Collaborative Achievement: The New AIA Chicago Office

By Michael Bordenaro
Assoc. AIA

AIA Chicago celebrated its successful move to new offices in the historic Jeweler’s Building with a ribbon-cutting breakfast ceremony on April 10, 2007.
Hosted by the Board of Directors, the ceremony was attended by more than 60 people consisting of Fellows, past chapter presidents, and special guests Lori Healy, Commissioner of the Chicago Department of Planning and Development, and Sadhu Johnston, Commissioner of the Chicago Department of Environment.

The new 4,000-square-foot office is the result of a national competition for young designers who where asked to provide conceptual visions of how AIA Chicago could best fulfill its mission. “It was a terrific process for the chapter,” said Laura Fisher, FAIA, current AIA Chicago chapter president. “The competition brought fresh, new ideas from young designers. Their designs responded to our mission statement and the elements of good design that are recognized by AIA members. The collaborative, sustainable design and construction process of this office serves as an excellent example for our members and the public.”

Fisher added that the second floor location at 35 East Wacker, overlooking the Chicago River and some of the city’s most celebrated buildings, will be a draw for the general public who are interested in learning more about architecture.

Tom Kerwin, FAIA, initiated the move to the new office during his tenure as chapter president in 2005. The move was prompted by the desire to have the chapter resources more directly accessible to members and the public. “The former office had served its purpose well, but it was designed 15 years ago. A membership survey provided guidance as to how the chapter office could be more responsive to members’ current needs and interests,” explained Fisher, whose practice is focused on owner representation. Her expertise was put to extensive use during the project, which benefited from input and volunteer services from many chapter members and supporters.

The innovative, national competition was planned and administered by the Young Architects Forum with leadership from Marc Teer, AIA, of Gensler, and Jessica Mondo, Assoc. AIA, with SOM, and Jeff Missad, Assoc. AIA, of VOA. Peter Schlossman, AIA, past chapter president and Fisher offered their guidance.

Named Genesis, the competition called for conceptual office designs guided by the overriding AIA Chicago mission statement and a desire to maximize technology and design innovations. Physical space parameters were not established since a new office location had not yet been selected. Of the nearly 40 submittals, five finalists were selected and interviewed based on their ability to follow the project through to completion with the assistance of a licensed architect.

“The chapter was interested in how young designers envision our future,” Zurich Esposito, Executive Vice President of AIA Chicago, said. “Not only who we are as an organization now, but what we want to be and what we need to do to get there. More often than not, their ideas aligned with those of our members.”

The winning entry was submitted by Interface, a design team consisting of Daimian Hines and Natalie Banaszak, both with HOK Chicago, Andrew Senderak of Gensler, Chicago, and Daniel West of KEO International Consultants, Abu Dhabi. The team members were initially all employed by HOK Chicago, which actively encouraged participation from its young staff so they could get direct client experience if they were to win.

“Because of the nature of this project, they received more direct client contact than they would have on any of our internal projects,” said Roger McFarland, AIA, LEED AP, HOK Group Vice President of Interior Design. McFarland served as Architect of Record, and Tom Polucci, AIA, also with HOK, was the project mentor.

Banaszak, who was recently highlighted as one of i4design magazine’s “Suite 16 Designers,” and has been with HOK for two years, said, “Our team was named ‘Interface’ because that was the best term to describe our concept for the space. We see the office as a hub for the AIA Chicago community, which can use the space for interaction between an architect and a client, different sized meetings, exhibits and receptions, or by one person using the wireless connectivity at the cafe or in the library to interact with a client anywhere in the world.”

West’s acceptance of a job out of the country right at the time the design was awarded to Interface initially caused concern, but the matter was quickly addressed. “The young designers assured us that they would be able to work together without being together, just as they hope members will use the space like a Starbucks and communicate with clients around the country through the Internet connections at the new offices,” said Fisher.

Jury member Avram Lothan, FAIA, DeStefano + Partners, said, “It wasn’t a conventional design competition. We were looking for ideas about how to organize and present the AIA office space, innovative ways to meet the needs of members and needs of staff in terms of an architectural idea that could then be applied to a specific location once it was secured.”

