Events of the past centuries, the past decades, and most recently in past weeks and days have painfully and plainly illuminated the disparities in our culture and society. We are at a pivotal moment where we must face great societal challenges that will not be repaired without great collective effort. Confronting racism, injustice, and a need for equity is critical to moving forward, and current events expose how much work needs to be done for us all to really “be in this together.” We know that design is but one small part of that larger equation—so why not start with the change we can most immediately affect?
Design illuminates disparity and helps close the gaps—from healthcare and education to public space and urban planning. Design in all its manifestations is a force for change.
Recently at IIDA, we’ve considered, like so many of you, what “re-entry” and a return to life in a post-pandemic world might be. Certainly, not the same world we left behind four months ago. And definitely not a so-called “new normal.” Frankly, the old normal wasn’t exactly working that well for us. For the environment. For people of color. For the LGBTQIA community. For so many.
So what will we come back to?
Quite simply, the spaces that encompass where our lives happen—the places where we heal, where we work, where we learn, where we gather, museums, theatres, playgrounds, schools, sports facilities, stadiums, civic centers, libraries, concert halls, outdoor festivals—all the places that perhaps we took for granted before, are now places filled with nostalgia. As we re-enter these spaces, let us mandate that they be healthier and safer, but importantly also more inclusive, more equitable—DESIGN FOR HUMANITY.
The power of our collective energy is more important than ever, and we should and will consider how we function as a global design community and how we hold strong to those foundational values. The spaces we envision and create, envelop and contain those values and this time requires a broadened vocabulary of collaboration. One where we are open to learning, expanding our societal and world views, and maintaining a through-line of equity and humanity in all the work we do.
Design and design strategies can develop the tools we need to create our safer spaces. As we head into the future and the inevitable aftermath of this global crisis, public and commercial interiors will be looked at through a new lens. Within interior design, there will be more of an emphasis on the way that people move within a space and how that enables them to interact.
Health, well-being, and wellness, must be at the forefront, and our interior spaces and the furniture, fabrics, and materials will be held to and regulated at much higher standards. It must be reinforced that no matter the neighborhood we live in, no matter where we exist socioeconomically, no matter our race, gender, or background, we all deserve to live with these fundamental design values and with DIGNITY.
Designers have always put humans first, and in a post pandemic world, humans and their safety and well-being are of paramount importance. And for now, for next, and for always, design will do what design does best, support and uplift humanity and culture. Design is indeed the business of life. Now more than ever, the world requires what design so abundantly endows—grace, civility, compassion, clarity, connection, common sense, empathy, well-being, comfort, healing, hope, and EQUITY.
We have to stand together as humans dedicated to the betterment of our society. Let us continue to be a force for good in this world and take responsibility individually and collectively for envisioning and enacting change, progress, and JUSTICE.
Design is forever an act of optimism, and we can little afford in our activism to not be optimistic about our collective future.
All my best wishes to you for peace, safety, good health, and well-being. Stay hopeful and stay strong.
2020-2021 International Board President Sascha Wagner discusses the roles of community and design in the process of evolving through crisis, and the need for adaptability in our environments.
Sascha Wagner, FIIDA, begins his term as the 2020-2021 IIDA International Board of Directors President during a time that is uniquely impacting our lives. As President and CEO of Huntsman Architectural Group, which has offices in San Francisco, New York, and Chicago, Wagner oversees a firm with expertise in workplace, residential, and building repositioning design. Born and raised in Germany, Wagner holds degrees from the University of Toronto and Ringling College of Art and Design. He has previously served as IIDA Northern California chapter president, and more recently as vice president and president-elect on the IIDA International Board of Directors. While we are unable to gather in person to celebrate the beginning of his term and to listen to his inaugural remarks, Wagner shares his thoughts on the profession, design at this critical juncture, and on the next generation.
John Czarnecki: You begin your term as the 2020-2021 IIDA International Board President in an extremely challenging time. What are your thoughts and expectations for IIDA as a member organization?
