If there has ever been a moment when architecture firms would like nothing more than to push a giant Staples-style reset button, this may well be it. For all the momentary reverie that comes at the start of a New Year, it’s impossible to escape the specter of the flailing economy. You may have more free time than you’d like as you search for new clients. Or you may find that your workload doubled because a colleague got the pink slip.
The Staples button may just be an ad campaign, but back in the real world, there’s no better time than the present to reinvent your practice. The Empire State Building rose as the nation plunged into the Great Depression. John Jakob Raskob, the building’s financier, was hardly dissuaded by the economic climate of the time; indeed, he never wavered from his bold and ambitious plan, even as the economy grew worse. So, too, can firms view the current financial malaise as an opportunity—to rethink, even in small, managable ways, their approach to office culture, social media, or business development.
In this, our second annual “What’s Next” package, we explore the future of the architectural workplace. Here, you'll find everything we ran in the January 2012 print issue plus additional stories in the form of additional case studies and interviews, and in our new, weekly “What’s Next” video series, in which leaders from within and around the profession share their own ideas, in 60 seconds or less.
The conversation will culminate at the 2012 AIA National Convention and Design Exposition in Washington, D.C. The 2011 AIA Architecture Firm Award recipient, BNIM, is designing an exhibit, “The Open-Source Office,” that will serve as the centerpiece of the expo hall and spark dialogue around the future of architectural practice and workplaces. In developing the exhibit content, BNIM has identified six areas of critical development for the office of the future—nurture, meet, research, focus, nourish, and grow—which serve as the organizational structure for this issue. BNIM also contributed a manifesto ("A Natural Manifesto") about how the natural world should inform the design and function of the architectural workplace.
At first glance, some of the suggestions in the following pages may seem absurd. Your firm should cultivate a vegetable garden. Employees shouldn’t have to work fixed hours. Your next client will find you via Twitter. Five percent of the bottom line should be dedicated to research.
Outlandish, you say? In truth, ideas such as these are already the reality at many firms around the country. And those firms are seeing the benefit.
Return on investment. You’ll find those words often in this package. Ditto for collaboration, flexibility, speed, and data. As the profession changes and becomes more of an interdisciplinary pursuit, as client expectations grow more complex, as technology continues to evolve at warp speed, firms will need to consider where they want to be in five years, in a decade. These are challenging times, yes, but this is also an era of great opportunity.