Published January 2000 in the Intermountain Architecture & Engineering
On the Inside Looking Out
by Warren Kieding
HENRY FORD USED TO SAY of his automotive sensation, the Model T, that the customer "can have any color he wants so long as it's black." Ford knew even then that time and technology would soon forever alter the consumer's freedom of choice. It was inevitable.Magazine4
Like automobiles, the evolution of office interiors has been thrust to dizzying new heights of versatility and style, driven by both technology, and the operational demands of the consumer. But the changes inside of today's buildings haven't come quite so slowly.
"There was a time not so long ago when an interior architect needed a technical knowledge of dry wall, a sense of taste, and some solid planning skills to make a business space work," admits Warren Kieding, founder and president of Denver's W.E. Kieding Interior Architects. "Those days, of course, are long gone, and that's not a bad thing. It just reminds us that the more options a tenant has, the more educated we have to become on the choices he makes."
Kieding should know. He and his teams have been designing Denver's interior office spaces for twenty-five years, logging some seven hundred or so projects per year, large and small, in virtually every industry.
"The portfolio of services we have to offer today to be successful is a direct reflection of what's been happening with interior spaces," Kieding explains. "Our people now must have a working knowledge of computer networks, filing systems, data and telephone cabling, and certainly furniture systems, among many others. These are all components of the modern office, and the list keeps growing. But this is what the client demands, so we have to respond."
Kieding maintains that it is the interior brand of architecture that is driving the very design and end use of new buildings. This dynamic, he says, causes a domino effect from the inside out, and virtually every player in the development community has to stand up and take notice.
"Our discipline-the interiors side-is at the sharp end of the stick here," Kieding says. "We get the direct input from the tenant, his dreams and aspirations for the life and growth of his business. The educated client oftentimes will stretch his vision of the office design by asking 'why can't we do this?' Our answer as often as possible, is that we can do it, but to accommodate that client, we have to become much more creative with the space, the planning, the other consultants and vendors we work with, and certainly, with the building owners."
The result, Kieding points out, is that building owners become more responsive to these tenant demands, and must build new buildings with sometimes radically different features in order to compete. The result of one of those tenant-driven demands is the flex space.
"We've seen the demands for larger depth, virtually column-free floorplates for some time now," Kieding says. "These multi-use, high-population clients were moving out of their 'traditional' office buildings and into retrofitted warehouses which better accommodated their needs. Architects and owners have had scramble to develop hybrid low-rise structures with fixed cores and elevators which bridge the gap between traditional office buildings and flex space. None of this thinking even existed ten years ago. This is a complete change in culture."
The cultural changes, Kieding contends, hinge on the market responding to the simple business realities of increased office density. The drywall and fixed office environment of only a couple of short decades ago has been nearly reversed in proportion. Now, only about 20 percent of interior offices are comprised of fixed hardwalls; the remaining majority made up of flexible, moveable, demountable systems in virtually every size, shape, texture color, and degree of complexity imaginable.
"The evolution of work has driven the need for new workplace solutions across the board," says Lisa Henry, Director of Knowledge Marketing for Denver's OfficeScapes, a systems furniture dealership. Henry is also current president of the Colorado Chapter of ASID (American Society of Interior Designers), and deals daily with issues relating to interior solutions for business spaces.
"With all of the options out there, we still have to collapse cycle time to provide a flexible fit-out with minimum disruption, and still accept any new technology that may come down the pike. We're interfacing with ceiling, wall and floor elements, which we've never done. Our roles aren't separate anymore in the interest of delivering a better project."
It only stands to reason that other consultants critical to the design process must buy into the new ways of thinking from the infrastructure out.
"The collaboration factor is more critical than ever," says Karl Roos, principle of Roos Szynskie, Inc., a Denver-based mechanical and electrical engineering firm. Roos has been around Denver's commercial building arena for twenty years, but never before has he placed so much emphasis on early teaming with other consultants and vendors.
"The difference between today's buildings and those built only ten or so years ago is like night and day," Roos says. "The reality is that tenants require more of everything today, except maybe square footage. Some need twice the power requirements than a client in the same size space twenty years ago. There are many more circuit requirements with the rise in computer use, and of course, extended HVAC concerns, reduced and refined lighting levels to indirect or semi-indirect to reduce glare."
This is only the tip of the iceberg, Roos says, but the point is that any one discipline cannot go it alone with the profusion of new products, and the speed with which they are being deployed in the marketplace.
"We have to be able to assess the options of any given client requirement and act very quickly to get in step," Roos emphasizes. "That means having a good knowledge of what types of systems furniture will be used, for example, and how they will be integrated with the design."
So is it safe to say that today's modern office is not so much an architectural product, but a blend of traditional and moveable furniture components?
"Of course," Kieding says. "The amount of knowledge we all must possess has increased exponentially, but the big payoff ultimately goes to the client. Getting the building built is only about 60 percent of the job. The other 40 percent happens on the inside, where the people work. And that's where the fun starts for us."