Guardians of the workplace

To create great offices, designers must become warriors

Designers create stuff. We create spaces. We create the space everybody lives in every day.

We’re the most powerful people, and we don’t know it. Take the office, for instance. You live here.
We live in these office spaces. But we’ve found that the office cubicle of the ‘50s and Jack Lemmon in The Apartment has a certain hopelessness to it. You need something to sort of lift you from that.

When you’re at home, all the rooms have distinctive personalities, really distinct ones. They’re built up from hundreds of years of history. The front porch does a special thing, the vestibule does another. One of the real flaws of modern architecture is when they apply the materials and don’t give you the principles that have been with us for so long. You need these different spaces to do different things. The spaces have different characters and personalities.

So why, when the kitchen is the most important thing at home–it’s about the food, the center, the life, the heart, the fire–do you come to the office and find it’s a vending machine with crap in it? Tell me that. It’s because we followed a different formula here. The business model was that you would act differently here, you’d be more machine-like here, you would punch a clock here.

The business part of how we have managed ourselves has manifested itself in these spaces, these colder spaces, these tough spaces to live in. That’s the revolution that we now live with every day at work.

So as designers of workplace interiors, we are actually the guardians of creating these environments. I think that’s a really neat thing. I like that part of it. When they come to me and say ‘I want this this and this,’ I engage them to look at the project in another way. I see myself as the guardian of that environment, one that could really be really special.

Alternative venues like the charrette [the subject of my next post, in fact] allow you to break out of that older model.

Grisko, Chicago, IL

Grisko, Chicago, IL. Photo by Hedrich Blessing

So what is a warrior? Well, maybe he plays music while you dream, and gets his markers out even though he’s still using his computer. He takes you around to see different things that might help you. A warrior is taking you to the new world; he’s not going to regenerate the old world for you. And you’re not going to want to go to the new world. You’re comfortable in the old world. A few of you will want to go, but the majority like what they’ve got, they don’t want less. They’re afraid they’ll get less, and they’re afraid of change.

There’s a whole philosophy about how to bring people to your side and win their confidence so that you’re allowed to take them to the new place. It helps to take them to other new places you’ve done, and other new places you haven’t done to show them that the world is moving. We show them that we bring projects alive so that they can grow as the client grows.

Every time you do a new project, it’s like giving birth. This is a new chance at everything, and these new creations have an obligation to have a life, 15-20 years for interiors, 50-100 years even for a building. You can’t be giving them what they had last year, or five years ago. You can’t give them something that simply matches up with the budget or a good business plan. It’s a mortal sin, you’d burn in Hell forever for that. You’ve got the greatest responsibility on the planet short of the fertility gods that give life. You’re giving birth to where the life lives, where it breathes, where it acts. It’s the second most important job. You can’t act like you’re writing an essay. It’s a sport that requires a Renaissance approach in terms of your heart, soul, mind, and the physical component: the sweat. You have to come alive in this thing; you have to become a warrior.

MillerCoors photo by Nick Merrick

1 Comment

    Preach on brother Nick, deliver us from the fires of authoritative hell. Is this kind of battle cry that makes me want to throw away all of my current designs and start all over again. Don’t ever give up, don’t ever give in. Love you brother

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