm’s signature orange add warmth.
Formerly enclosed conference rooms on the main reception floors are now walled in glass, allowing natural light and a clear view to the outside, and the main staircase connecting the floors has been opened up. (Retractable screens lower at the touch of a button in conference rooms to provide privacy when needed.)
“We wanted to make it open and light,” said G. Brian Butler. “It was very dark before, with lots of dark wood.”
Butler, a real estate partner, and Ward Bondurant, a corporate partner, co-chaired the design committee, which met weekly after the firm renewed its lease. The outside design firm for the common areas was Gensler. The build-out started in summer 2012 and was completed in May.
Morris Manning also gave a contemporary makeover to its Washington office, which moved into new digs in July at 1401 I Street on Franklin Square, near the White House.
Butler said he got involved because he likes architecture, and Bondurant said he likes puzzles.
“The challenge of this building is that it’s not square. It’s not a rectangle either. It’s a trapezoid,” Bondurant said. The firm is located in the complex’s East Tower. “Getting square offices into a floor plan with no right angles was a challenge.”
The renovation was an opportunity to reorganize the space, which had expanded from two floors to seven as the firm grew, resulting in a hodgepodge.
“We wanted a unified look throughout the stack,” Bondurant said.
With 306 people in its Atlanta headquarters, Morris Manning occupies floors 12 through 17 and half of 18. It added space on the 11th floor for a large multipurpose meeting room, expanding its square footage from 114,000 to 125,000 square feet.
Incrementally adding floors over the years meant that people who work together might not be physically adjacent, Butler said. The firm used the restack to group together departments and teams.
A kinetic sculpture, “Field,” provides a visual anchor to the main reception area on the 16th floor that sets the tone for the contemporary new look. The site-specific piece by Danielle Roney is made up of a spherical swarm of about 9,400 hollow, stainless-steel balls suspended by clear polyester threads. It “utilizes the flow of algorithmic flocking patterns” found in nature “to respond to the spatial interaction of the pedestrian corridors,” according to the artist’s statement.
When the sculpture was installed last spring, those passing by could not resist running their fingers through it, so it quickly ended up in a tangle that required hours of unknotting. Now a low railing encircles it to protect it from too much spatial interaction from lawyers and staff.
“Field” won a CoD+A (Collaboration of Design + Art) Award and was featured in Interior Design Magazine.
The firm chose a contemporary look, Butler said, because it wanted a younger feel. “We are a relatively young firm and young demographically,” he said.
But they kept some of the wood, Bondurant said. “Lawyers like dark wood.”
The reception areas on 11, 16, and 18, the primary client floors, have wood-paneled back walls with Morris Manning’s logo in blue. Long reception counters are fronted in brushed metal set off by white trim.
While more stark and modern-looking than the old space, Bondurant said they wanted it to feel inviting. Low-slung chairs in the main 16th-floor reception area are surprisingly comfortable.
Bondurant said the design committee had input on the chairs. “You can’t let the architects loose or it will all look like Frank Lloyd Wright,” he said.
The design committee adapted the space to the changes in how people work in law firms, Bondurant said. The firm needed more communal areas where people could spread out papers and collaborate, while it didn’t need the library as much.
“People were using conference rooms that they’d turned into war rooms—and they’d junked them up with boxes all over the place,” said Bondurant. The firm carved out workrooms to accommodate them.
Butler said there was debate over whether to keep the library. It remains, in an open area on one of the work floors, but is much smaller.
The work floors also have been lightened up. Lawyers’ offices around the perimeter have glass interior walls that allow exterior light through to the core, where the staff works. White-frosted horizontal stripes across the interior glass obscure the view into offices, to keep them from feeling like fish bowls.
Partner and associate offices have more uniform sizes, given the constraints of the trapezoidal floor plan, Bondurant said. Partner offices measure about 215 square feet, while associate offices measure 160 to 170 square feet. Standardized furniture for partners and associates, respectively, makes it easier to move people around. “We don’t have to move the furniture, just the people,” Bondurant said.
The designers eliminated redundant kitchens that had sprung up on different floors, creating a canteen on the 15th floor with a terrace and sweeping views south of the downtown skyline that is used for Friday happy hours.
Morris Manning’s 11th floor addition includes a large multipurpose room that can be used for partner meetings, arbitrations or receptions. Two pull-out partitions allow the room, which holds 99 people, to be subdivided into three smaller rooms. Before the redesign, the firm did not have a room large enough for all 77 partners, as its largest conference room held only 25 people, Bondurant said.
A white stone counter outside the room contains a refrigerator and is used to serve meals without interrupting the activity in the meeting room. A similar counter is outside the 18th floor boardroom.
The firm overhauled its technology with the renovation. Conference rooms are fully wired for Internet and videoconferencing with retractable video screens. Before, the Atlanta lawyers communicated with their Washington colleagues via speakerphone, Butler said. “It’s a big improvement. We can see charts that people put up,” he said.
Sound carries more easily with the new open floor plan, so the overhauled HVAC system includes a subtle whir of white noise that masks sound.
With the lease renewal, Morris Manning gained the right to affix its logo to the building’s exterior. The sign, which lights up at night and can change colors for the season, went up in August, making Morris Manning the first Atlanta firm to put its sign on a skyscraper.