Supporting the evolution of client and community need through design
By K.J. Quinn
“We’re having a lot of conversations about the human experience and durability, all around sustainability, and that’s becoming part of our DNA.”
— Rives Taylor
Gensler is widely recognized as the world’s leading collaborative design firm, not just the largest. And it uses that collaborative spirit to adjust to the changing needs of the industries it serves, a key success factor for designers today. “We’re having a lot of conversations about the human experience and durability, all around sustainability, and that’s becoming part of our DNA,” Rives Taylor, director of design resilience at Gensler, told GO. “We’re getting more businesses to rethink client values, community impact and having a sustainable mindset as a real value proposition for the long term.”
The architecture, design and planning firm is still among the largest worldwide, operating 48 locations across Asia, Europe, Australia, the Middle East and the Americas. Founded in 1965, Gensler serves more than 3,500 active clients in virtually every industry. There are more than 10,000 projects in 2,500 cities ranging from offices to stores, academic and civic buildings, convention centers, entertainment and cultural venues. “Our clients are remarkably diverse: large and small, private and public, for-profit and non-profit,” Taylor said. “We help them grow, sustain and transform; whatever it takes to embrace their future.”
Whatever their size, Gensler is organized to support clients at every stage of the design cycle, from initial strategy and design planning through implementation and management. To achieve those goals, three pillars support Gensler’s commitment to excellence: community, creativity and client relationships. “I was told we are one of the unique professionals in design to have clients trust us to spend money without knowing how [the project] comes together in the end,” Taylor said. “From the inception, we have to have a trusted relationship.”
Global platform, local design
Houston’s Kinder High School for the Performing and Visual Arts. (Photo by Connie Zhou)
Gensler offers vast resources in the form of expertise matched with experience gained by working with its clients across the global economy. However, no matter the location, the client and the local impacts of a design come first. “We really do believe in creating for various clientele and their community,” Taylor said. “Even if they’re global customers, we work our hardest to learn about the local needs and requirements.”
For example, Gensler’s design approach in the hospitality sector is built on a deep understanding of nearly every brand and a passion for creating environments embedded in local culture. The firm’s work defines the guest experience through visual storytelling and attention to every detail. Gensler’s portfolio includes award-winning interiors and guest experiences with hotels, resorts, casinos, restaurants, residences and wellness interiors projects.
Schools are looking for ways to optimize how their learning environments have the right sounds and acoustics, avoiding vibration issues. Materials such as floor covering must meet stringent criteria for issues such as indoor air quality, sustainability and maintenance, Taylor said. And, as the pace of change accelerates, educational institutions are on the hunt for precedents and prototypes from other fields that help them evolve and integrate programs, consolidate and use space efficiently and plan flexibly for generational and other shifts. “University systems as well as high schools are looking at having a better teaching and educational space,” Taylor said.
A case in point is Kinder High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, where faculty and staff put in countless hours designing and redesigning the school. “Under their guidance, the talented architects at Gensler and the detail-oriented team at McCarthy Building Companies turned our hopes and dreams into a finished campus that is even more beautiful and functional than we hoped it would be,” said R. Scott Allen, Ed.D, principal.
Gensler’s design for the Houston Campus of BHP 1500 Post Oak. (Photo by Garrett Rowland)
The workplace is no different, and conditions have improved significantly in office spaces, driven in part by competition for talent. Workplaces are now designed to put people first, support how they work and provide what employees expect. “We look to optimize energy efficiency and so forth, but not sacrificing wellbeing and performance,” Taylor said. “We try to find a balance of life cycle optimization.”
The Houston Campus of BHP 1500 Post Oak is the personification of the theme “transforming everyday experiences” as it relates to the workplace evolution. “The drivers of this project — transparency, trust, collaboration and engagement — are all represented within the new workplace,” noted Matt Clugston, manager, Facilities Centre of Excellence at BHP. “They are intuitively recognizable in the way spaces flow, their composition and detailing.”
While interior remodeling in the workplace centers on enabling employees to function comfortably and encourage new ways of working, retail design is more about the relationship between a brand and its audience. Gensler balances content and space to create experiences that maximize engagement between a brand and its customers. “We are really upping the quality of experience, which includes indoor air quality [and] daylighting, which can be an important component for sales in a shopping environment,” Taylor said.
In terms of healthcare, change is a constant as end users demand physical and organizational innovation. Gensler’s integrated network gives it a deep understanding of users and helps align operational interactions with the built environment to create enhanced patient experiences. “My perspective is the same as education; it’s really about [providing] better conditions for working staff,” Taylor said.
When it comes to specifying interior decorating products, flooring is among the most important as it can tie in all of the design elements within a space. “The floor focus is the biggest,” Taylor said. “Since we specify those materials, we provide feedback on ordering and installing, and our designers are pressed for time to get the best product.”
Thinking through sustainable design
The new Gensler-designed headquarters of the Houston Advanced Research Center (HARC)
is a LEED-certified green building. (Photo by Peter Mollick)
Hitting the mark no doubt means designing for health, comfort, flexibility and ease of use. “Every action has a consequence,” Taylor said. “We really need to think long term for our decisions in design.”
To that end, Gensler designers work collaboratively and strategically to deliver innovation, quality and sustainable performance. Sustainability is an important focus for a broad range of projects, from urban districts and developments to sub- urban and exurban campuses, centers and communities. Equally important are the socio-economic health of the community and environmental impact. “The impact by design, particularly in urban environments, is a huge focus for us,” Taylor said.
The firm’s credits include the first U.S. office building to use under-floor air distribution and later the first retail rollout prototype, data center and car dealership to earn LEED certifications. “We believe design trends begin and end with the client and cast in the local marketplace,” Taylor said. “While not every client wants a third-party certification like LEED, we want to have a conversation about sustainability and resilience in a challenged environmental sense.”
The new Gensler-designed headquarters of the Houston Advanced Research Center (HARC), a nonprofit research hub that provides independent analysis on energy, air and water issues, is a LEED-certified green building, which symbolizes the client’s vision of putting sustainability principles into action. “Gensler’s design of our new building exemplifies the successful application of energy- and water-efficient technologies, the use of renewable energy resources and the stewardship of natural habitats,” said Lisa Gonzales, vice president and CEO. “HARC’s new headquarters facility is a model of how sustainable design can be put into practice thoughtfully during the construction process, continually through building operation and impactfully as HARC implements its research programs in its new home.”
When it comes to flooring, one of the challenges in meeting end-user requirements, Taylor said, is gaining an under- standing of multiple third-party validations. “I very much appreciate transparency – none of us are material experts,” Taylor said. “It’s about how do we make it approachable for the designer.”
For Gensler, learning about a customer’s needs does not end with the built project. The emphasis is gaining an under- standing of how to further improve upon, among other things, the design. “Our success is our clients’ success,” Taylor said. “We work collaboratively with our clients, communities and end users to create spaces that work well on every level, inside and out.”
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