2018 Leaders Breakfast Series in Review

Long before the popularity of TED Talks, IIDA Leaders Breakfast, an international, early-morning event series across 8 cities in the U.S. and Canada, has hosted top speakers, entertained thousands of guests, and honored individuals making significant contributions to the world of design for the last 29 years.

With the support of international benefactors Herman Miller and Interior Design magazine, committees in chosen host cities, and additional companies within the design community that sponsor these events, Leaders Breakfasts are consistently raising the bar by encouraging collaboration and engaging new ideas.

Here is everything you missed, and then some, from this year’s successful series:

1. We went to Wakanda

IIDA  Leaders Breakfast 2018 held at the InterContinental Los Angeles Downtown Hotel in Los Angeles on Thursday, September 13, 2018.

© Chris Hatcher Photography, Courtesy of IIDA Southern California Chapter

We know Los Angeles sees its fair share of celebrities, but this September, members of the Southern California Chapter got the opportunity to have breakfast with one. Oscar-nominated costume designer Ruth E. Carter took to the stage to discuss her most recent work as the lead costumer on Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther and Reginald Hudlin’s Marshall. Carter’s presentation mapped out her process of extensive research and how she aims to tell authentic stories with her designs.

2. We saw the World’s Largest Connect the Dots

Resize_Phil Hansen - Dallas

© Denmark Phan Photography, Courtesy of IIDA TX/OK Chapter

After developing a hand tremor and being diagnosed with nerve damage as an art student, multimedia artist Phil Hansen decided to embrace his limitations and develop new approaches to art making. “Become limited to the limitless,” Hansen told the Dallas Leaders Breakfast audience. Recently, Hansen made it into the Guinness Book of World Records by creating the world’s largest Connect the Dots, of which a handful of audience members took a print home.

3. We heard this 17-minute acceptance speech

Resize_Schmidt - Chicago

© Linda Dove Photography, Courtesy of IIDA Illinois Chapter

While accepting the Leadership Award of Excellence in Chicago, Fred Schmidt, FIIDA, managing principal of Perkins+Will, not only acknowledged the people who have been a large part of his journey, but described their leadership lessons. Schmidt named the numerous principals, designers, and even members of the younger generation, who were instrumental in his success and urged the audience to “reject the notion that leadership is based on your DNA.”

4. We saw a famous hat

IIDA  Leaders Breakfast 2018 held at the InterContinental Los Angeles Downtown Hotel in Los Angeles on Thursday, September 13, 2018.

© Chris Hatcher Photography, Courtesy of IIDA Southern California Chapter

The Los Angeles audience was introduced to the word “craftivism” after Jayna Zweiman,  co-founder of the Pussyhat Project, took to the stage. Her now-famous design became a worldwide phenomenon at the 2017 Women’s Marches as one of the largest crowd-sourced art advocacy projects ever.  What began as a simple conversation in a California knit shop has turned into an iconic symbol of the modern-day women’s movement.

5. We watched a tech entrepreneur jump rope in heels

Resize if this can be consistent_Matthews - Chicago 2

© IIDA

Not only does Jessica O. Matthews, founder and CEO of Uncharted Power, know how to inspire a crowd of almost 600, she also knows how to put on a show. At the Chicago Leaders Breakfast, Matthews demonstrated her invention of a jump rope that uses kinetic energy to generate electricity. This small example comes nowhere close to the scale of Matthews’ larger projects, which use harnessed energy to power facilities and underprivileged communities. Her patents and designs are used globally, and she recently announced an undisclosed deal with Disney’s power grid system.

6. We made New Yorkers happier

Resize_Kogan - NYC

© Johnny Wolf Photography, Courtesy of IIDA New York Chapter

“770 New Yorkers can use a little happiness,” joked Carol Cisco, publisher of Interior Design magazine, as she introduced Nataly Kogan, “happiness expert” and founder of wellness app Happier to the largest New York audience to date. Happier promotes Kogan’s values of “mindful awareness” in order to improve happiness and reduce stress, and reminds us of the big and small things in life we can be grateful for.

