By Kate Snyder
Before the COVID-19 pandemic locked down the country, Gensler’s Seattle office was scheduled for a redesign that would highlight the firm’s dedication to its workers, clients and environmental promises. Now, the office renovation on the fifth floor of 1200 6th Ave. is complete, and Gensler’s Seattle workshop design is reinventing how the architecture firm serves its community.
“Our new office concept centers around the idea of a workshop – a non-precious, scrappy space to experiment, tinker, share ideas and evolve,” said Kristin Jensen, managing director of Gensler Seattle. “We envisioned the office as a center of activity to collaborate and shape the culture while fulfilling the critical human need of socializing and developing meaningful relationships.”
Adjacent to Freeway Park in the city’s Central Business District, Gensler has occupied its 15,000 square foot Seattle office since 2008. Prior to 2019, the firm took up only a portion of the fifth floor, but in the midst of planning a redesign, Gensler opted to acquire the entire floor. The initial concept was a complete renovation, but the pandemic led to new ways of working and fiscal responsibilities that required a reimagining of the overall strategy. Instead of demolishing the entire floor, new space types and functionalities were integrated while minimizing environmental impact. Construction began in 2020 and finished last year.
The upgrades are in part designed to bring people back to the office without losing what staff members loved about working from home, said Ryan Haines, managing director of Gensler Seattle. The office’s workshop design features meeting rooms formatted like living rooms, shared desks, low-light areas for employees who prefer working under those conditions, lockers, a bicycle closet and private break rooms for yoga, prayer and meditation or for anyone who just needs some time alone. At the same time, however, there is a focus on providing what employees can’t access at home, such as a model shop with a 3-D printer and laser cutter. The design team was able to coordinate the firm’s branding in the lobby and elevator area as well now that Gensler Seattle occupies the entire fifth floor.
“We implemented pilot studies and leveraged survey data about where employees best focus, collaborate, mentor, learn and grow,” Haines said. “The findings were then applied to our new space, allowing for flexibility to adapt as needs evolve. In addition to designing through the lens of human experience, we also placed equal importance on hybrid work and resiliency. This is evident in the flexibility of space that enables staff to work wherever they’d like while in the office – whether at a traditional workspace versus a more informal social lounge.”
Most of the office’s employees are in the office most days per week, Haines said, though there are still days that staff members choose to work remotely. He said even with the hybrid work model, the office has energy during the day and people – both employees and clients – have responded well to the new space. Feedback continues to come in on a regular basis, and officials are open to continue making changes to the space on a rolling and as-needed basis, which Haines believes is more fiscally responsible than conducting a major renovation every decade or so.
Along with the emphasis on work and services, the new office is also designed to be as environmentally-friendly as possible. In 2018, Gensler announced The Gensler Cities Climate Challenge, which is a goal to not only help its clients reach their carbon targets but also make every building in the firm’s portfolio net zero carbon by 2030, according to the firm’s website. Achieving carbon neutrality means eliminating or offsetting all CO2 emissions from the built environment. To that end, Gensler’s climate challenge, or the GC3, is focused on minimizing two primary sources: emissions related to using buildings, or operating carbon, and emissions related to making buildings, or embodied carbon.
For the Seattle office redesign, resiliency was a key driver, Gensler emphasized. Anything new to the space was added with sustainability in mind, and the new office includes signage made out of compostable and recycled materials as well as furniture repurposed from Gensler’s previous offices. The repurpose and reuse of furnishings equate to less waste and less embodied carbon associated with making new building products.
Specifically, Gensler’s design team was able to reuse 99 percent of carpeting, 63 percent of ceilings, 62 percent of furniture, 60 percent of light fixtures and 44 percent of walls. Overall, the team’s resilience goals resulted in diverting 22,039 pounds of waste – the equivalent of approximately 11 tons – from the landfill and the avoidance of 8.5 total metric tons of greenhouse gasses.
The Seattle office is also the first office in the firm to achieve the highest Fitwel rating of three stars, according to Gensler. Fitwell is a building certification system that was originally created by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. General Services Administration.
Based in San Francisco, Gensler is a global architecture, design and planning firm with 53 locations and more than 7,000 professionals networked across the world, according to the firm’s website. Founded in 1965, the firm works with more than 4,000 clients spanning work, lifestyle, community and health sectors.