McDonald’s golden arches take on a new life in their nine-storey Chicago headquarters

Chicago – When Super Size Me came out in 2004, it would have been pretty hard to imagine a day where McDonald’s would become the kind of place that could ever speak to those concerned about health and wellness. To bring up sustainability would have been laughable. But 15 years later, we live in different times. This month, the megalith fast-food company rolled out a trial of McVegan nuggets in a few European countries. They’re covered in breadcrumbs and deep-fried. But still.

Salads instead of Big Macs and apples in lieu of fries have been updated offerings on the fast-food chain’s menus for quite some time now. But, as to reflect the cultural changes that have people more and more concerned about their diet and lifestyle, McDonald’s restaurant spaces are starting to evolve too. Seeing the contemporary, design-minded interiors – sans the usual explosion of primary colours – of the new McDonald’s headquarters in Chicago’s West Loop neighbourhood by Studio O+A and IA Interior Architects, you might question whether the building somehow got its tenants mixed up.

But it’s not the first marked aesthetic shift for the company’s posts: Less than a year ago, the ‘Rock ‘N Roll’ McDonald’s flagship in Chicago – one of the restaurant’s most famous locations in the world – garnered attention for its Apple-store-lookalike remodel by Ross Barney Architects and Landini Associates. The goal of the overhaul? To sacrifice the space’s standing as a purveyor of mid-century Americana nostalgia to try to achieve LEED certification – it was a major indication of McDonald’s changing business priorities.

Every floor refers back to a chapter in the story of McDonald’s success as a company

The design concept for the new nine-storey corporate headquarters – that houses around 2,000 employees – was to create a ‘transformational workspace’ that could prepare the company for its ‘state-of-the-art future’. The result is an emulsion of many functional spaces: within the location, the offices are accompanied by a school (aptly dubbed ‘Hamburger University’), test kitchens, a brand history museum and more – like, of course, a McCafé. Naturally, the arch was a preferred architectural motif – every floor refers back to a chapter in the story of McDonald’s success as a company. This is the first time that the chain has been headquarted in Chicago in over 40 years; its previous facility was in the suburbs of the city.

Having a positive, well-designed workspace is like the adult version of finally getting the toy you wanted in your Happy Meal – the only difference is that with the former, the elation remains. As McDonald’s wades deeper and deeper into the world of wellness and sustainability, it is their attentiveness to off-the-menu, spatial hospitality – for diners and employees alike – that will prove essential to their smooth sailing.

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