Open floor plans are in vogue, but they are not for everyone. There is an absolute premium on natural light. And nobody likes a building with a ground floor bereft of activity.
What constitutes a modern professional workplace is changing rapidly, and Gensler, the San Francisco design and architecture firm, is betting those changes will factor more heavily not only into clients’ interior design decisions, but every single real estate decision they make.
That bet led Gensler to hire a well-known name locally in both design and real estate circles: Robert A. Peck.
During his second stint heading the Public Buildings Commission at the General Services Administration, Peck was driving changes to the workplace at federally owned and leased buildings. He moved his desk from an office to an open, shared work space, something like what Mayor Michael Bloomberg introduced at New York City Hall. He experimented with standing workstations. He encouraged managers to consider desk-sharing and telecommuting policies that would allow agencies to occupy less space.
The experiments ended abruptly in April, following revelations of a lavish four-day 2010 conference one of his managers held in Las Vegas costing more than $800,000. In the aftermath, GSA Administrator Martha N. Johnson resigned, and Peck, who attended the conference, was fired.
Peck’s résuméincludes stints working for then-Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.), the American Institute of Architects, the Greater Washington Board of Trade and Staubach Co., a real estate services firm now part of Jones Lang LaSalle.
But after his ousting, he wondered if he would be able to find a position in Washington marrying his varied interests in architecture and real estate. He considered moving to New York or returning to work as a real estate attorney.
He said he received more hiring inquiries than he expected. “When I talked to people, they told me ‘Bob, we know what you can do and we know what happened at the GSA,’’ he said. “They know the politics. People get politics.”
Like Peck, Diane Hoskins, chief executive at Gensler, has long been thinking about new ways to make office space more efficient and attuned to the organization using it. Gensler’s K Street NW offices feature rotating art exhibits, and Hoskins keeps an exercise ball in her office. The firm is planning to expand into ground-floor space previously occupied by a restaurant, where the company will have studio space visible to passersby.
When Peck was fired, Hoskins had been looking for a leader of the firm’s workplace consulting practice for the Southeast United States, stretching from Pennsylvania to Florida. Gensler has 43 offices and more than 3,000 employees worldwide, and Peck, when he begins the job in September, will become one of four global managers of the firm’s consulting practice.
“We’ve been looking to land the right person for this job for about two years, and we’ve been trying to find someone with experience that marries real estate expertise with an understanding with how the workplace defines an organization,” Hoskins said.