7. We met the designer of the Microsoft Windows key

Resize_de los reyes - SF

© Sam Breach, Courtesy of IIDA Northern California Chapter

While limited in his physical mobility (a hospital mistake left him confined to a wheelchair), there is nothing that August de los Reyes has not been able to accomplish within the UEX tech world, having worked for huge names like Microsoft, X-Box, Pinterest, and now Google. The San Francisco audience was taken on a visual journey of de los Reyes’s presentation about designing for well-being and the importance of inclusive design. With the utmost generosity, de los Reyes donated his entire speaking honorarium to Project Color Corps, an organization he proudly supports.

8. We learned that building exteriors aren’t always brick or stone

Resize_Joachim - HOU - Slywork

© Sly Works Photography, Courtesy of IIDA TX/OK Chapter

Socio-ecological architect and designer Mitchell Joachim visualized a new kind of building: a large-scale, double-skinned structure equipped with open plantings of milkweed and nectar flowers, serving as a breeding ground and sanctuary for the monarch butterfly, a threatened species. This project, shown to the Houston audience, is one of hundreds that Joachim’s design group Terreform ONE, a non-profit that promotes smart design and environmental planning, develops.

9. We met the CEO of Waffle House, y’all

Resize_Ehmer - ATL

© Chuckyfoto, Courtesy of IIDA Atlanta Chapter

At the Atlanta Leaders Breakfast, Walt Ehmer, president and CEO of Waffle House, Inc. treated the audience with true Southern hospitality. Standing on stage in a Waffle House uniform, his everyday attire, the leader of the Southern staple discussed how maintaining company culture is key to keeping a business that is open 365 days a year running consistently and successfully for 63 years.

10. We caught a glimpse of Art Gensler in the audience

Resize_Van Erp - SF

© Sam Breach, Courtesy of IIDA Northern California Chapter

“Thank you, Art Gensler, for being so awesome so I can retire,” crowd favorite Bill Van Erp, a now-retired resource director and senior associate at Gensler, stated during his Leadership Award of Excellence speech. Van Erp’s humorous and meaningful speech had the sold-out San Francisco audience of 500 cheering and laughing, but he got serious when thanking all of the reps and designers for giving depth to his profession and allowing him to work with the best of the best.

Leaders Breakfasts will begin again in May 2019 and continue throughout the year in New York, Atlanta, Houston, Dallas, San Francisco, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Toronto. For more information, please contact Anastasia Gedman, director of outreach, at agedman@iida.org.

Orgatec Highlights the Flexible, Adaptable Nature of Today’s Office

With the fall season of trade shows and industry events well underway, I was pleased to be among a contingent of IIDA headquarters leadership and select international board members last week at Orgatec in Cologne, Germany.

Below, I offer Orgatec highlights, as well as a few images from the nearby independent exhibition Design Post. For American designers that are accustomed to NeoCon and other U.S. trade shows, the distinction at Orgatec is the broad international scope, including many companies that we rarely see stateside. With a theme of New Visions of Work, the biennial European trade show attracted more than 63,000 visitors from 142 countries for a week dedicated to commercial interior design. In total, Orgatec reports that 753 companies from 39 countries exhibited, three quarters of which were from outside of Germany.

While difficult to summarize the range of furnishings shown at Orgatec, we did see an attention to materiality and tactile qualities. One could describe it as a “softening” of the hard edges and surfaces associated with office interiors. While this was a trade show focused on workplace design, the number of desks and desking solutions were far outnumbered by soft seating, whether it is a lounge chair, bench, or sofa.

Designers are more aware of the need for privacy options in workplace interiors, and Orgatec exhibitors showcased a range of privacy solutions—some more savvy, elegant, and cognizant of scale than others. Privacy alternatives included fully enclosed booths, high-backed seating, and the integration of soft materials, such as fabrics and felt, as an acoustical buffer.

The desire for a more relaxed, flexible, adaptable, and hospitable workplace was evident throughout Orgatec. Here’s a glimpse of the show:

01Camira

With a lattice of its own fabric forming enclosures, Camira has a distinctive stand.

02AnatoleKoleksiyon

The Turkish company Koleksiyon displayed the Anatole Desk by Jean-Michel Wilmotte.

