Category: Design

Changing Perspectives — Designing via Partnerships

Design Partnerships with National Accounts

As the COVID19 pandemic sweeps through our country and the world, corporations are busy determining their strategic approaches to business continuity, particularly as states begin entering into the restart phase and employees begin returning to the office.

As an architecture and design firm, we are uniquely positioned to assist our clients in the spatial ideation and implementation of social distancing protocols—ensuring policy is enabled and employees and businesses remain healthy and safe. It is particularly evident in times like these that businesses of today need more than just a design firm.

Traditionally, architecture and design projects have clearly defined beginnings and ends. Once a client occupies the completed project; photos are taken, hands are shaken and communication halts to the occasional ‘hope you are doing well’ emails.

At Workplace Architecture + Design, we have a different perspective to offer the businesses we work with:  we have the experience, knowledge, and talents to operate as more than just the typical designer-client relationship, but as true strategic partners.

As strategic partners, our projects do not come to a close with a handshake (we prefer ‘air fist bumps’ these days) —and our line of communication does not close either. A partnership places value on organizational and cultural engagement equally as much as the emphasis is placed on an individual project. The end product of a strategic partner is not simply the built environment, but instead, all of the elements that support that environment and effectively meet their business purpose.

Benefits For Clients

Workplace Architecture + Design serves as strategic partners for a number of organizations: working on projects across the country, and even dipping into international waters recently. Our services look at our partner’s entire portfolio of facilities, not just an individual building, in an effort to strategically resolve issues through careful planning and design. The services we provide as strategic, long-term partners are:

  • Portfolio Analysis and Optimization — We review organizational data and forecasted growth/contraction against facility layouts and capacities. This leads to finding and implementing select facility changes that allow for the best use of capital against spatial needs (i.e. individual projects that provide the most value for the money).
  • Development of Brand Standards — Blending all aspects of design (space allocations and size, materiality, design, and workplace strategies) with company culture (work flows, collaboration approach, branding), we help create a deployable guide for company-wide office design.
  • Negotiated Agreements — Working on behalf of our partner, we assist in the outreach and development of agreements directly with manufacturers to provide cost-saving solutions for hard costs such as furniture, flooring, and audio-visual needs
  • Best-of-Class Planning and Design — Our design team incorporates a deep-rooted understanding of our client’s needs and culture with creativity and immense talent to produce highly innovative and cost-effective results. Our connected knowledge with our client leads to faster projects, delivered for less money—on a consistent basis.

The benefits of becoming strategic partners with our team are immense: creating thoughtfully curated culture management (versus unpopular mandates), improved recruiting and retention, major cost avoidance and savings on all projects, and a sustainable and healthy built environment that embodies your company’s values.

One Example – National General Insurance

An example of one of our strategic partnerships is our work with National General Insurance Company (NGIC). Beginning with a complete analysis of the company’s Winston-Salem headquarters in 2012–an analysis that resulted in a strategic relocation to a nearby multi-facility campus—Workplace Architecture + Design has since become the company’s nation-wide architectural and design partner. Our work with NGIC has included:

  • The development of corporate design guidelines that have been implemented across the country and include: spatial allocation and design strategy, furniture standards, finish standards, appliance standards, and Audio-Visual standards
  • Projects across ten states — stretching from North Carolina and New York to Wisconsin and Oregon.
  • Rapid space planning and lease opportunity analysis

David Wolf, National General’s Vice President of Facilities, has seen the benefits of working with our team across the country. “We can rapidly deploy projects anywhere in the United States and know that cost controls and brand consistency will be delivered.”

FEATURED PROJECT: 450 Hanes Mill Road, Winston-Salem, North Carolina 

The fourth, and most recent, building within NGIC’s Madison Park campus, the work at 450 Hanes Mill represents a multi-phased project to meet the growing spatial demands of National General’s Winston-Salem location.

