Architecture and design firm Gensler applies its skills to renovate its own office

When Gensler employees attended a grand opening party in June for their newly renovated offices in downtown Washington, Jeff Barber said he heard one refrain over and over again from his colleagues.

“They’d say, ‘This finally feels like Gensler,’” said Barber, a principal and managing director of the architecture and design firm.

The new office space increases the company’s footprint to 60,942 square feet from 47,254 square feet, and its staffers say the design and layout now capture their spirit of collaboration and creativity.

Gensler began planning the redesign about two years ago when it decided it needed more space to accommodate its growth. It also wanted the offices to serve as a showroom for clients to demonstrate the kind of innovative design it could offer.

“It started with the lease,” said Jordan Goldstein, a principal and managing director who was on the core team that worked on the redesign. “And being able to have a dialogue with a landlord that says, ‘You know what, we really want to try something different here. So, hey, can we rip off the front of your building? Can we make Swiss cheese out of your floor plates?’”

LaSalle Investment Management, the building’s owner, and Transwestern, its manager, agreed to let Gensler take over the first floor of 2020 K St. NW.

“To have that as a basis allows us to create a canvas that we can go crazy with,” Goldstein said.

The ground floor was previously occupied by restaurants, so it has the advantage of having higher ceilings than a traditional office space.

Some vestiges of the previous tenants remain: The banquette seating against the walls, for example, was left behind by Legal Sea Foods.

(Gensler also briefly considered keeping another restaurant’s pizza oven and incorporating it into a cafe area in the office, but ditched that plan when they realized that it would require being responsible for a slew of health code regulations.)

The redesign put the staff in an unfamilar position: They were their own clients.

In that situation, “it’s a constant barometer check of how many cooks you’re going to want in the kitchen, because everyone’s got a good recipe,” Goldstein said.

Here are some of the goals Gensler’s designers had for the renovation and the features they incorporated to achieve them:

Make the space conducive to collaboration. Gensler has more than doubled its meeting room seats, going 0.41 meeting room seats per staff member to 0.81 meeting room seats per staff member.

Workers often nab a table in the lobby area next to what Goldstein calls “the Ferrari of coffee machines” for informal, small-group meetings. In one long corridor, stools are positioned opposite of walls covered in pinboard, a set-up meant to make it easy to tack up designs and talk them over. A tiny but cozy “huddle room” is outfitted two cushy lounge chairs for more private or personal conversations.

For more formal meetings, a spacious multi-purpose room was built on the ground level. If its sliding glass doors are opened, it can accommodate the entire staff.

Gensler also invested in innovative audio-visual technology for some conference rooms. Docks built into the table allow attendees to plug in laptops, tablets, or smartphones to have a gadget’s screen appear on a large monitor for all to see.

These technologies, Goldstein said, “allow you to have this plug-and-play fluidity.”

For solitary work, there’s nothing that looks like a traditional cubicle. Walls between desks are either low or non-existent, and the desks come with mobile storage units and a flexible design that allows them to be easily reconfigured.

Give the space an open, airy feel. Goldstein said he aimed to created “a much more transparent, ephemeral transition” as you move from one space to another. One key element to creating that sensibility was knocking out a 1,000-square-foot portion of the second floor to create a grand atrium that spans two levels. Goldstein said it makes for “a vertically integrated campus.”

Floor-to-ceiling glass windows face the street, a design which is meant to bring the outside world into the office.

Throughout the building, partitions are often transparent or flexible. Most of the conference rooms are walled off in glass, and some meeting areas are divided by window shade panels that can easily be raised or lowered depending on the circumstances.

Goldstein said he asked himself in the design process, “What’s the next generation of design firm? For us, it’s about everything being on display.”

Reflect the unique vibe of Washington. Though Gensler is a global firm, it wanted this office to have local flavor. Ceilings on the ground level contain straight, linear panels that are occasionally intersected by a diagonal ones, a pattern meant to echo the way avenues slice through the city blocks of the District.

Art work throughout the space also has a Washington theme. The entryway features a large wooden sculpture that is a topographic map of the area, while a black and white graffiti mural on the second floor showcases the neighborhood surrounding their downtown office.

Kitchen areas on the second floor are decorated with whimsical illustrations of presidents’ and first ladies’ hairdos going back to George and Martha Washington.

“We live in D.C. We want to acknowledge that and have fun with that,” said Yukiko Takahashi, a senior associate who worked on the redesign.

Show off Gensler’s brand. The firm’s logo and signature color is bright red. To make that shade pop, senior associate Hansoo Kim said they chose to bathe much of the rest of the space in neutrals and whites. Many of the wood and metal surfaces have been left in their natural colors.

The graphics that Takahashi designed for meeting room walls list the locations of Gensler offices around the world and list the various divisions of the company.

In a lounge area near the executive offices, the furniture—the benches, the credenza, the tables, and more—were designed by Gensler.

Incorporate the staff’s personalities. A glass wall dotted with bright red squares that serve as mounts for black and white photos of each employee. (The photos are magnetic, so they can easily be changed as workers come and go.)

The staff has also helped create some of the wall decor. For one display, they were asked to respond to the question “What are you passionate about?” by drawing their answer on a paint chip. The chips were hung side-by-side, creating rainbow of color against a solid black wall.

(Disclosure: Gensler has been retained by The Washington Post as it explores new office space options.)

Sarah Halzack is The Washington Post's national retail reporter. She has previously covered the local job market and the business of talent and hiring. She has also served as a Web producer for business and economics news.
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