This post was contributed by Jen Levisen, communications director at Mortarr.
IIDA and AIA Chicago kicked off the second season of their Designers & Architects Talk series on February 11. First up, a conversation between IIDA Executive Vice President and CEO Cheryl S. Durst, Hon. FIIDA, and Lauren Rottet, FIIDA, FAIA, a celebrated interior designer with over 60 million square feet of built design.
The 2020 season of the Designers & Architects Talk series kicked off on February 11 at IIDA Headquarters with a fireside chat between Cheryl S. Durst and celebrated interior architect Lauren Rottet—or as Durst introduced her, “the Patron Saint of Badassery.”
Rottet is the first woman to be elevated to the College of Fellows for both AIA and IIDA. Her furniture and product designs have won four gold medals for Best of NeoCon and three Good Design Awards from the Chicago Athenaeum Museum of Architecture and Design. As Durst put it, Rottet just has, “all the things.”
“So, how did a nice girl from Waco, Texas, end up with an architecture degree?” Durst asked.
“When I was growing up [in Waco], all you could really do was go to church and play outside,” said Rottet. “So, while I did a little bit of the church thing, I also played in the rocks and mud, building houses for the horned toads and frogs I’d catch outside.” From there, her family moved to Houston, where frogs and mud were limited and she eventually turned to art.
Rottet ended up enrolling in the University of Texas at Austin to be a doctor—“Thank God I didn’t do that!”—but found herself strongly drawn to art and architecture. After graduating with a Bachelor of Architecture degree in 1980, she began her career in San Francisco, where she practiced with the accomplished residential design firm Fisher Friedman Associates. She then relocated to Chicago to join Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) and focused on high-rise office design. Her work with SOM took her back to Houston, where she was the senior designer on several significant high-rise buildings, museums, and planning projects.
When the building boom stopped, Rottet focused her creative energies on interiors and was asked by SOM to start an interiors practice in Los Angeles. After successfully building that practice, Rottet and several SOM partners joined forces to create the architecture and interiors firm Keating Mann Jernigan Rottet. Soon, the partners joined Daniel Mann Johnson & Mendenhall (DMJM) to expand their practice further. Rottet was principal-in-charge of the interiors practice DMJM Rottet for 14 years. In 2008, she left to form the privately held, WBE-certified, Rottet Studio.
With a team of architects and designers she has worked with for as many as 25 years, Rottet Studio has grown into an international architecture and design firm with an extensive portfolio of corporate and hospitality projects for the world’s leading companies and brands. With offices in Houston, Los Angeles, and New York, Rottet Studio is not just Rottet’s body of work, but a reflection of the woman herself.
“Home,” she told Durst, “is where the dogs are, so Houston—and they don’t like to travel. Houston is where I was raised, and my family is there, so I moved back.” However, Rottet had always wanted to work in New York, so when she started Rottet Studio, she opened a New York office. After purchasing a George Nelson-designed home in Montauk, she now calls New York home, too.
“The true definition of design is that you create a solution; you create a something that has not existed before.”— Lauren Rottet, FIIDA, FAIA
With design studio offices across the country, a portfolio that leaves no sector untouched, and an award-winning line of furnishings including case goods, seating, tables, and lighting, how does Rottet measure success these days? “Hotels measure success every day, instantaneously,” she said, “and their ROI is directly related to the design and how well the hotel works.”
Rottet cites her work on The Surrey Hotel in New York City’s Upper East Side, her second hotel project ever, as a standard-bearer for success in her mind. “It was ranked the number one hotel in New York for every year the first ten years it was around, so I think that constitutes success,” she said.
“I never separated office design, hotels, this or that,” Rottet said when asked about embracing the blurring of design sectors. “The world separates us, wants to categorize us. “When we interview for office space, I show them as much of our hotel work as I do our office work,” she added. “Offices are becoming a lot of fun.”
Rottet also noted that it’s an exciting time for the hospitality industry, citing thriving social hubs within hotels. “When Ace Hotel built their Social Hub, it was where everyone hung out, and the hotel became the social hub of the city, and it went viral,” she said.
Durst agreed: “It was the moment when hotels became not for guests only, but the neighborhood, becoming the neighborhood’s living room. We’re looking at that in Chicago’s Fulton Market now, where everyone feels like they have access to those public spaces.”
“Design is about the connectivity,” says Rottet, bringing up the Hoxton in Chicago, which has become well-known for its coworking environment.
So how has Rottet managed to do “all the things” so gracefully over the years?
“It is really hard,” Rottet admits. “You look back and think, wow, I should probably have spent more time doing this or that, but I truly believe failure is not the opposite of success. Failure is a part of success. The beauty of what we do is that we are learning every day, and we learn from both our mistakes and our failures.”
“People always talk about what’s going to change, what something or someplace will look like in 10, 20, or 50 years, but,” Durst asked Rottet, “What will endure about design?”
“A professor once told me if I recognized what I was doing, I’m not designing,” she says. “The true definition of design is that you create a solution; you create something that has not existed before. Design is pushing the edges to better society with the tools you are making.”
Join us in Chicago for the upcoming Designers & Architects Talk event, New Design Firms Changing the Face of Chicago, on April 14, 2020.
Advance tickets are required for all talks. Visit designerstalk.eventbrite.com to purchase tickets and to see for full schedule details. Discounts are available for IIDA and AIA members, and a limited number of free student seats will be made available for each session. A series ticket is available for a seat at all four sessions.
For each talk, attendees will be able to obtain either 1 AIA-approved LU or 1 IDCEC-approved CEU.
A special thanks to our 2020 Designers & Architects Talk sponsors:
Corporate Concepts / Knoll
Andreu World, Bernhardt Design, BIFMA, Caesarstone, Cosentino, J+J Flooring Group, Maya Romanoff, Mohawk Group, Mortarr, OFS, Patcraft, Shaw Contract, and Tarkett.