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This spring I have had the pleasure of assistant teaching the Design Thinking course at the Graduate School of Architecture at Washington University in St. Louis. This is a research and design exploration class in which students establish the premise, site and program of what will be their capstone studio project (called the Degree Project) in their final semester. Students compile a book that graphically presents their design idea and the data/ thought processes that inspired it. Final books went on display in Givens Hall this week.
There are two aspects of the course that I find most compelling. First, all students are required to locate their project in the St. Louis region. In contrast to other semesters when studio sites range from New York to Shanghai, this encourages them to engage in the issues most relevant to St. Louis and (as simple as it sounds) enables them to physically observe and experience their site. Secondly, students are challenged to overturn any underlying assumptions related to the way we design, the way society operates, and the way we interact with the environment.
The result? A range of unique design ideas representing the particular interests of each student, and suggesting architectures quite unlike those we see in St. Louis today. Here are a few examples of the proposals that came from my group of students:
– The use of temporary architecture in the Loop to experiment with unconventional building programs before investing in more permanent facilities.
– A center for community engagement that seeks to improve Wash U’s relationship with the communities it serves by creating an interface for students and St. Louisans to interact. The intent is to find ways for student initiatives and research to result in tangible and lasting benefits for the city’s neighborhoods.
– The design of a new residential-recreational-industrial-commercial typology that can inhabit abandoned shopping malls and offer a more densified version of suburban life. The proposed site is the Chesterfield Bottoms outlet mall.
– A relaxation center at the Columbia River Bottoms that uses architectural interventions along the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers to create a variety of “soundscapes” that capitalize on the calming effects of water sounds.
Having graduated from the Wash U program myself one year ago, I have greatly enjoyed this chance to get back on campus and discuss “big ideas” with passionate students excited about the future of architecture and what it can achieve.
Good design should always lead to a great user experience. This is the end result of the Center for Global Citizenship (CGC) project at Saint Louis University (SLU). The University and the CGC were recently recognized by the Association of International Education Administrators (AIEA) for the Innovation Award in Internationalization. The award highlights exceptional programs, projects or initiatives aimed at advancing internationalization. The important element of the award is focusing on programs that can serve as models for other institutions. As Fox Architects worked with SLU in the programming process, certain design elements that were incorporated into the space are direct contributors to the end result.
Two areas that stand out as a part of SLU’s recognition award are the Development of the Center for Global Citizenship and the Establishment of the SLU Association for International Debate (SAID) Program.
Development of the Center for Global Citizenship: The centers mission was to create a space that would promote collaboration across the university and to educate and engage the SLU community in global awareness, responsibility and participation. Working with Fox Architects through a constant series of client collaboration, SLU was able to adapt the 87-year old Gymnasium into a space that nurtures engagement and collaboration between cultures and the community.
Design ideas that were integral to this mission: Engaging with Surrounding, Good Food, Location, Multiplicity of Spaces, Human Relationship, Informal Gathering.
Establishment of the SAID program: This interactive debate program that brings together universities from all over the world in active debate related discussions has created a rich collaborative environment. The debate program utilizes the technology built into the space to debate in real-time to universities located all over the world. The SAID program continues to grow and has developed into a collaborative organization that has increased the awareness of the center, while enriching the SLU community.
Design ideas that were integral to this mission: Creating Spaces that Foster Collaboration and Discussion, Technology Integration.
Visit our project section for more information. More information on the Award can be found here and on SLU’s website.
Last month Fox traveled to Liebert Learning Center in Westerville, OH to meet with Frank Bibens (President, Global Services, Emerson Network Power) and the Director of Corporate Training & Development to discuss the success of the new facility completed in 2009.
The visit went very well and Fox walked away with some valuable insight on the facility and the things they were enjoying as well as what could be done to improve for future projects. Overall the response was outstanding and Frank and his team couldn’t have had more encouraging things to say about the job Fox did on the training facility.
Thanks to Frank and the whole Liebert team for their hospitality.
Last month members of Fox Architects were asked to present to IFMA (International Facility Management Association) at the recently completed RGA (Reinsurance Group- America Inc) Global Headquarters on the design principles used by Fox in designing the new HQ. The panel discussion was titled Focus Privacy in the New Workplace and addressed on two major topics; accommodating generational gaps and how to prepare for the future generations, and how different workplace environments affect the quality of those different generation’s performance.
