Jen Renzi -- Interior Design, 12/1/2000 12:00:00 AM
Throughout his 29 year career, Gary Wheeler has dedicated his efforts to building a better work environment. But office design is a complex task; the client is a collective, rather than singular, identity, and projects must take into account a range of personnel with diverse (and usually divergent) needs. Compromise at all levels often ensures that design gets diluted-not exactly a recipe for innovative results. Yet, again and again, Wheeler has defied these odds. As managing director of Perkins & Will's Chicago branch, and previously as principal of his namesake firm, Wheeler has fashioned progressive offices for such venerable clients as Maytag, Leo Burnett, and the State of Minnesota. Gracefully resolving programmatic requirements both physical and psychological, Wheeler's award-winning designs inspire creativity and productivity in their inhabitants.
Wheeler has been at the forefront of the profession since 1978 when, armed with a B.F.A. in interior design from Louisiana Tech University, he opened his Minneapolis-based firm. Proving himself an industry leader, Wheeler served as president of ASID from 1994-'95. Shortly thereafter, Perkins & Will acquired the Wheeler Group to expand their interiors division. He was appointed national director of interiors and, 18 short months later, was also enlisted to manage the Chicago office. Wheeler is the first interior designer to take the helm of the multinational architectural giant, a testament to his fluid negotiation between disciplines and his dexterity in both realms.
What further distinguishes Wheeler is his ability to impart a personal vision while channeling the demands of up to a client's 10,000 employees. A master practitioner of and advocate for strategic planning, Wheeler understands that design is as much about problem solving as it is about aesthetics. Before hitting the drawing board, he solicits input not just from upper-level management but also from the workers in the trenches, grilling employees about their individual needs and desires and then candidly observing them on-site to arrive at an inspired solution. It takes a true visionary to conceive a new look that anticipates how an organization-particularly a large international corporation or institution with a strongly entrenched identity-might evolve within the next few years. Or within the next few days, as in the case of consulting firm Deloitte & Touche, for which Wheeler recently created an ingenious, flexible configuration for the Chicago office that can be altered at will to accommodate a rotating roster of more than 600 employees in less than half as many seats.
The recipient of ASID's 1999 Designer of Distinction and a 1990 Award of Fellowship, as well as an AIA Special Award in 1996, Wheeler is redefining the very notion of the contemporary workplace with his evocative designs.