During my few months in Minnesota as an exchange student, I discovered that the 3M Design Center is as much a landmark as any for those living in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area. Maplewood, the area where the center is located, is synonymous with 3M, and for good reason – 3M was founded in Minnesota over a century ago, and Maplewood is the home of 3M’s corporate headquarters and main campus. The Design Center is the newest, and most recognisable, addition to 3M’s home and is the first of two, the second being the Center in Tokyo.
The Design Center was created to bring together creatives across different divisions of 3M and house them all in a building specifically designed to foster creativity and innovation. It was clear to me the moment I stepped into the building that this was not any ordinary office. In fact, I was surprised when my gracious tour guide, the Brand Design Manager Peter de Sibour (who had taken time out of his day to show me around), told me people actually work in this space. When I looked around, I saw a place where I’d feel comfortable relaxing and hanging out with my friends, but the desks and computers in the designated workspaces indicated this place wasn’t just for fun and games.
Even after seeing this, I was still doubtful of its purpose as an office, and also more than a little bit jealous. The first thing I saw when I walked in was a super cool Ferrari wrapped in a galaxy printed wrap created by 3M, a testament to the sheer variety of materials that 3M develops and works with, as well as to the relaxed atmosphere it aims to create. There were so many things that made me seethe with envy as I walked around, like its pantry that was lit and filled with stools that made it look more like a upscale cocktail bar than an office fixture, and its Design Hive that was basically an amphitheatre style space filled with super soft and squishy pillows where employees could make presentations.
What really blew me away was finding out that 3M is as proud of Minnesotans as Minnesotans are of 3M. In my short exchange in Minnesota, I’d heard multiple people mention 3M in conversation as a point of Minnesotan pride, ranging from professors, to other students, to locals who were friendly enough to talk to a bunch of young Singaporeans on the streets of Minneapolis in the middle of the day.
3M’s name is an abbreviation of “Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company”, helping it stay true to its roots despite now being a multinational conglomerate. Yet, going further than many large companies, it supports local artists. Peter showed me a beautiful mural within the office space on a concrete wall, commissioned by 3M from local graffiti artists. Art that adorned the walls of the space was created by locals, and they even had a book of art by local artists sitting on a side table for light reading. 3M supports its own in a way I found truly beautiful, especially since the art scene in metropolitan Minnesota is so vibrant.
Another way it paid homage to its roots is in the minimalist “creative cabins” it built around the Design Center, made of wood and glass. These aren’t real cabins, per se, and they’re certainly not for camping; they’re actually meeting spaces, modeled after the cabins that are so ubiquitous in beautiful, green Minnesota. You’ll find three of these eye-catchers in the building, all with different themes and colours, but all equally useful and gorgeous.
It was truly an eye-opening and inspiring experience.