IFMA was pleased to see their largest turnout as over 100 visitors came to see the panel discussion and get a short tour of the world class facility. Along with myself, Coleen Crutcher and Jacob Coburn represented the three generations (Baby-Boomers, Gen-X, and the Millennials) to offer unique perspectives on the way these generations function in existing workplaces and how with RGA’s new model Fox took evidence-based design to improve quality of space, communication, and create a more efficient workplace. By focusing on core principals like access to daylight and views, balancing individual and shared spaces and giving free access to alternative work spaces, RGA is seeing an increase in collaboration without distracting the more focused workers.
By showing the floor plans which highlighted office traffic control and space zoning, Fox was able to show the importance of a proper layout and how the right environment is integral to creating trust in the office, the key to imparting knowledge from older generations to future generations. The panel ended with a tour of the amenities level which includes RGA’s cafeteria-auditorium, servery, training rooms, and the entrance for the facility.
Fox would like to say a special thanks to IFMA for inviting us to give this presentation and thank RGA for allowing us to host the event in their new facility.
This afternoon Fox is working on the topic of Higher Education and how the employees see the future of this expanding market. Want to know what we think? Here are few topics we’re discussing on the changes in higher education.
2. Fusion Facilities
4. Partnering with Industry
5. Integrated Technologies
6. Changing Markets
7. Facilities as Recruitment – The Campus Experience
8. Adaptive Reuse
Want to know more? Ask any one at Fox about the trends we’re seeing in our current markets.
Driving to work this morning was a bit challenging due to thick layer of fog that settled along Interstate 55 and Saint Louis downtown area. As I am sitting in the traffic I am catching the glimpse of the rising sun through the thick fog. All of the sudden interstate which seemed so ominous transformed into a scenic pathway coated with soothing gold glow. As traffic picks up I start seeing silhouette of downtown Saint Louis and the only thing I could think about was how fascinating the view from our office would be.
Finally I was in our office on the 18th floor of the Gateway Tower. As I walked through the door the warm glow greeted me.
Below are unedited images of the view:
Besides shaping our ability to collaborate and innovate, our office environment provides us with numerous benefits, one of them being the incredible view of downtown Saint Louis. What an amazing feeling is to experience nature in such a pure element from the everyday work environment.
Chris Montroy and I were fortunate this year to give a presentation to the Alberti Program at Washington University. This is something we’ve been doing for about the past 5 or 6 years now. The program is run by Gay Lorberbaum. (factoid – Gay was the first Design Studio Professor I had when I was an undergrad at Wash U – back in the olden days). In previous years we’ve talked about Sketching, Sustainability, Building Systems and general “This is what we are doing now” topics. This year our presentation was on “Things that used to be something else” or “UTBSE”. Architects might refer to this as “Adaptive Reuse” but we thought UTBSE was catchier. We borrowed the thought from the authors of the website “Used to be a Pizza Hut”. For more on that, there’s a great story on the podcast 99% Invisible.
We used several things as examples – warehouses that are now schools,
Former Warehouse – now a Learning and Community Center
factories that are now offices,
Former Factory – now an Office Building
or one of our current projects, a barn that’s now a conference center. In the spirit of the day, we brought a couple of boxes of stuff from the office that the students re-purposed as models for a house they designed.
Students getting ready for the presentation
This is a wonderful program. Gay has recently expanded her reach – she’s now part of a similar program called “Building Futures”. This looks like a great program too – looking forward to what the future generation of aspiring architects creates at both these programs!
For the past few months we have been hosting “Friday Office Presentations” on a variety of the subjects revolving around architecture. The presenters are members of the Fox team who want to share interesting architectural trends with the rest of the office. This past Friday’s presentation was focused on a study performed by Terrapin Bright Green entitled 14 Patterns of Biophilic Design – Improving health and well-being in the built environment.
Terrapin Bright Green is a team of researchers that collaborates with organizations to challenge assumptions and develop solutions that lead to improved environmental and financial performance; information that we as architects can point to when the client is looking for scientific evidence to support our design ideas. The study is particularly interesting because it’s focused on outlining criteria for ways to improve the health of building occupants. A Link to the Terrapin Bright Green website is listed below where you can read the entire study.
After reviewing the patterns identified in the mentioned study we have realized that we have been using similar design principles in all of our designs long before the study was published.
Here are some examples:
We strive to create environments with exterior views and a strong connection with nature. (Terrapin Bright Green – pattern No. 1.)