03Andreu

The Spanish company Andreu World featured its latest furnishings at its stand, including Dado for Work by Alfredo Häberli. Dado is a collection of modular sofas and chairs.

04CovePoltronaFrauFoster

Poltrona Frau introduced the Cove chair. Designed by Foster + Partners, the Cove chair provides privacy as well as a built-in desk surface.

05Halle

The Danish company +Halle introduced Easy Nest Sofa designed by the firm Form Us With Love.

06Hallechairs

The Easy Nest chair, designed by Form Us With Love, was displayed by +Halle.

07Haworth

A variety of options for well-designed workplace privacy were exhibited by Haworth.

08Infiniti

The Italian company Infiniti showcased its furnishings at its stand.

09Kvadrat

Beautiful Kvadrat fabrics were displayed at Orgatec.

10MDD

The design of the stand for the Polish company MDD had a Postmodern influence.

11Ophelis

With a whimsical design, the stand for the German company Ophelis stood out.

12VitraAC5

The AC 5 Group chair by Antonio Citterio was displayed by Vitra.

13VitraSoftWorkTwo

Soft Work, designed by Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby, was introduced by Vitra.

14VitraSoftWorkOne

A closer detail of Soft Work, designed by Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby for Vitra.

15VitraArtek

Artek chairs were displayed within the Vitra hall at Orgatec.

16zDesignPost

Near Orgatec, the independent show Design Post included a number of exhibiting companies.

17zMagis

At Design Post, Magis exhibited a wall of its chairs.

18zMorosoChairs

Armada, a sculptural seating collection by Nipa Doshi and Jonathan Levien, was displayed at the Moroso stand at Design Post.

19zMorosoLounge

Inspired by Scandinavian design, the Lilo chaise lounge by Patricia Urquiola was prominently exhibited at the Moroso stand at Design Post.


John Czarnecki, Hon. IIDA, Assoc. AIA, is the deputy director and senior vice president of IIDA. He is the former editor in chief of Contract magazine.

Diversity in Architecture: A Promise for the Future

It is 2018 and only 36 percent of newly licensed architects in the U.S. are women and only two percent are Black. But those numbers are changing. With the benefits and necessities of diversity in the workplace undeniable, firms big and small are setting new goals for themselves and having active, sometimes uncomfortable, conversations about diversifying the field.

But what does “workplace diversity” really mean when the leaders of these discussions are often not the ones who directly face discrimination? The 46th Annual NOMA Conference attempted to pose, answer, and challenge the questions around diversity from the personal perspectives of people of color. Through a series of events, lectures, and panels, “NOMA UNBOUNDED – The Convergence of a Legacy” was a weekend devoted to celebrating and defining diversity within the architecture and design fields.

IIDA hosted NOMA participants and members at IIDA Headquarters on Saturday, October 20, for the panel discussion “Because…Design,” sponsored by Mohawk and moderated by IIDA Executive Vice President and CEO, Cheryl S. Durst, FIIDA and IIDA International Board President Gabrielle Bullock, IIDA, FAIA, NOMA. The panelists present were George Bandy, vice president of sustainability and commercial marketing at Mohawk Group; and Dina Griffin, IIDA, FAIA, NOMA, owner of Interactive Design Architects (IDEA).

The event positioned itself as less a formal discussion and more an intimate exchange among four people on racism, equity, culture, and loving their jobs. “We’re not going to have images, you’re not going to look at a PowerPoint,” Durst announced to the audience members. “We’re just going to have a conversation. The power of conversation is underrated and we need it now more than ever.”

Bandy began the discussion with how he perceived a growing importance of sustainability and well-being going hand-in-hand with a push for diversity within design, architecture, and manufacturing. Communities of color often bare the brunt of unsustainable, cost-cutting development practices, and now the conversations around helping those communities are being led by a diverse crowd. “There has been an influx of people being able to express themselves more freely as it relates to the importance of design,” Bandy said.

Bullock echoed the notion that diversifying the workplace is critical for bettering the lives of diverse communities. “I wanted to become an architect because I wanted to improve how people live,” she said.

