In mid-February in Carefree, AZ, a number of facilities decision-makers attending the first-ever BuildingsXchange Interiors (see About BuildingsXchange Interiors, opposite) gathered to discuss interiors trends and concerns with the editorial staff of Buildings magazine. The discussion, which involved senior-level professionals responsible for interior standards and policies in their management, educational, or corporate organizations, was lively and informative. Excerpts from the Feb. 21 roundtable follow. For a complete listing of the participants, please review Roundtable Participants on the bottom of this page.
Buildings: Which market forces are affecting interiors decisions in your particular facilities at this time?
Andrew McGonigle, Northwestern University: Obviously, attracting students is very important to us. Students are becoming more savvy in understanding and picking their colleges – not only with respect to academic opportunities, but in terms of their physical environment. Although we are a conservative institution and don’t build radically, we are seeing improvement in the quality of materials used in renovations and new construction.
Lynnette Clouse, Ohio University: I also want to add that being a university in a state that is giving a lot of money toward K-12 [facility improvements], students coming from those high schools are expecting nicer facilities.
Larry Walden, Bovis Lend Lease Inc. (with oversight on the State of Ohio K-12 facility improvements): Obviously, one area affecting our decisions and activities has to do with economics. What we’ve seen in our business is an 8- to 10-percent increase in many of the products used in interiors. But today’s dollars don’t stretch as far as they did in 2004; the budget is very limited. Another factor: Many clients are also looking for sustainable [products].
Buildings: What is the perspective from the corporate side?
Steven Spencer, State Farm Insurance Co.: More so than ever, life-cycle is driving what we do. We are looking at products that we are going to have for awhile; we want to get our full value. For that reason, we buy a value product that is acceptable from an aesthetics standpoint, but one that will hold up for a long period of time and [can] be maintained for the lowest cost.
Buildings (directed to The Staubach Co.): As a third-party manager, do initial costs limit the success of a more long-term life-cycle philosophy?
Rich Buchco, The Staubach Co.: Similar to attracting and retaining students in the educational area, our third-party clients are very interested in attracting and retaining employees. That being said, however, the overall economics of the total project cost are typically the driver. There is a lease term and allowance, and our clients have a certain threshold for how much they will donate out-of-pocket beyond that allowance. What creates a pretty good challenge for us is to strike that balance between an impressive design, functionality, and then first-time cost.
McGonigle: One thing that’s important, though, is that you can have good design for the same price as bad design; this directly reflects on the quality of the designers you use and how you direct them. I have seen lots of cases where awful design has resulted from badly directed professionals; this costs the client a lot of money – [and that client] ultimately ends up not liking it, feels it is dated, or that it doesn’t fulfill its intended function. Whereas, a little more help upfront from knowledgeable facility professionals can make a major impact and, quite often, [can result in] cost savings.
Spencer: Technology is also a factor in facilities. Our data processing group, for instance, is looking at flat screens. Purchasing came to us and asked, “Do you have any issues with that?” We said, “Yes. That will make a huge impact on our HVAC and loading, because CRTs create a lot of heat. If you go to the flat screen, you don’t have the heat production, which will change all of the balances in the building.” Another thing is that the CRT takes up a lot of space. With flat screens, we could reduce the size of cubicles to allow more people to occupy the same amount of space. Good design is about communicating internally, and allowing good communication flow between employees.
Buildings: Since many of you have global responsibilities, what is acceptable in one place vs. another?
McGonigle: I would say the European model is much more environmentally conscious than the United States [model]; this starts from the manufacturing right down through to the final product – from the waste stream during manufacturing through the waste stream of the paper you are shredding. That is understood by all parties; they contribute valuable guidance, insight, and activity on all those things, and it reflects in the design decisions that professionals have to make. The user expects it.
Buildings: How involved are end-users in terms of the selection of interiors products? Do you get a lot of feedback?
Spencer: Of course, everyone has an opinion, and part of what you do is listen [to their concerns].
Clouse: You have to get buy-in from your people. [The] best-case [scenario] is to have a committee that includes a representative or two from the end-user. It is their responsibility to go back to their constituents and sell them on what we are doing. We communicate through presentations as well; because we do adhere to certain interiors standards, we may give them limited choices.