We work closely with our consultants to create thermally comfortable environments. Furthermore we incorporate operable windows to create airflow variability. (Terrapin Bright Green – Pattern No. 4.)
We utilize use of natural and sustainable materials (Terrapin Bright Green Pattern No. 9)
Based on client needs we strive to create open and freeing environments. (Terrapin Bright Green Pattern No. 11)
In large and open spaces we like to create out break out areas. These breakout spaces serve as areas of withdrawal from the main space. (Terrapin Bright Green Pattern No.12)
We try to incorporate a certain level of mystery in our designs which evokes interest and draws building occupants further into the space. (Terrapin Bright Green Pattern No.13)
Last week the Fox Team had the privilege of visiting the Steelcase Global Headquarters and Learning University in Grand Rapids, MI. While there, we met with Steelcase employees from several departments about how their research on collaboration could be used for the Emerson Innovation Center “Helix” currently being built on the University of Dayton campus. As a result, we were able to tour their entire campus and see their exceptional architecture and universal furniture design. Steelcase has built a reputation on workplace products, but their commitment to innovating the entire industry is what drew Emerson to ask, in what ways could they optimize the innovation process at the Helix.
The daylighting in their Learning University, an old converted manufacturing warehouse, was fantastic, and they have one of the world’s most work-friendly cafeterias, but it was their ideas on learning classrooms that I found to be the most inspiring. They currently call the project LearnLab and it’s a way of thinking about classrooms differently. Starting from the traditional classroom layout with students all facing forward towards the instructor, they’re testing ways classrooms can more easily transition from the lecture phase of teaching to a more collaborative and engaging group environment. And while all classrooms are slowly finding ways to incorporate technology for the teacher, Steelcase is finding ways to incorporate it for every student in the classroom.
By examining working university classrooms to find what is productive and what things are distracting, Steelcase is finding ways to teach students about collaboration in the classroom, a skill set industries are looking for when hiring new employees. We all remember taking notes as a student and missing half of the lecture in the process, this classroom of the future is finding ways to automatically send notes to students and keep them engaged during projects. The opportunity to focus on the information rather than their ability to regurgitate it helps students focus better and immediately become more engaged during class. Even sitting in a swivel chair, which allowed students to move without getting up and distracting other students, is done to help students learn and be more productive.
The visit was great inspiration to begin thinking about how the buildings and workplaces we design are as much of a tool to their owners and teachers as they are shelter for them. Steelcase has given themselves a unique opportunity to challenge the way current classrooms are effective and keep themselves at the forefront of classroom innovation.
Despite 10″ of snow, the visit to Grand Rapids was a great success and both Fox and Emerson left with new ideas about how to make the Innovation Center an even greater success.
The Art of the Deal vs. the Art of the Relationship
Much has been written and talked about the “Art of the Deal”. And, although there is a certain art form in the pursuit and closure of “a deal”, I believe a much higher art form is the Art of the Relationship. But, much less information is available on the latter. Not surprising when you understand that the gratification that can come from “closing a deal” is infinitely shorter than the time frame, effort and consistent performance required to build a long term relationship.
I fully appreciate the effort, perseverance and skill involved in “doing a deal”. However, building a relationship requires these same characteristics multiplied hundreds of times over many years! “Deal after deal (project) requires successfully meeting challenges, exceeding client expectations, achieving quality results and increased professional capabilities.
Why am I even saying all of this? Because Fox Architects has been built on and continues to grow through our client relationships. And, I’m not referencing a “relationship” of a few years as the standard. I am talking about three decade relationships!
From the beginning our firm has been focused on building relationships and not targeting individual projects. In the summer of 1978 one of our first project opportunities was with Emerson Electric. We are now in our 36th year with Emerson. One could argue that our initial contact and subsequent early activity with Emerson could be explained as being in the right place at the right time. That’s probably somewhat true, but that cannot explain completing 36 years of successful projects, navigating through multiple changes of client contacts and supporting increasingly complex projects. A relationship of this length and breadth can only be grown over time, a long time.
And, even more importantly, our firm is organized and led by these same beliefs. Our ownership has worked together for 28 years. Fox Architects – built through and on strong very long term relationships.
These defining characteristics have and continue to differentiate and distinguish our firm!
Projects / Deals build fees.
Relationships build value.
12 / 22 / 2015