Gensler is the world’s largest architecture firm, but it is also a publisher, a software developer, a brand creator, an active community member, and a full-fledged research institution. These less appreciated facets of the global firm were on display at a 50th anniversary open house held recently at Gensler’s Chicago office. “We wanted to highlight the work that doesn’t make it into the magazines,” said strategist Yasmin Spiro, standing on the edge of the sprawling open-plan office she shares with approximately 300 co-workers.
The office exemplifies a number of the research insights being lauded at the open house—namely, that workers want a balance between places to collaborate and places to focus, as well as the freedom to choose among them. Thus, a combination of home-base desks, huddle rooms, conference rooms, and even windowless bunkers where teams retreat to plan confidential projects are available to the staff. “We used to think collaboration was a silver bullet,” said Todd Heiser, a design principal at the Chicago office who focuses on next-generation workplace design. “Now it’s more about a mix of space. It’s about customization.”
Several local incubation spaces designed by Heiser, including Matter and 1871, were among the projects showcased at the event. Also on display were colorful interiors designed pro-bono for local schools, the beta version of an app for performing cost and revenue analysis in the early stages of projects, a virtual reality tour of Caterpillar’s planned Peoria headquarters, and, of course, images of the recently-completed Shanghai Tower.
As for what sets the Chicago office apart from Gensler’s 45 other locations, regional managing principal Lamar Johnson summed it up in two words: grit and resilience. “The Midwest has had to adapt to swings in the economy, and because of that firms reinvent themselves,” he said. “We get to be a part of that.”