Sascha Wagner: While acknowledging that this is a difficult time for the world at large and the design profession, this can also be a critical opportunity for commercial designers to help shape the future. IIDA has always been a great connector for our professional, student, and industry members, as well as design firms, product manufacturers, and our clients who benefit from good design. Strengthening these links is even more critical now, as we are all likely to work and collaborate from a distance for quite a while. People inherently have a need for belonging and a sense of place, and the role of IIDA as a member organization is more important than ever. I look forward to serving as IIDA International Board President in the coming year, as IIDA continues to provide relevant content and resources, connects members in meaningful interactions, and amplifies our members’ collective voice about the power of design to impact the human experience.
Going forward, human health in the built environment must be our priority. Our profession’s mandate to advocate and design for health, sustainability, equity, and social impact is only heightened. Spaces tell a story of values. Today’s acute focus on disease prevention adds a new dimension, and, as an industry, we are learning how built spaces can positively impact human wellbeing even more effectively. Looking further ahead, we can be hopeful that a post-pandemic future with an added emphasis on the importance of place will help to transcend the economic impact of 2020.
JC: So much is being written about what a return to the office will look like and the ways it may vary based on city and region. While the coming months will be challenging, and the impact may be lasting, what is your expectation for the future of the workplace a few years from now?
SW: We are currently operating in triage mode, retrofitting existing workspaces and adjusting how we use them for the next year or more. How much of this initial response will influence long-term post-pandemic decisions on real estate footprints and workplace design remains a critical question. Designers and clients are being forced to rethink the very nature of interactions between people in the built environment. Making people feel safe as well as besafe will be the key. Organizations will likely become more resilient and agile, and think of their workforce more supportively, I hope. The purpose and function of the office will evolve, and designers will continue to work with our forward-thinking clients to design places for culture and connection.
JC: As President and CEO of Huntsman Architectural Group, overseeing a firm with multiple offices, are there lessons that you are taking from this experience in terms of firm leadership and management?
SW: Every design firm is faced with challenges today, including ours. A crisis only amplifies an organization’s DNA. Our management team has always sought to be as transparent as possible in decision making and in conveying our situation, priorities, and plans to the employee-owners. At a time in which everything is uncertain, sharing information candidly helps to provide needed clarity and trust. As leaders, it is also okay to admit when we do not have all the answers, provided that we listen to others. Maintaining a social fabric is also important: While working from home, we have been focusing on staying connected with all-staff meetings, studio calls, happy hours, and sharing recipes and even childhood photos. We are going through this together, and in some ways, teams across our offices feel closer than before.
“Design is by nature an optimistic endeavor.”
JC: Our design profession is being called upon now for expertise in all commercial interiors, including workplaces, healthcare settings, schools, hospitality, and retail. What is your hope for the design profession overall as our knowledge and skills are in demand in increasingly urgent ways?
SW: The initial response from our design profession, including firms 3D-printing PPE and IIDA members volunteering in their communities, has been incredible. Many designers have openly published ideas and planning strategies for adapting our public settings—offices, stores, restaurants, and schools—to keep people safe. While designers are not healthcare providers, we have a deep knowledge of human behavior in the built environment and we solve complex problems in a multi-disciplinary and iterative design process. Collectively, we will keep learning, sharing, and improving solutions. In the long term, I hope buildings and interior spaces will become more resilient and human health-centric, which is a positive development out of a tragic premise. Design is by nature an optimistic endeavor.
JC: Designers are also strategists and can be at the forefront of multi-disciplinary teams designing healthy interiors with wellness in mind. How do you foresee the role of “designer as strategist” evolving?