Architects are thinking about the environment on a personal, micro level, and in turn, discovering how important a diverse workplace is for generating and maintaining sustainable practices. It seems that the A&D industry is actively rediscovering the workplace as a microcosm for society, and as Durst noted, “You can’t design for the world if you are not of the world.”

“I’ve had clients that have given us work because we are diverse,” expressed Bullock, “and that’s been happening more and more.” Many Perkins+Will projects focus on communities; this necessitates diversifying those working on community projects and helping improve the quality of life for a broad range of people. Diversity is a “spoken strategy” in the Perkins+Will offices.

The panelists also described the ways in which their firms are taking the initiative to ensure diverse hires, which range from overhauling the hiring process to having ongoing dialogues about racism and inclusion. 

“Because…Design” concluded with the question “Does architecture still excite you?” (an unequivocal ‘yes’), along with advice from the panelists: “Bring the voice of your culture and your ancestors to work with you every day, ” Bandy stressed. “Don’t leave your street sense at home; bring it to work with you. Bring your true self to the table.”


Visit NOMA Unbounded for more information about the conference.

*An earlier version of this post cited that only 36 percent of licensed architects in the U.S. are women and only two percent are Black. It should be only 36 percent of newly licensed architects in the U.S. are women and only two percent are Black (as of 2016). 

What’s New at Greenbuild 2018

This post was contributed by Greenbuild.

Greenbuild is enhancing the attendee experience and bringing you new ways to engage and learn.

  • The mindful MATERIALS Pavilion. It’s a new area in the expo hall. We’re shining a light on materials transparency and product certification in an all-new pavilion in the expo hall. See the pavilion.
  • Journey Maps. See this new way to explore the event. These attendee experiences will guide your three-day journey through Greenbuild on topics that are of specific interest to you. Journey Maps include education sessions, distinctive products, solutions and technology, and experiential learning opportunities. See them here.
  • The latest education and a new track. Discover three days of sessions – strategically planned to educate, motivate, and inspire you. This year, we’ve added “The People’s Voice” – a new education track voted into Greenbuild by the public. Additional tracks include Smart & Sustainable Design, Wellness From Within, and Building a Green Economy.

Ready to register? Learn more about why you should attend, and then register for a four-day or three-day conference pass. Or, explore the floor, courtesy of IIDA! Use code 4DINCOMPE10 at registration to claim your complimentary expo hall pass.


IIDA is a sector partner for the event. 

A Visit to the Dynamic New Gensler San Francisco Workplace

For interior designers and architects, designing a firm’s own workspace is a heady task. And when it is the flagship office for the largest firm in the country, with a practice in a city of limited commercial real estate inventory and increasing leasing costs, the assignment is even more arduous. But the Gensler design team in San Francisco took on the complicated challenge, and essentially reinvented its own office with a move to a new workplace. Earlier this month, I enjoyed a tour of the new Gensler San Francisco office with two of the firm’s design leaders, Collin Burry, FIIDA, and Kelly Dubisar, IIDA. An internal team of Gensler management, operations, and design leaders had input on the relocation process and the interior design, which was overseen by Dubisar.

Gensler_GenslerSF_415

Seating areas, defined by shelves and a red lattice structure overhead, allow for casual conversations. The furniture can be easily moved or swapped out to essentially give new seating a test run in a real setting. Photographer: Rafael Gamo.

For 15 years, Gensler was located at 2 Harrison Street, with views of San Francisco Bay. But as the city’s real estate market and demand for tech office space evolved—in particular, Google’s footprint increased within that address—Gensler needed to find a new San Francisco home. After an extensive search in a city where the amount of available large-scale office space has decreased, Gensler selected three floors within the 34-floor 45 Fremont Street tower downtown. Burry points out that this office is a short-term solution, likely no more than a few years, and the firm will then select a more permanent home.

Gensler_GenslerSF_784

With a variety of places to sit, designers have options for individual work or conversations without the need for booking more formal meeting rooms. Photographer: Rafael Gamo.

With that in mind, the interior design is agile and adaptable, enabling the Gensler architects and designers to have a workplace that also reflects the changing nature of office design. In San Francisco specifically, where startups and established tech companies alike are flourishing, this workplace demonstrates how a large creative company with a half-century history can be nimble and dynamic. After all, Gensler is designing many of the tech company offices, so the firm orchestrated its own space to echo the way work is accomplished today across both tech and creative industries.

