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.