SW: I see an opportunity for design professionals to further develop expertise in organizational development, human behavior, and the psychology of design to add greater value when defining future strategies for wellness in the built environment. Design strategy addresses the questions of how people interact with the physical environment as well as why. Physical health, emotional wellbeing, and connection to culture and brand are all important aspects of this relationship between people and place. Organizations are now faced with re-mapping some of these connections. But we are not going to live in isolation forever. The personal experiences one has working in an office, shopping in a store, or eating in a restaurant are valuable beyond the convenience of online equivalents. How we return to more meaningful interactions is a complex challenge to undertake. Designers are well-positioned to help lead this effort, with the input of health experts and others.
JC: Savvy designers incorporate sustainable design practices regularly in their projects. How are issues of sustainable design amplified by this moment?
SW: The concept of a triple bottom line—ensuring human wellbeing, protecting the planet, and economic benefit—remains highly relevant. Ultimately, we cannot let our reaction to this pandemic come at the expense of the environment. As we are now evaluating building systems, products, finishes, behaviors, and even sanitizing protocols from an antiviral perspective, we also have to continue to mitigate any negative impacts on the planet. At a larger scale, looking at work scenarios that reduce commuting and travel—not just remote working from home, but perhaps regional hubs or hybrid solutions—can help to reduce our environmental footprint in a significant way and have a positive impact.
“Being involved in IIDA certainly helped me feel fully immersed and connected in the profession early on, and that continues today.”
JC: Do you have any advice for those graduating from design programs entering the profession today?
SW: Speaking with a group of graduating students recently, I was amazed at their positivity and resilience as they are finishing the school year from home. I would ask students to remember that their chosen profession is an important one because, as designers, they can make a unique contribution to our future world. Even with a potentially delayed start, now is the time for graduates to begin building a network with design professionals and peers in preparation for entering the workforce. IIDA is the perfect platform to connect students and emerging professionals. Being involved in IIDA certainly helped me feel fully immersed and connected in the profession early on, and that continues today. We need that sense of connection, especially during challenging times like these, and that is what IIDA provides.
In response to our rapidly changing world, IIDA brings you a design-focused dialogue on the effects of a global crisis. Watch the ninth webinar in the series today.
Designers are amazing at responding to change, and their ability to unpack what is essential in any issue, including those critical to design, lends itself to an adaptability that is of utmost importance right now. We are seeing designers rush in to lend humanitarian support redesigning and printing face shields, making masks, creating and gathering resources, and even shifting manufacturing processes to meet the needs of those on the frontlines of this crisis. IIDA invited a panel of designers to come together for an important discussion on giving back and coming together.
This webinar is registered for 1 IDCEC HSW CEU. To learn how to earn your CEU credit, visit IIDA.org for more information.
In this ongoing series, IIDA features women leading the design industry in a time of unprecedented change. Hear what they have to say on the importance of diversity in design, mentorship, inspiration, and the future of the profession.
The significance of design in this challenging current global moment cannot be overstated; it endows us with much-needed clarity, beauty, accessibility, and problem-solving that are necessary for a rapidly changing world. The women who are making design happen, at all stages in their careers, are the leaders of a better tomorrow.
IIDA (virtually) connected with women making strides in design to discuss the urgency of this current moment, what’s next for design, and how a diversity of design thought is more crucial than ever.
IIDA: How do you see the role of women in today’s crisis?
Angie Lee: Women have a unique set of strengths that we’ve cultivated long before this current crisis. As we identify the countries best managing the pandemic, I am paying close attention to the women leading those governments and can say with even more confidence that we should lean into our innate tendencies to find compassionate and intuitive resolutions. Women are long overdue to step away from the traditional leadership templates that are offered to us, but rarely fit our instincts. Instead of faking it until we make it, we should lean into the fact that we are more likely to be prepared and qualified for the positions we’re currently in, and those we will eventually fill. Our role now, more than ever, is to step into the light and stop casting our assets as drawbacks, continue banding together to amplify our voices, and design for a wider and inclusive expanse of humanity.
IIDA: Who or what inspires you in your life and work?
