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This convivial interior of an architectural practice encourages clients to wander its communal corridors and feel part of the creative process

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Communication plays a vital role in any creative environment, particularly in terms of collaboration between staff members. When the sense of sharing extends to clients and other work associated visitors, the office environment must cater to everyone's specific needs.

Gensler Architecture, Design & Planning Worldwide applied its expertise in workplace design to its own headquarters, a former coffee factory in a renovated historic building in San Francisco. The offices occupy all of the fourth floor and half of the third floor.

The new design abandons the typical formal lobby and segregated visitor spaces. Instead a single workplace is open to all staff, clients, vendors and consultants visiting the office, says project design principal Collin Burry.

"By removing the traditional barriers between the studio and visitor areas, we can better involve our clients in the work, the thinking and the development of their projects," Burry says. "The new space also encourages internal knowledge-sharing and collaboration."

The ‘open door' concept is immediately apparent upon entering the offices. In place of a reception area with waiting room seating, visitors and staff can informally gather at a large community table, serve themselves at the coffee bar, or opt for casual café seating. From this area, visitors are invited into the heart of the organisation via a route that loops through the studio and administrative spaces, passing by project rooms and administrative spaces.

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Instead of relegating artwork to the reception area or executive suites, Gensler displays pieces by local artists along the circuit for the benefit of both visitors and staff. For this reason, the circuit is known as the ‘gallery walk'.

"For a creative organisation, it makes sense to bring visual stimulation into the studio space," says Burry. "The gallery walk also allows Gensler to celebrate works of the local art community."

As workplace experts, the company employed strategies from past projects that support collaborative work practices.

"Each grouping of workstations in the studio is organised with a display at its entry," he says. "This encourages team members to share work and ideas in a central location."

Numerous collaboration areas, such as small meeting rooms, pin up walls and staging areas are situatedthroughout the office. Flexible work-stations accommodate different worker groups and allow for easy organis-ational changes.

Sustainability was another guiding feature of the new office – from the selection of an obsolete factory space as the site down to the smallest interior details.

"We took every opportunity to re-use materials or minimally alter them," he says. "For example, we stripped the space down to its original brickwork and concrete. The designers minimised additive finishes and used indigenous materials such as madrone wood and white fir sourced from sustainably managed forests."

Natural fabrics such as wool carpet and linen draperies were employed, and complemented by an extensive use of steel and aluminium.

"Our head office provides a signpost for the way forward in commercial office spaces," says Burry. "Issues of accessibility, openness and also sustainability are all growing design priorities."

First published date: 23 March 2004

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Credit List

Location Gensler head office (San Francisco)
Architect Gensler Architecture, Design & Planning Worldwide
Project team Collin Burry, Scott Dunlap, Catherine Bregenzer, Lisa Szmurlo, Melissa Mizell, Valerie Webb Hamilton, Bill Puetz, Suraj Bhatia, Vivian Hsiao, Jori Haank
Interior designer Gensler Architecture, Design & Planning Worldwide
Main contractor BCCI Construction Company
Construction teams Design Workshops, Dynalectric, ARB
Mechanical and electrical engineering consultants Randall Lamb
Lighting design Architecture and Light
Lighting Lighting Systems, Lightolier, CAL Lighting, ALR
Ancillary furniture Steelcase from One Workplace
Custom doors Crown Industrial
Ceiling Eurospan from Finish Line
Ceiling tiles Armstrong
Wood flooring Eco Timber
Carpet Bloomsburg in wool
Rugs David Shaw Nicholls/Arkitektura
Reception table Wind-fallen Black Acacia Wood by Larry Grandsey
Workstation panels Allsteel
Carpet tiles Milliken
Reception sculpture Gordon Huether, courtesy of Andrea Schwartz Gallery