Lothan applauded the process, which included interviews with the finalists to determine who presented the strongest ability to carry their theoretical design ideas through to the completion of the space. “It is an interesting, but unusual, model of how an architect could be selected for more substantial projects. It was not unlike GSA, which holds a qualifying competition and then competitive charettes,” Lothan said.

The selection of the winning design team was based on interviews with designers and their architect-of-record. The decision occurred about the same time as selection of the space occurred. The selected space, in the historic Jewelers Building at 35 East Wacker, was the first of approximately 25 spaces the committee viewed, according to real estate broker Cheryl Stein.

According to Lothan, all of the finalists were uniquely different but had a strong image about architecture and how a professional organization should present itself. “We felt it important that a strong attitude and visual metaphors be portrayed both in the presentation and the evolution of the ideas,” he said. “The finalists had a personality the jury felt would survive all the potential variables we were facing.”

“Everybody we interviewed presented themselves beautifully and all were considered strong candidates. Interface presented themselves impeccably,” said Esposito. “They were very professional and very astute and understood what we were trying to achieve, sometimes even before we did.”

Design Highlights

The Interface design team wanted to configure the 4,000-square-foot space in as flexible a configuration with as many sustainable design features as possible, according to Hines. Approximately half of the space is an open office furnished with a sustainable line of furniture donated by Haworth. Because of the open space configuration, all of the work stations have exterior views through tall Chicago windows facing the Chicago River.

Schlossman reflected on the outcome, “At the outset of the design process, I stated that we want a space that better reflects who we are and what we do. I think the competition, the team that won it and the space they designed perfectly represent the chapter’s goals and our aspirations toward excellence.”

The space is an L-shape that is almost equally divided in half between staff offices and meeting spaces. The reception area, conference room, member library/lounge, and central cafe area with multiple Internet connection options can be used as individual spaces or combined in numerous configurations. Operable glass partitions, removable exhibition displays and modular, sustainable furniture can be stacked and stored in extra large closets specifically intended to allow creation of a large, open, continuous space. The three-piece, custom millwork reception desk can even be unlocked from its moorings and rolled to another location for use as a bar or a food service surface.

A removable glass partition donated by Haworth encloses Esposito’s office. The glass wall allows AIA Chicago long-term flexibility in how it can use the space, according to West. The Haworth “Enclose” wall system can be configured with a variety of combinations of opaque and translucent glass and fabric or metal panels to allow shared light and views for interior spaces as well as privacy in the office. However, Esposito opted for a full-height glass interior wall for his office, a selection that reflects his openness to members and staff.

Banaszak said, “Zurich [Esposito] always indicated he wanted his office located at the front of the space to communicate with members, but I don’t think that happens very often that a client embraces that level of transparency. It was very refreshing that Zurich was open to it.”

Custom glass wall systems were installed in the library/lounge and the conference room, providing the capability of closing off the rooms from the general reception area and cafe. The conception and execution of the wall systems involved several companies: Häfele America Company created the custom hardware and tracking system that support the sliding and pivoting glass panels; Byus Steel fabricated the walls’ steel support; Oldcastle Glass provided the panels, Skyline Design performed a custom sandblasting treatment on the conference room’s glass panels; and, finally, the walls were installed by Trainor Glass Company. The glass walls contribute to the openness of the space. The ability to rearrange them lends to a more flexible, and therefore sustainable, environment.

A member library and lounge was placed in the northwest corner to provide an inviting meeting place with a view for getting together with colleagues or clients. The intention of using AIA Chicago’s new office as a place to conveniently meet with clients is already being put to use.

Interface member Senderak of Gensler, Chicago, emailed an announcement to family and friends when his team won the Genesis competition. A friend of a friend saw the marketing piece and has hired Senderak to design a house. With Gensler’s permission, Senderak has already scheduled to meet his new client for their first meeting…at AIA Chicago’s new office.

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