AL: New generations coming into their own now are breathtaking in their clarity of purpose. They often illustrate the stark contrast between contentment and complacency. I am inspired by these young people branching off to blaze new trails started by groundbreaking women like Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Toni Morrison, Rebecca Solnit, or Tarana Burke. I find that because of the new and old guard of fabulous female game changers, I am embracing a kind of critical thinking that focuses on accountability and activism. On top of that, I am awe inspired by the movements that have swept the country and the planet in many cases. The ferocious courage of very young climate activists, the tenacity and preparedness of junior congress members, and the constant, quiet expansion of dialogue and diversity of organizations like IIDA that create new pathways toward an interconnected world of good design remind me that we will be okay again.
IIDA: Who have you considered to be your mentor and how have they influenced you?
Linda C. Mysliwiec: I’ve had so many incredible mentors over the years, and each of them were the thing I needed in my career at that particular time. Earlier on, I had mentors who encouraged me to answer my own questions and find solutions to challenges that came up; that helped me build confidence in my skills, knowledge, and design point of view. And today, now that I’m more experienced, the best mentors challenge my way of thinking, opening my mind to a broader range of possibilities.
IIDA: Have you been a mentor and was this rewarding for you?
LM: Mentorship is a major part of my day-to-day, and I find it incredibly rewarding. Being open, being someone who speaks my mind, and bringing humanity to work every day – those are the things that allow people to feel they can approach you. Rather than simply telling someone what they should do, I try to advise on a few different scenarios or options and let them decide what to do next. The way they take that advice and make it work for their own particular situation, personality, and set of opinions is what makes the relationship so rewarding. I don’t desire to go at it alone; in architecture and design, we’re better together, and it makes the journey so enjoyable when you have a team around you to support and be supported by.
IIDA:What do you see as the role of women in design in light of our current crisis?
LM: In all facets of life, we talk a lot about how women are socialized to be more empathetic, to multitask, to take care of others. While those may be traditionally feminized characteristics that we’d like to extend to everyone regardless of how they identify, those classically gendered traits can absolutely work in our collective favor right now. When we can find ways to leverage our ability to balance life and work and our affinity for connecting, women can be a powerful guiding light through this crisis for our families, colleagues, and communities.
IIDA: What or who inspires you?
LM: People inspire me. They always have, but it’s particularly magnified during this pandemic. I’m someone who prefers small groups and one-on-one interactions; I get excited learning about someone’s background or hearing stories about their life. Skip the small talk—when I’m able to have a meaningful conversation with another person, I always leave with the opportunity to rethink and expand my own viewpoint.
IIDA: Who have you considered to be your mentor and how have they influenced you?
Meghan Webster: My passion is people, and learning about how they perceive and operate in the world, and this has framed how I’ve learned from mentors. I am drawn to people who I most emulate and deeply respect, and I learn from those qualities that define them. This approach ties philosophically to Gensler and our “constellation” of talent, so in a way, I think of our firm as a place full of a constellation of mentors.
IIDA:Have you been a mentor and was this rewarding for you?
MW: I owe my career to so many mentors, and probably the most important thing I’ve learned from them is to pay it forward. My hope is that the impact of my mentorship on others’ careers enables a similar level of growth that I experienced. I think the most rewarding aspect of mentoring others is watching where they head in their own careers and learning from the new lens and perspective they bring to my own growth. It’s a completely reciprocal process that can’t be manufactured or superficial.
IIDA: What / who inspires you?
MW: One of the women that inspires me most is Christine Lagarde, current President of the European Central Bank and former Managing Director of the IMF. Her grace and intellect in the way that she leads is stunning. As it turns out, she is also a former member of the French National Synchronized Swimming Team, and she credits the sport with teaching her a vital leadership skill, “Smile. And grit your teeth.” As a former synchronized swimmer myself, thinking of that quote adds humor to almost any situation.
