Beyond the Build

Construction Trends

From Painful Beginnings

A new corporate headquarters was recently completed near our place. It’s sleek, well-designed and sends the right message. When talking to one of their leads, I asked why they chose Gensler for the design. The answer: “They make things painful in the beginning, drilling hard on the ‘why’ and the ‘how’ before they ever get around to what the place will look like. They were focused on making the building a long-term home on many levels.”

My first cousin, Bryant Rice, started his career with Gensler, and along the way designed with Google and Apple, too. I asked him to share a few thoughts on this type of intentional design. A summary follows.

Most people don’t consciously realize what a building or setting communicates. It’s subliminal. You just know when a space has been carefully conceived with intention. The hard thing with architecture is you really don’t know you have gotten it right until it is finished and being used. That’s when you see what is being modified by the inhabitants, how the phone is being answered, what lunch time conversations are like. Space can be altered after it is built, but there is no substitute for careful planning, for both function and spirit.

I agree. You must get into the minds of the people who will call a building home. Office buildings are more than four walls, a roof and a floor. Buildings are visual manifestations of our values and culture. Timing and budgets are usually difficult, but taking the time to weigh benefits and disadvantages of design is always a good investment.

Merrill Stewart Jr.

Merrill Stewart is Founder and President of the Stewart Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham.