More than 50 years ago, I was witness to the birth of a new building type in Chicago’s suburbs — the great sprawling corporate campus. From Motorola and McDonald’s to Ameritech and Sears, some of the most influential brands in the world started taking root in Chicago’s bucolic suburbs as they looked to consolidate business divisions under one large roof and to provide a stimulating work environment away from the hustle and bustle of the inner city.
Today, many of these corporate meccas sit vacant due to the rise in telecommuting and a shift in workforce demographics. The simple version of the narrative is that instead of people chasing the jobs, arms are now chasing the talent. And for the moment, many employees prefer to live and work in the city.
While some suburbs are strongly associated with the companies who previously occupied those campuses, there is another story to tell in terms of the opportunities change can bring to these properties and their surrounding communities. As the architect who designed two of these campuses, the AT&T (né Ameritech) corporate campus in Hoffman Estates in 1989 and McDonald’s global headquarters in Oak Brook starting in 1978, I have repeatedly been asked to share my thoughts on the future potential for these facilities. And it is with much pleasure that I have come to the conclusion that these sites will and new life that is in synch with the rapidly changing lifestyles and habits of the suburban populations surrounding them.
In fact, looking at what is happening thus far with the former McDonald’s and AT&T corporate campuses, we can see two very different approaches emerging.
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