The CoreNet Global Hackathon brought together over 1,000 participants from the corporate real estate and design communities to reflect on and develop collective solutions for immediate and future response to the COVID-19 crisis in the workplace. The discussions provide a roadmap for the commercial interior design and real estate industries, to support their clients in returning to a post-COVID-19 workplace.
Authors: Team lead: John Czarnecki, Hon. IIDA, Deputy Director and Senior Vice President, IIDA, Ryan Ben, Student Engagement & Advancement Manager, IIDA, Jane Hallinan, IIDA, Interior Designer, Perkins Eastman, Paul LaBrant, IIDA, Associate Principal, STG Design, Jon Otis, IIDA, Principal, Object Agency; Professor, Pratt Institute, Sandra Tripp, IIDA, Principal, Huntsman Architectural Group, Alissa Wehmueller, IIDA, Principal, Helix Architecture + Design
How will a new workplace be designed for human wellness in 2024, a time (hopefully) well after the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic impact and a time (again, hopefully) of U.S. economic recovery? That is the premise that frames this team’s discussion on the future of the workplace.
As designers—not healthcare or economic experts—we chose to take the long view to a time that may be more settled. In the current moment, in May 2020, responses are largely speculative and based on great uncertainty. This seemingly dystopian time, with COVID-19 remaining and causing economic upheaval, will likely last many months and perhaps well into the next year. As humans, we need to look optimistically ahead towards the more distant future. That is with the understanding that we will have endured, adapted, and learned from a time of both global pandemic and difficult financial conditions for many individuals and businesses.
One lasting impact of this moment is a heightened consciousness of human wellness in interiors. As designers, we believe that the best design is always sustainable and has wellness in mind—it’s not an additive aspect. With that assumption, how will a new workplace be designed as the innovation hub of an organization, with human wellness at the forefront, in 2024?
Human Behavior and Culture
Before we discuss design and real estate issues within an office, we’ll focus on people. In a post-pandemic world, we believe a heightened awareness of personal responsibility, agency, and necessary mutual trust will drive many decisions in our lives and workplaces. Flexibility will be key, and smart employers will communicate this in action and policy with employees allowed to continue to work remotely when feasible. Employees who do come to the office will have increased personal agency over scheduled work hours. Remote work, flexible hours, and work during non-peak hours are also issues of social equity for all.
For a time, the future workplace will be reflective of the trauma of the pandemic and the economic conditions it has created. To combat this lasting impact, savvy companies will design their offices to reflect stability, safety, and confidence, emphasizing teams and encouraging all forms of collaboration, both digital and in person.
For the employee in such a company, this will engender a higher level of mutual trust and commitment. Individuals will be more mindful of their personal space and cleanliness and the impact that they have on others. Like a thoughtful gym member, employees will be tasked with leaving their desks, meeting rooms, and communal spaces as clean as they found them, wiping down surfaces as they wrap up their time in a space. Rather than relying solely on an evening cleaning service, all office occupants will have shared responsibility for cleanliness and sanitation throughout the day.
Overall square footage per employee decreased in recent decades, driven largely by economic and regional commercial real estate conditions as well as a company’s functional need. While a return-to-work-during-pandemic time in 2020 may require workplaces to limit capacity for a while, we look ahead to a post-pandemic future: Economic pressures for tighter density will likely continue, especially in dense urban cities like New York. With tighter budgets, companies will largely not have the luxury to expend more square footage per employee. The question is: how flexible is the space?
While we do not envision that the amount of square footage per employee will change drastically between now and a post-pandemic time, how designers program and plan a workplace interior will continue to evolve. The impact of forced remote working in 2020—and the resulting regularization of flexibility to work remotely—will encourage organizations to re-evaluate how they allocate real estate, increasing the shift from square footage for individual use to increased square footage for collaborative, shared spaces. Coming to the office to actively collaborate will be a more purposeful decision that will require a different tool kit of policies for a number of companies.