Beginning with an analysis of multiple expansion options—including additions, new construction, and potential moving — the resulting renovation of 450 Hanes led to the most cost-effective strategy for a growing company. The building consists of approximately 81,000 square feet that include training facilities, open and enclosed office space, meeting rooms (of all sizes), both renovated and new restrooms to serve the population, and multiple break rooms. The project also included upgrades to the building’s mechanical and electrical systems.

The power of “Design Fixation”

Your first design idea is always the one you feel most confident about. It may not be your best one but you fixate on it anyway. Thirteen professionals from the United Kingdom were asked how to work their way around this “design fixation”, and below are the ideas that they had.

What Is “Design Fixation,” And How Can You Stop It?

Items that can make design fixation worse:

  • Exposure to prior solutions that you may have had
  • Always thinking that your earlier ideas are a better design
  • Dealing with low budgets from your clients
  • Being a part of a workforce that places blame on people for mistakes made
  • Clients that have their own idea or like your first idea and push to stick with it

Items that help you avoid bad design ideas:

  • Use your coworkers to brainstorm and ask them to review your work
  • Morphological charts shouldn’t be your enemy (used to generate and organize potential solutions in your design)
  • Always notice the problem before it becomes one to begin with
  • Model making is your friend, especially in the design community, so don’t be afraid to make one or two or three or maybe a million

At some point though, you do have to realize your time will be better spent on coming up with the design, so don’t stay fixated too long…

Powers of 10 – A Story of Inspiration

In 1999, we (Alicia and Peter) toured a special exhibit on Charles and Ray Eames at the Library of Congress – and found inspiration.  Though “Eames” is a well-known name in designer circles, and even in the general public with the recent renewed interest in Post-Modern design, this in-depth retrospective showed how Charles and Ray’s life was permeated by design.  Their partnership as a husband/wife team surely allowed them to not just practice design, but to live design.

We were particularly smitten with their short film, “Powers of Ten”, about the relationship of all things in the universe at various scales.  Though the film was made in 1977, its message holds firmly true today.  Watching it again, I wonder if it would have the same impact if produced today with the advanced technologies available…what do you think?

So, as we pondered on the mission of our own design lives together and began to formulate what became Workplace Strategies, the Powers of Ten became an analogy we often used.  Design is planning with a purpose, or problem-solving, and for people who practice design, it is critical to understand the problem at hand.  Therefore problem definition, or Problem Seeking, which is the title of the essential book, Problem Seeking: An Architectural Programming Primer by William M. Peña and Steven A. Parshall is the crucial starting point of a design project. And, as the Powers of Ten tells us, it is as important to understand at an “atomic” level as it is at a global level.  Said in a different way, to determine the appropriate amount of space needed for a project as a whole, we first need to determine the space needed for each portion, and to determine the space needed for a specific portion, we need to understand the functions, operations and so on.  By becoming more detailed, we can build a more accurate big picture.  The same concept applies to the qualitative properties as well as the quantitative properties of each project.

The Powers of Ten is the concept behind the concentric circles of the Workplace Strategies logo.

From the Eames Office website:

Powers of Ten is one of the Eameses’ best-known films.  Since it was produced in 1977 it has been seen by millions of people both nationally and internationally.  As with A Communication Primer and 2n (a 2-minute Peep Show from the exhibition, Mathematica), in this film, Charles and Ray employed the system of exponential powers to visualize the importance of scale.

When the Eameses came across the 1957 book by Kees Boeke, Cosmic View: The Universe in Forty Jumps, they decided to use it as the basis of a film investigating the relative size of things and the significance of adding a zero to any number.

Powers of Ten illustrates the universe as an arena of both continuity and change, of everyday picnics and cosmic mystery. It begins with a close-up shot of a man sleeping near the lakeside in Chicago, viewed from one meter away.  The landscape steadily moves out until it reveals the edge of the known universe.  Then, at a rate of 10-to-the-tenth meters per second, the film takes us towards Earth again, continuing back to the sleeping man’s hand and eventually down to the level of a carbon atom. 

In 1998, Powers of Ten was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”