Lauren Rottet: Connectivity, Success, and Enduring Design

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.

Lauren Rottet, FIIDA, FAIA, image courtesy of Seymour Collective

“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.” 

Photo by: Robo Aerial

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.”

Cheryl S. Durst, Hon. FIIDA, and Lauren Rottet, FIIDA, FAIA. Photo by: Robo Aerial

“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:

Host Sponsor:
Corporate Concepts / Knoll

Champion Sponsors:
Andreu World, Bernhardt Design, BIFMA, Caesarstone, Cosentino, J+J Flooring Group, Maya Romanoff, Mohawk Group, Mortarr, OFS, Patcraft, Shaw Contract, and Tarkett.

Designers & Architects Talk March Preview: Interior Adaptations Across Chicago

The 2020 season of the Designers & Architects Talk Series, presented by IIDA and AIA Chicago, is underway with an exciting lineup. On March 10, IIDA Headquarters will host Repositioned and Reimagined, a discussion on three of the most newsworthy and timely interior transformations in Chicago: Willis Tower, Tribune Tower, and Old Post Office. 

All three interior adaptations were cited in the January Chicago Tribune article, “From tech company expansions to the opening of Chicago’s third tallest skyscraper, here’s what to watch for in real estate this year.”

Zurich Esposito, Hon. AIA, executive vice president of AIA Chicago, will moderate. The talk features Lee Golub, managing principal of Golub & Company and developer of the repositioned Tribune Tower as well as the proposed new, adjacent tower; Meg Prendergast, IIDA, principal at The Gettys Group, who is overseeing the interiors of the reimagined Tribune Tower; Todd Heiser, IIDA, principal at Gensler and designer of the Willis Tower public lobby repositioning as well portions of the Old Post Office adaptive reuse; and Sheryl Schulze, principal at Gensler who has been managing the Old Post Office renovation. Schulze and her Gensler colleagues overseeing the Old Post Office project were recently named Chicagoans of the Year 2019 by the Chicago Tribune in the architecture category.

Currently the largest example of adaptive reuse in the country, the repositioning of the Old Chicago Main Post Office has given the nine-story Art Deco building a second life. Once serving as the main post office for the Midwest region, the structure welcomed new tenants beginning last fall, including major local company headquarters like Walgreens and Ferrara Candy Company. More workplace tenants, including Uber and PepsiCo, will occupy the building in the coming months.

For the reimagining of Willis Tower’s public spaces, Heiser and his team had a heady task: designing an enhanced experience for both the thousands of office workers who visit the building each day, as well as tourists and the general public. The ambitious renovation reimagines the first five floors of the skyscraper, creating a mixed-use space called “Catalog.”

One of the most iconic buildings in Chicago, the Tribune Tower (below)—a result of a notable architectural design competition nearly a century ago—had been home to the venerable newspaper until it recently moved a few blocks away. The

structure is just one of a few former newspaper headquarters nationwide currently being converted to residential and multi-use spaces. No two floorplates will be alike within Tribune Tower, where 162 luxury condominiums are planned for completion later this year. Heiser, summarizing the projects

included in this discussion, notes, “All three projects are about city building; all are important to the fabric of Chicago.”

Repositioned and Reimagined: Willis Tower, Tribune Tower, and Old Post Office

Advance tickets are required. Visit designerstalk.eventbrite.com to purchase tickets and to see full schedule details for this event and the full series. 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 the remaining three sessions.

For each talk, attendees will be able to obtain either 1 AIA-approved LU or 1 IDCEC-approved CEU. 

Tuesday, March 10
Reception: 5:30 p.m.
Discussion: 6:15 p.m.

IIDA Headquarters
111 E. Wacker Drive

Admission*
Price per session: $10 member, $20 nonmember

Series of three remaining sessions (March 10, April 14, May 5): $25 member, $50 nonmember

A special thanks to our 2020 Designers & Architects Talk sponsors:

Host Sponsor:
Corporate Concepts / Knoll

Champion Sponsors:
Andreu World, Bernhardt Design, BIFMA, Caesarstone, Cosentino, Hunter Douglas Architectural, J+J Flooring Group, Maya Romanoff, Mohawk Group, Mortarr, OFS, Patcraft, Shaw Contract, and Tarkett.