Enhanced Entry Sequence
For new or renovated workplaces where square footage allows, we anticipate the design of an enhanced transitional entry sequence. Analogies: a mudroom in one’s own home where shoes and coats are taken off, or a gym where one changes clothes in a locker room prior to entering the active gym floor area. In an office, an enhanced entry might have ample closets or even lockers for coats, bags, and a change of shoes so that staff can enter the work area without bringing those items far beyond the office entrance. This can also be a place to check temperatures of employees and visitors and, ideally, a well-designed hand-washing station is incorporated here.
Open Collaboration Area
In the past decade, the amount of casual seating has increased as a percentage of both an interior’s square footage and of a project’s budget. That will likely continue. As the workforce will be increasingly accustomed to working anywhere with portable technology, soft seating will remain appealing as both a change of pace from a desk as well as for comfort, aesthetics, and casual small meetings. How does the design of this area, with communal tables, soft seating, and shared spaces, change?
An open collaboration area will have extended benefit as a strategic buffer zone—seemingly breathing space—designed to be more integrated between desking areas. Touchdown areas for employees needing places to briefly work between meetings, flexible furniture that can be moved and reconfigured to meet changing needs, and stand-up conference areas for quick gatherings will all become regular features. Furniture with easily cleanable finishes/upholsteries will be key. The communal, standing table, which has risen to prominence in the workplace, will be restricted in the immediate near future. But, in a post-pandemic era, human nature will bring us to again gather at communal tables.
The open office is not dead. But what changes? While we may see some impulsive overcorrection reactions in the 2020 time of pandemic to build partitions and regress to cubicle-like workstations, these are not long-term solutions for quality workplaces. Cheap, quick fixes are just that, and will not endure. Evidence-based savvy design principles will lead to systematic changes through research that can affect both short-term needs and long-term functionality, without sacrificing good design aesthetics.
The design of furniture components will likely adapt into revised configurations that respect distancing where square footage allows for it and supports various workplace activities. Open workstations and benching will, very likely, continue in the long-term future, and the amount of space between individuals may be increased, again, where square footage allows. Modularity and flexibility will more regularly inform design and engineering of any systematic modifications. The process must include concerted research and development investigating material suitability, resiliency, and maintenance.
Hoteling and Shared Desking
Hoteling and shared desking—agile workplace seating—will not go away, and may become more prevalent due to a more flexible workforce splitting time between the office and home, and overall real estate density issues. Shared desking will continue in the long-term, coupled with the lasting pandemic impact of heightened personal responsibility for cleanliness after leaving a desk or table.
The need for privacy does not go away, but the quick turnaround of people using this small space will adjust. These areas will be outfitted to host small/individual video conferencing, connecting via one’s laptop, tablet, or phone.
Although conference room size will not largely change, capacity may be somewhat reduced compared to the current norm. Meetings will more regularly be a blend of in-person attendees with others conferenced-in remotely. In the room, comfortable distancing will potentially remain as conference etiquette, with chairs spaced between three and four feet apart. With the camera becoming more important, additional seating will be to one side of the room opposite the main presentation/monitor/camera wall. Furniture will be flexible to be configured for the needs of the meeting. Rooms will more regularly have integrated sound and video with touchless voice-activated features. The norm of back-to-back meetings in conference room scheduling will be staggered with 15-to-30-minute intervals to allow for cleaning and increased air circulation.
Technology in the workplace continues to advance, of course. The future office will see continued advances, with integrated video technology becoming more regularized. The reasons are many: Because the workforce will include a greater blend of those within an office and those working remotely, and because we have become far more accustomed to video-conferenced meetings. With cues from healthcare interiors, workplaces may also include more touchless door openings as well.
