Edie Cohen -- Interior Design, 11/1/2005 12:00:00 AM
Value-added services are the linchpin of Gensler's "one-firm firm" machine. Spurred on by the needs of clients (or clients-to-be), along with an internal pushing of the envelope, these extra offerings are evidence of an entrepreneurial spirit. Without losing sight of the core business, Gensler extends the traditional boundaries of design.
Branding is perhaps the most overused word in today's professional lexicon. That wasn't so in 1995, when principal and creative director John Bricker founded Studio 585, a consortium of designers in two and three dimensions: interiors, architecture, products, graphics, and brand identity. (The address was 585 Kearny Street, San Francisco.)
"The catalyst was a need to develop our retail capacity," Bricker explains. "Although Gensler's scale is an asset, it wasn't generally seen as one for cutting-edge boutiques. Studio 585's multidisciplinary approach would provide another point of entry into the firm as a whole."
Studio 585 started with such retail clients as Briggs & Riley Travelwear, Pacific Sunwear, and Apple Computer, the latter in conjunction with design consultant Eight. Then the operation branched out, both geographically and across practice areas. In hospitality, Bricker's team won the commission for the Beverly Hilton in Los Angeles. In workplace, clients signing on included Absolut Spirits Co., the Union Pacific Railroad, and the London Stock Exchange. For California's Norman Y. Mineta San José International Airport, the design process began with sequencing a business traveler's typical trip. "We're a renegade think tank," Bricker says of the 130 employees working in L.A., Houston, Chicago, New York, Washington, D.C., and London.
Like Studio 585, Gensler's information-solutions service is an "upstream" offering, meaning it comes before there's actually a physical project and often "helps our clients determine what the project will become," explains Andy Cohen, one of the firm's three new executive directors. Often this consulting work, which includes an online tool that lets clients track their real-estate holdings, leads right back into architecture and interiors commissions. "That's because we have all the data," Cohen says.
Consulting also translates into business strategy: an analysis of real estate, people, process, and technology, all components of a client's operation. In this sphere, Gensler frequently relies on the intellectual capital of outside consultants and real-estate experts, such as Deloitte & Touche and the Trammell Crow Company.
Gensler recognizes that design and commerce are both sides of a two-way street—and travels accordingly. "Apple and Disney show us how people can inspire their staffs," says executive director Diane Hoskins. On the flip side, she notes, "GE picks our brain about eco-development." How much more fluid can the process get?