First look: Filene’s transformed into new office for communications firm Havas

I must admit: even though Filene’s closed almost ten years ago, I was a little sad to see the escalators, the stacks of sweaters, and the perfume-spritzers gone. But the Watertown architecture firm Sasaki Associates has kept a few traces of the department store that was once part of every Bostonian’s life as it transformed the top four floors of the landmark Downtown Crossing building into offices for Havas. Havas is a French communications conglomerate that owns Boston ad agency Arnold Worldwide; Debi Kleiman, an executive vice president at Havas Media and former director of the trade group MITX, gave me an early look at the space last week.

The four floors are connected by wide staircases, and Havas calls the space a “village,” since it will house employees of Arnold, Havas Public Relations, Havas Media, which handles online and offline media buying for clients, and several other teams. About 600 Havas employees move in on Monday. No one has private offices, and the 64 conference rooms are all named after departments of the old Filene’s store. Kleiman says her hope is to bring in startups and speakers to keep Havas employees plugged into what’s happening at the leading edge of adtech, mobile apps, and digital media.

At street level, a Roche Brothers supermarket is slated to open next year, and Irish clothing retailer Primark will fill several of the lower floors.

Here are the photos from my visit last Friday. The goal of the project, says architect Victor Vizgaitis of Sasaki, was to “capture the past, celebrate authenticity, but create a bridge between the past and the future for Havas.”

And just for a little historical context, here’s the original illustration that ran in the Boston Daily Globe in April 1911, when the “new” Filene’s building was first announced.


Scott Kirsner writes the Innovation Economy column every Sunday in the Boston Globe, in which he tracks entrepreneurship, investment, and big company activities around New England.
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