Kitchens and Break Areas
In recent years, the employee kitchen and break area has increased in square footage and has become more open and connected to the workplace as a social hub for both casual conversations as well as nourishment. This space has become an important workplace amenity, signaling to employees that wellness is important to the company. In the short-term, while the pandemic is still with us, companies may restrict the use of these office kitchen areas. But, as we look long-term to a post-pandemic future, we foresee that the desire to have the kitchen as a place for food, drink, and conversation will absolutely continue. Great scrutiny will be placed on the kitchen’s footprint and placement adjacent to the workspaces, though, and attention will be placed on easily cleanable surfaces, pressure-latch opening drawers and cabinets that can be opened without considerable touch, and perhaps two sinks—one designated solely for hand washing. To enhance wellness, healthy choices in foods and beverages will be conscientiously selected. Overall, while potentially dormant or restricted in the immediate future, the kitchen will be an increasingly important amenity and social aspect of the office.
Indoor Air Quality and the Outdoor Workplace
In a building’s design, the quality of air ventilation and filtration systems will be scrutinized more commonly. Premium indoor air quality will be paramount in all new construction, with an increasing desire to provide for individual control of airflow. Building owners will also be pressured to improve existing building systems when possible. Air quality will be viewed increasingly as a human right and equity issue, not solely a checkmark for certification achievements. Designers will also maximize daylight and views, and create connections to nature through materials, plants, and select artwork. With that in mind, our desire to spend time outdoors will drive an investment in functional, comfortable, and accessible outdoor spaces wherever climate and real estate allow.
Lead photo by: Garrett Rowland. All images courtesy of Huntsman Architectural Group.
This post was contributed by Jen Levisen, communications director at Mortarr.
The second season of IIDA and AIA Chicago’s Designers + Architects Talk series continued March 10 with a conversation focused on three large-scale, transformative, structural and interior transformations and repositioning projects in Chicago: Willis Tower, Tribune Tower, and the Old Post Office.
The weeks following this event have been transformative in ways that have affected us personally, professionally, and collectively and have sent ripples through the industry. While we understand that projects across the globe may or may not be paused at this time, we hope this enlightening conversation and the innovative reimagining of iconic architectural spaces in Chicago inspires and encourages creativity.
Along with being famous for food, jazz, and world-class museums, Chicago is a city with an incredible architectural history, and the architects and designers leading the charge today play an important role in the reimagining of some of the city’s masterpieces. Projects like the rebirth of the city’s tallest skyscraper, the transformation of a neo-Gothic landmark, and the largest example of adaptive reuse in the country.
Moderated by Zurich Esposito, Hon. AIA, executive vice president of AIA Chicago, the panel featured Todd Heiser, IIDA, principal, Gensler; Sheryl Schulze, principal, Gensler; Meg Prendergast, IIDA, principal, The Gettys Group; and Lee Golub, managing principal, Golub & Company.
Originally designed by SOM and completed around 1974, at 110 stories, the Willis Tower is still the tallest building in Chicago and one of the three tallest in North America. “Once home to only one tenant, it is now home to 15,000 tenants, and thanks to Todd Heiser and team, it is being recreated and reopened by Gensler,” said Esposito.
Heiser, who is also co-managing director of Gensler’s Chicago office, grew up just outside of the city. He said working on a project like Willis Tower—”or Sears Tower as so many of us still call it,”—is a humbling experience and one that, for Gensler, has been a labor of love for the last five years.
As the tower went through a series of additions in the 1980s, a massive, almost impenetrable boundary was created around the base. “Much of our work was opening up the tower and allowing you to access the ground plate,” said Heiser. “We want to make it less of a fortress and create Chicago’s next plaza. This work, along with the updated lobby experience, celebrates the businesses that call the tower home.”
The public lobby repositioning features a food hall, meeting and events space, restaurants, entertainment, a rooftop park, and skylight supported by 75,000-pound beams that offer a view of the south side of the Tower, and still “the fastest elevators in North America.”
This new space is called Catalog, in honor of the building’s initial tenant, Sears, Roebuck & Co., and serves not only the building’s tenants, but it’s more than 1.7 million annual visitors.