HOW CHANGING BEHAVIORAL HEALTH NEEDS AND AWARENESS IMPACT INTERIOR DESIGN

Our understanding of how patients with mental illness should be treated has changed dramatically over the past several decades—and so has the design of mental health treatment facilities. The design of hospitals and facilities can be critical to a patient’s recovery outlook and meaningful interior design, along with a better understanding of diagnostics and care, can have positive effects on mental and behavioral healthcare within communities. 

This year’s IIDA Power Lunch at the Healthcare Design Expo and Conference in New Orleans on November 4, 2019, revolved around the many complex ins and outs of designing for behavioral health needs, from the changing stigma landscape to taking into consideration care, recovery, and compassion. The event, hosted by IIDA and sponsored by Construction Specialties, featured an industry roundtable, which explored the intersections of design, patient outcomes, and community experiences.

Here’s what the experts had to say:

Recovery and Healing

Best practices for treating and housing patients with mental illness have shifted from custodial care to person-centered recovery. This means that modern behavioral health spaces are “challenged to meet safety and security obligations while providing humane and healing patient spaces,” says Walter B. Jones, Jr., AIA, senior vice president of Campus Transformation. 

In order to create patient-centric environments, these facilities are making design choices that promote recovery, encourage well-being, and improve treatment outcomes. This can include everything from utilizing calming color palettes and adding elements of Biophilia to creating community and family gathering places that provide both patients and families with a welcoming and transparent treatment process. Staying in an inpatient facility is often stressful, but design can serve as a catalyst for enabling patients to take control of their own healing and recovery.

NDI_Fleck_04

New Focus on Amenities

Healing and treatment in behavioral health settings are often enhanced when a healthcare environment “helps to promote a sense of community and self-care and aids in motivating patients,” says Tim Lucas, IIDA, senior interior designer at Gresham Smith. This approach to healthcare means that giving patients their choice of various amenity offerings becomes a critical component of behavioral health facility design. 

Exercise rooms, art and creativity studios, and access to healthy food choices, the outdoors, walking trails, and group and individual activities allow patients a sense of empowerment and autonomy. These options can also foster family involvement in the wellness process, and allow patients to create lasting bonds with fellow patients and their providers.

Safety Aesthetics

Within behavioral health environments, lighting, acoustic, material, and furnishing choices are strategically made in order to incorporate the safety of patients and staff into the design and functionality. 

“Successfully reaching this goal is a balance between evoking positive emotions through aesthetics, while achieving individual safety,” says Lucas. Designers can use the latest research on the state of mental health needs to help them make informed and successful design decisions. These decisions may encompass: 

    • Patterning: Flooring patterns, for example, should be kept to a minimum as high-contrast and glare can be disorienting to some patients.
    • Wayfinding: Wayfinding throughout a behavioral health space should be clear and consistent to reduce potential confusion and agitation. 
    • Acoustics: Providing access to a quiet environment is important. Certain sound absorption materials can be used to address acoustic concerns. 
    • Lighting: The use of fluorescent lighting should be limited and replaced with warmer-toned LED lighting in order to create a softer, more comforting environment. 
    • Furnishings: Furniture should be selected based on the level of a patient’s condition.  In certain cases, furniture should be weighted and immovable; in other cases, lighter weight furniture that can be moved is beneficial. 

NDI_Fleck_11

Compassion and Destigmatization

Design has the power to humanize and dignify, and in order to help combat the mental health stigma landscape, behavioral health spaces today need to convey a sense of trust. “When a patient feels stripped of their personal dignity—which often happens upon entering an inpatient unit—we find, as designers, that the small details we incorporate can empower the patient and lead to a sense of satisfaction,” says Kimberly N. McMurray, AIA, principal at Behavioral Health Facility Consulting, LLC. 

Gone are the days of facilities with sterile, impersonal rooms with anxiety-inducing austere architecture. Instead, patients and their families are offered modern design features and welcoming, soothing environments. Incorporating compassionate design aids in the destigmatization of seeking and receiving mental healthcare, and the humanization of patients. According to Sara K. Wengert, AIA, principal at architecture+, coupling interior design with activism and changes in public policy, “can have a profound effect on the avoidance of stigma associated with mental and behavioral healthcare for members of our communities, as well as for the people receiving care.”