Coloring the Gap

At what point did advertising become so relentless? Everywhere you look, there’s a message about how to dress or what to eat and whom to trust — or not. Ads appear on everything from fruit stickers to 20-story canvases on otherwise blank urban walls, on digital screens as small and intimate as watch faces and as large and public as stadium jumbotrons. Setting oneself apart in the advertising world requires discipline, focus, and an obsession with the creative environment. These things just happen to be Stan Richards’s specialty.

Richards, founder and head “creative guy” at his namesake advertising agency in Dallas, has spent a lifetime fine-tuning a rigorous, egalitarian approach to management. Though Richards is a stickler for clocking in by 8:30 a.m. and billing work in 15-minute increments, his agency stands apart from its peers not just in terms of creativity, but also in terms of staff loyalty: The Richards Group has had the lowest turnover rate of all major ad agencies for several years running. 

For its new 250,000-sf headquarters in Dallas’ West Village (550,000 sf, including parking), Richards wanted an architectural team that could deliver on his vision. He wanted a building that would reflect his agency’s democratic ideals and deliver the most effective work environment possible for its staff of 700. The architects at Perkins+Will fit the bill. From start to finish, the project unfolded as a 22-month race to the finish line. 

Ron Stelmarski, project designer and design director at Perkins+Will’s Dallas office, might have turned gray had the clients on the other side of the table been anyone else, but The Richards Group “is just as familiar with meeting absurd deadlines as architects are, which can be a scary situation to walk into,” says Stelmarski. “Stan and his team were absolutely wonderful to work with, always bringing fresh ideas. We just had to keep up and continue to push the level of creative thinking. A client like this makes all the difference to the success of a project.”

The end result of the creative one-upmanship is a building that is a simple and clear representation of what The Richards Group believes in: truth, transparency, and the discipline to bridge the gap between art and commerce. If you’re one of the thousands of commuters into Dallas each morning, the shadowy cubic mass, situated on a triangular site between West Village and Central Expressway, is difficult to miss. You can’t help but notice the gaping void in the north facade as your eye flickers toward the roof terrace eleven stories up. It’s that familiar “hook” moment you get in a commercial or a song, where you begin to scale down the litter of information to an identifiable whole.

During the evening hours, the dark figure blossoms into a cheerful gradation of colors, affording the commuting masses a glimpse of what 

the future holds in store for new office buildings and up-and-coming productive spaces. The transformation from interior is just as phenomenal, as the blues, browns, and greens of the north Texas prairie slowly fade and darken, and the streaming freeway lights move fluidly among spotted yellow luminaries in the distance. 

The building comprises 10,000 square feet of retail space, a lobby, and a garage entrance at the ground level that leads to nine levels of parking. The Richards Group office space occupies the upper eight stories, the topmost being the exercise floor — a gift from Stan to his employees, housing every piece of workout equipment imaginable as well as yoga studios and nap rooms. At The Richards Group, respect for mental health and family life, which has proven to augment creative focus during the day, is of utmost importance. That’s why Stan Richards holds everyone responsible for clocking in by 8:30 every morning: This schedule allows staff to leave work at a manageable hour in order to be around the things — and people — they love most.

The office space is energizing and spirited. Employees at all levels of seniority work alongside each other and move around often, as there are no offices. The CFO has the only private office in the space. A benching system, selected over cubicles, is arranged at a diagonal orientation to break up the monotony of the typical cube-in-box layout. For private meetings, or large creative ones, there are various conference rooms at each level, easily identified by reclaimed wood walls beyond floor-to-ceiling glass partitions. For larger, more public announcements, the interior incorporates a four-story atrium and sculptural staircase, where Stan can have his 700 employees gather in a matter of minutes. Known as “stairwell meetings” — and associated more broadly with “stair culture” — the atrium is an exemplar of The Richards Group mantra and Stan’s progressive management style: a place where everyone can receive information at the same time.

The Richards Group building is perhaps the newest, best billboard for architecture in Dallas, a symbol of hope for the future of workplaces and democratic ideals, and a rejection of our outdated mentality of “thinking big,” with the white-collar tribalism that it engenders. The building’s monochromatic emphasis speaks to beauty in structure and impartiality to any specific color, and, by way of its brightly tagged accents, projects creativity from the inside out. It stands as a beacon on the unruly landscape of a car-dependent society, reaching to connect people from miles away and merging into its environment no less naturally than the prairies in the distant view. 

Ryan Flener, Assoc. AIA, is a senior project coordinator with Good Fulton & Farrell in Dallas.

Originally published in the May/June 2015 issue of Texas Architect magazine.