Fresh ideas about design
In 2002 when Strada first moved into its current space on Liberty Avenue in Pittsburgh, there were fourteen people and space was ample. That same space now holds 31 people and growing. A studio that once embodied the open-air feel of a lofty workspace now more closely resembles a “studio apartment,” in which every function takes place within the same small area. Growth is good, and though the Strada culture continues to flourish in these close quarters, everyone is eager to spread out in our new space this December.
The distance from the current office to our new digs on Sixth Avenue is a slight .2 miles, yet the difference between them is great. Our new office will be located in an old building, historic, in fact. The 410-foot-tall skyscraper, formerly known as the Alcoa Building, was completed in 1953 and retains a number of unique elements of historic value.
Renovating within an existing building is interesting, because every existing structure has its own oddities and remnants of the functions it has served previously. Space planning is like a game and every building has its own rules—the window placement, column grid, water walls, etc.—must be plied off one another to create a new environment that is programmatically functional to the new users. From the beginning, our concept was to connect the mid-century modern roots of this historic building to the exposed, open-office mentality of today.
Being the Client
They like to say that doctors make the worst patients, and the idiom seems true for designers as well. As trying as it may be, though, stepping into the client’s shoes for our own workspace has been a great reminder of the client experience. In the beginning we dreamt big; like custom woodwork, nanawall, beer-fridge big. We held an office-wide charrette and employed our own Placemapping process to gather and organize our collective goals and expectations for the new design. There were meetings with the partners, focus groups, and one-on-one meetings to resolve specific, technical details.
We spent a lot of time on the program, playing the space game to determine which area was better for the kitchen versus the conference room, etc. We modeled numerous iterations of the space and ordered numerous material samples; we wanted to see it all. We also collected information on our own habits to determine how and where we actually did our work.
Were we digital and mobile? If so, we could have desk hoteling and focus on developing a great variety of spaces where laptop users could touchdown and work for a while. Or maybe our field was simply too tangible to live only in the digital realm. We would need places to store our drawings and samples, and seats near those things we referenced regularly.
What kind of collaborative were we? Did we hold long, group discussions? We could minimize personal space in favor of large, highly flexible areas for brainstorming; places where we could pin up sketches, share a monitor, or spread out a full-size set of drawings for review. Or perhaps our collaborations were numerous but brief, solution-focused discussions at someone’s desk.
After reading articles on collaborative office design and evaluating our existing work patterns, we were able to strike a balance between personal, collaborative, and public spaces.
Like most clients, we found that our big dreams have big price tags. So, like most clients, we went through a VE process. The end result is an extensive open studio with adjacent collaborative areas, a scattering of small rooms for conference calls or brief meetings, and a large, flexible conference room for extended meetings. The kitchen itself is galley style with an island, but with enough tables and chairs to seat the entire office for our lunch-and-learn presentations and occasional holiday group-meals. The nanawalls were replaced with sliding doors and the custom woodwork gave way to furniture pieces, but the beer-fridge made the cut!
For our team, successes are sweet, but the anticipation of the next challenge is what drives us the most.
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“Terrie brings exceptional landscape design and delivery to Strada’s team of professionals,” said Alan Cuteri, Founding Principal and Higher Education Principal. “The talent and experience that she brings will be a huge asset to our clients.”
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