On November 14, Interior Design hosted the Workplace Roundtable, an industry-focused discussion about the evolving definition and challenges of the contemporary office. Over 30 prominent designers, manufacturers, and end users gathered at Swarovski’s glistening new office in NYC, designed by Perkins + Will and Valerie Pasquiou. Interior Design editor in chief Cindy Allen moderated the dialogue, kicking things off with a prompt: In designing a workplace, do designers in effect design culture?
The evening started off on an urgent note, with Interior Design Hall of Fame member Brad Zizmor of A+I questioning the real impact design has in today’s current geopolitical and social climate. “How do we as designers fit into all of this?” he asked. “Are we effective at designing culture? How high are the stakes now? What changes are we actually enacting?”
Zizmor’s questions resonated with the participants. Responses to his questions varied, with some designers pointing to the Millennial demand for a workplace experience that blurs the line between office and residential design, which forces designers to operate under new parameters. Others argued that Big Data and the speed of technological advancement push the human element of interior design towards irrelevancy, and the issue facing designers today was communicating their skill not just as creatives but as critical thinkers to end-users. Still some suggested that it was time for architects and designers to enter new industries and perhaps even governmental roles.
End user Pay Wu of TD Bank offered some advice. While the rate of change in the field is unprecedented, she argued that more involvement from designers in the beginning and especially after project completion would guarantee mutual understanding of goals and purposes of a workplace’s design.
“We need to think of the spaces we design like non-designers think about employees or technology,” said Carlos Martinez of Gensler. “They think of them as investments. We finish a space, we walk away from it, and it downgrades to obsolescence. We need to remain engaged with our spaces even after they’re finished. In this way, we stay a part of the conversation about the modern workplace.”
After 90 minutes of engaged debate, Cindy formally concluded the roundtable. But not without making a promise to continue the discussion. “How many people in this room would want to get together more often and keep this conversation going?” she asked. The entire room raised their hands. “Good, because we need to do something about all this!”