“The new space opens up the building tremendously,” said Heiser, “and helps to position the area as Chicago’s next great neighborhood.”
Heiser’s work is part of a more than $500 million renovation, the most significant restorative transformation in the building’s 46-year history. In late 2019, the tower earned the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design’s (LEED) Platinum designation.
Old Post Office
Designed by the same Chicago architects behind our other favorite buildings— the Wrigley Building and Merchandise Mart—Old Post Office was built in 1921 and, for quite a while, was the largest post office in the world. “By the mid-90s, however, it’s use was replaced, and the building was left vacant and neglected. But as Sheryl (Schulze, principal, Gensler) will tell us, ‘The wait was worth it,’” said Esposito.
An icon that needed life support. The awakening of a sleeping giant. “Or sleeping beauty as we affectionately call her,” said Schulze, “and we are very grateful for our developer, 601W Cos., who is her prince.”
Gensler, whose efforts were led by Schulze and principal Grant Uhlir came to the project officially with 601W Cos., in May of 2016, because of their in-depth knowledge of the building.
“We were involved with several developers over the years who were interested in the redevelopment of the building, and that ultimately led to us being the best fit for 601,” she said.
Set to be completed in 2020, the $800 million-plus redevelopment, and currently the largest example of adaptive reuse in the country, has modernized the massive structure, without sacrificing its historic character.
“This building is very unique in nature,” said Schulze. “It’s comprised of three buildings, with 250,000 square foot sweeping floor plates, 18-foot ceilings, and varying floor heights that create several loft-like spaces.”
The office floors also still contain the original spiral mail chutes and other items like vaults and scales that speak to the building’s history.
“We’ve been able to reinvent this building into a class A office with game-changing, robust amenities that activate this building and truly make it a destination,” Schulze said.
Building amenities include a bar with a bocce court, a gym that includes a boxing ring, a 450-seat auditorium, a 4.5-acre rooftop park, and a library, which Schulze added, “was an amenity in the original building as well for postal workers.”
“The product of a 1922 worldwide design competition to create the most beautiful building in the world may now become the world’s most beautiful condominium building,” said Esposito.
“There’s no maybe about it,” followed Prendergast, who leads The Gettys Group team overseeing phase one of the reimagined Tribune Tower. Solomon Cordwell Buenz is the architect of record on the project.
While the Tribune Tower’s exterior and lobby are landmarked, everything on the inside was gutted to make way for new, high-end spaces. “We’ve learned to love it, embrace it, and then help it move forward,” said Prendergast, whose designs honor the heritage and beauty of the building.
CIM Group and Chicago-based Golub & Company acquired the 35-story, 740,000 square-foot structure in 2016, and is in the process of developing it into 162 luxury condominiums.
“Each unit has a unique floor plan given the variables of the building,” said Golub. For example, the newspaper’s old executive dining room will be a single-family dwelling.
The tower’s amenities will include a spa, fitness center, indoor pool looking over the iconic Chicago Tribune sign, a co-working lounge, meeting rooms, entertainment areas, and an event space featuring a bar and prep kitchen. A terrace on the 25th floor of the crown is framed by the building’s flying buttresses and offers 360-degree views of the city.
“It’s the most amazing thing you’ve ever seen,” said Golub. “If we could bring people to the brown, we’d sell out in one second.”
“This is an iconic and dramatic piece of history,” Prendergast said. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
An icon begets an icon.
IIDA and AIA Chicago are committed to keeping our community healthy and safe, and in the interest of public health, and in accordance with state-issued mandates, have postponed the April and May Designers & Architects Talk events.
Tickets purchased for these events will be honored for the rescheduled dates. Ticket holders will have the opportunity to request a refund after the new dates are announced if they are unable to attend. IIDA and AIA Chicago will provide updates as they become available, and information will be posted to IIDA’s Events Calendar.
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