By Jacob Bourne
Gensler, a global architecture, design and planning firm founded in 1965, used to have the commonplace practice of releasing an annual report merely chronicling financial facts and figures, achievements, and performance metrics. About three years ago, a group of leaders at the privately held company advocated for a change. Instead of looking to the past, they wanted the publication to be future-oriented based on research, experiences and sentiments from a wide range of Gensler’s clientele. At the direction of the executive team, the Design Forecast was launched. This year, the newly published, Designing Experience: Gensler Design Forecast 2017, is a curation of the Design Forecast LIVE event held last June at Conde Nast’s Manhattan headquarters.
“Three-quarters of the document is about trends and issues for the future,” said Scott Dunlap, Gensler managing principal of the Northwest region. “We get better at honing that forward looking message by relaying trends we see in our project work to provide a substantive forecast. Through the event our clients became participants in the forecast. This year there is a much more robust correlation between the document and the event than our past client forum two years ago.”
About 100 clients from entities like Microsoft, LinkedIn, Starbucks and MIT, as well as the public sector attended the event that was intended to create opportunities for dialogue among industry competitors who may not otherwise have regular productive interactions. Topics were rooted in the pressing challenges facing our quickly changing world, prompted by event hosts posing this question to attendees: “What keeps you up at night and wakes you up in the morning?” The event discussion subsequently sparked further conversation at a recent Bay Area SPUR meeting hosted by Gensler and XL Construction. Participants pondered the impact of driverless cars on existing urban infrastructure that wasn’t designed for them. It was a unique opportunity for developers and City officials to discuss the ramifications of driverless cars from planning and public policy perspectives, and attempt to tackle the question of how to best repurpose parking garages that may no longer be needed in the future.
The Design Forecast document is divided into four sections: Designing the Experience-Driven Life, Delivering Tomorrow’s Livable Cities, Designing for Everyday Impact and Making Design More Responsive. A major highlight of the forecast is the increasing connection between social media and physical spaces. Dunlap cited the example of an ice cream shop in New York that was built with an Instagram theme to create an ice cream buying experience that’s geared to be shared over social media. Also in New York, the Cadillac House is a novel destination, which may represent the future of showrooms. It’s an artful space that allows Cadillac to “sell without selling” and celebrate the legacy of the car company by creating a special experience for visitors.
“We’re going to see more of these retail strategies in the new environment,” offered Dunlap. “It will happen across the board with smaller retailers leveraging technology to make them bigger players. Through the magic of the internet, they can get their products out to a global market. Tech will be one of the great equalizers.”
Climate change was described as the greatest design challenge facing future communities. With buildings contributing to between 30 and 80-percent of global carbon emissions, net-zero energy buildings are increasingly being recognized as a solution. Sea-level rise is an imminent threat facing coastal cities, requiring that building plans address latest predictions at the fundamental design and engineering levels. The 35-acre AltaSea historic pier campus in Los Angeles is an innovation hub where science, business and education come together to develop climate change solutions. Extending out into deep ocean waters, the campus is a physical testament to sea-level rise resiliency planning.
Perhaps one of the most remarkable evolutions that’s coming into practice is employing augmented and virtual reality to make clients and users an integral part of the design process. Robotic fabrication, 3D printing and prefabrication are tools being used to test feasibility and performance at low cost while allowing for easy error correction. A functional office was 3D printed in Dubai in only 17 days by Gensler and partners, Thornton Tomasetti and Syska Hennessy. The technology was touted as reducing construction costs and waste.