McGonigle: We have to have uniformity across the university; we have to maintain a set of standards and stay within our cost allocations. But we also need the individuals that are our clients to understand our limitations. This needs to be carefully communicated.
Walden: We’ll [utilize] a users’ group for input. They feel, “If I have a voice in it, I can be a part of it.” That may not be true with all choices; when product selection affects energy efficiency, for example, we need to take control – but with the flexibility of making sure the end-user is satisfied.
Clouse: As project managers, we are the liaison between the end-user and the architect, making sure they hear one another and that decisions are translated correctly into the [construction] documents. We need to ensure the end-user is clear on what they are getting.
Buchco: It helps to have good leadership in facilitating those sessions – to not let [discussions] take on a life of their own. With the customers we deal with, we typically have a single point of contact. That single point of contact is accountable and responsible to the many customers inside their organization. Success, however, is dependent on the discipline and savvy of that contact; we make sure we promote excellent teamwork with that individual.
Buildings: With interiors projects, how important is the inclusion of life safety considerations, such as slip-resistant flooring or photoluminescent emergency exiting?McGonigle: Safety is paramount. The whole life safety issue is almost extrapolated from the budget; that’s a given. Unfortunately, aesthetics [with those systems] is secondary. When our risk management division comes around and says, “Where is your fire extinguisher? I can’t find it,” we need to correct this deficiency, usually as a change order, which means a higher cost. Many design professionals like to overlook this vital piece; it may not fit within their vision of the space.
Buildings: Security has really increased since 9/11.
Spencer: And the look [of a space] is secondary; it’s mainly about the security.
Buildings: In some instances, the more imposing the better. It pays off.
Clouse: We are having discussions between our campus security and our environmental health and safety [staffs] about labeling – specifically, buildings and building use.
McGonigle: On the positive side, numbering all buildings on campus identifies a specific site; we’ve actually incorporated streets and street numbers throughout our campuses following local fire department input. When somebody dials 911, there’s no question about the location. However, the implications of converting to such a referencing system can be huge. What may look like a very simple and valid modification can create a financial and manpower burden that must be borne by the property owner.
Buildings: What do you see as key areas in interiors for the future?
Spencer: First and foremost, technology will do most of the driving. That means wireless computers, voice-over-Internet protocol, etc. The technology is enabling people to take their laptops – and their office – wherever they want to take it: lobby areas, classrooms, break-out rooms. We have an atrium in our main building, and when we were redoing our cafeteria, we put tables out there so people could use it for lunch. Once the cafeteria reopened, the employees demanded that we leave the tables in the atrium. Not only that, but we ran hard wire for laptops and phones. It has become a very, very positive space.
Walden: In the elementary schools, what we normally call a “library” is now a media center. Today, [due to electronics,] that space is being greatly reduced. What you need are workstations, because then you have the library of the world.
Clouse: On our campus, every place is a learning place – not just the classroom. So we are talking about making everything a learning center – every alcove, every space outside the classroom, on the exterior. We want to make those spaces conducive to learning – casual areas to interact with one another, surfaces to plug in a laptop and go over a discussion with a professor.
Spencer: In some respects, textures and color matter less. Because of the flexibility that’s inherent in today’s technology, people will – and can – pick wherever they are most comfortable. If you issue them an ergonomically correct chair and a flat-screen monitor and docking station and they don’t feel they can do their work there, they will find some place where they can. And as time goes on, and the next generation of professionals enters the workforce, we’ll see an even greater shift to this mentality.
Linda K. Monroe (firstname.lastname@example.org) is editorial director at Buildings magazine.
Richard Buchco, Vice President, Design and Construction, The Staubach Co., Seattle.
Lynnette Clouse, Director of Interiors/Project Manager, University Interior Designer, Facilities Planning and Construction, Ohio University, Athens, OH.
Andrew McGonigle, Manager of Construction Projects, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL.
Steven Spencer, Facilities Specialist, State Farm Insurance Co., Bloomington, IL.
Larry D. Walden, Senior Vice President, Bovis Lend Lease Inc., Columbus, OH.
Moderated by Linda K. Monroe, editorial director, and Regina Raiford Babcock, senior editor, Buildings magazine.