Gensler_GenslerSF_1477

The firm implemented a system of display boards hung on pegs, allowing for presentations to easily be moved around the office. Photographer: Rafael Gamo.

The majority of employees work on the upper and lower of the three floors. The workplace floors are conceived as design labs—workshop-like environments in which teams are seated at a variety of desks adjacent to meeting rooms. With a mix of programming on the middle floor, Dubisar aptly draws an analogy to an Oreo cookie when describing the office. Amenities on the middle floor (all photos shown here) include a well-equipped kitchen and a number of soft seating arrangements that allow for casual conversations.

Gensler_GenslerSF_063

A well-designed kitchen is a central hub for staff. Photographer: Rafael Gamo.

The adaptable seating spaces serve double duty—designers can place new and different seating and tables here, essentially giving the furniture a test run before specifying in a design project. Near the seating areas, a number of large boards displaying design work and concepts can be hung on pegs. The boards are easily movable from a design studio to this display area for presentations, whether it be internal discussions or meetings with clients.

Gensler_GenslerSF_1577

A model-making area adjacent to the resource library enables the workspace to be akin to a maker space for designers. Photographer: Rafael Gamo.

“The entire office could be considered a continuously running lab,” Dubisar says, “We love to try new things in order to better understand the challenges our clients face. We’re testing things that don’t exist in any other Gensler office, and it’s great to see the impact of our ideas.”


John Czarnecki, Hon. IIDA, Assoc. AIA, is the deputy director and senior vice president of IIDA. He is the former editor in chief of Contract magazine.

Capital One 2017 Work Environment Survey

This post was contributed by Richard N. Pollack, FIIDA, FAIA, past president of the IIDA International Board.

A very interesting thing happened recently. Capital One decided to spend some serious time, attention, and dollars to develop a workplace initiative focused on office professionals’ “preferences and priorities when it comes to their workplace design, environment, and benefits.” The 2017 Work Environment survey, initiated by Capital One’s Workplace Solutions Group, approached 2,500 subjects—not Capital One employees—with the goal of learning how to provide the best work environment so that their associates can thrive.

Designers and architects have been looking for the holy grail of workplace design for as long as I’ve been in the profession, and it’s refreshing to see a corporate client pick up the charge based on their own agenda. Capital One surveyed 500 office workers in Chicago, Dallas, New York City, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C., and the results are not surprising and rather encouraging:

Office Design Inspires Innovation

Throughout the survey, a significant majority of professionals reported that more design-forward workplaces help them be more creative and innovative.

Employees Want Flexibility & Collaboration

Professionals, and especially Millennials, crave flexible workspaces that enable social interactions and accommodate all kinds of work styles.

Heightened Interest in Benefits & Environmentally Friendly Initiatives

Professionals have clear preferences on what they want, need, and expect from their employers when it comes to workplace design and on-site benefits.

More granularity shows that 82 percent of respondents believe that companies cannot encourage innovation unless their workplace design and environment is innovative, and 60 percent noted that their current environment does not encourage innovation and a majority find their workplace uninspiring.

The design elements that workers want to see in their workplace are ranked as follows:

62%      Natural light

44%      Artwork and creative imagery

43%      Easily reconfigurable furniture and spaces

37%      Collaborative spaces

26%      Bold colors

25%      Spaces for rest and relaxation

One missing element that has traditionally been a critical component is acoustics.

When considering a new job, two-thirds felt that workplace design is equally or more important than office location with 71 percent of Millennials more likely to believe this compared to 56 percent of Boomers. Eighty-five percent of respondents felt that they have their best ideas when they are able to use flexible workspace options, i.e., an environment that has options for employees to choose how and where they work. I found it surprising, but good, that 62 percent have options outside of a standard desk set-up where they can work throughout the office.

It is truly inspiring for a large corporation such as Capital One to exhibit this “leaning forward” approach – kudos!


Richard N. Pollack, FIIDA, FAIA, is the past president of the IIDA International Board and founder of Pollack Consulting. He can be contacted at richard@richardnpollack.com.