MEREDITH Strategy + Design

We design the places and spaces where people come together to do great work

Filtering by Tag: sustainability

Design's future

We design sustainably. We are thoughtful about the sources and uses of the materials we select. We design our systems critically to assure that we are not consuming energy unnecessarily and, in some cases, we even design to generate energy to put back into the grid.

We seek to convince our clients to reach for higher LEED certifications, and we are proud as we count the certifications and awards we've gained through our work.

When we reach further, we even tend to design in ways that we anticipate will consume less or generate more in the activities of the people who live, work, and play in our buildings.

In most of these cases we work inside of the project and inside of our own profession. Is the future now asking more of us, however?

It seems that a very good New Year resolution would be to engage our clients in a conversation around sustainability in a deeper way. While the catalyst for our initial conversation might be the finite limits of the project they bring to us, should we also talk about the system in which that project exists?

What is it that you, our client, are doing in the world? What can we do together to expand the conversation to more broadly consider your purpose and business and find ways to also design other points in the chain of value creation to be more efficient or more effective in human and environmental terms?  How can we, together, develop a long-range vision for how this project may affect the context in which it exists and perform in a way that benefits not only your organization but also the social and economic system it affects, and then revise the program for the project to reflect those long-view goals?

Our conventional performance metrics of "on time, on budget" seem terribly shallow these days. This interview of John Thackara by Rob Huisman of the Association of Dutch Designers provides some interesting context for our conversations going forward.

Are you an architect or designer who has been able to move into a relationship with your client in a more substantial way about society and its future? Is your client engaging you for your creative skills to enrich a larger world-changing agenda? We all would be inspired by the stories and the methods of your success in that experience and approach.

The good news in Wilbur Ross's bad news about real estate? Radical "Attraction strategies"

branislav krapilak_garages12-735x459In double-barrel bad news accompanying the drop in the market today, both Wilbur Ross and George Soros offered dismal outlooks for commercial real estate, each stating that the U.S. sector is in the beginning of a huge, perhaps unprecedented, decline.

“All of the components of real estate value are going in the wrong direction simultaneously,” said Ross... “Occupancy rates are going down. Rent rates are going down and the capitalization rate -- the return that investors are demanding to buy a property -- are going up.” (via Bloomberg, 10/30/9)

The principal drivers of this are interlinked, with investment conditions and business demand influencing each other, and all of this is bad news. On the other hand, in way too fast of a reaction, I thought I'd try a draft of an approach Ross himself uses. Quoted in the Bloomberg article, Ross said,

“Our methodology is to make a great big list: What’s every thing we can think of that’s either wrong with the industry or that we just plain don’t like about it...Then we start work on another list. If we had control of this industry, what would we do to fix each one of those problems? Once we feel that there is a reasonable likelihood that the second chart kind of equals the first chart, that’s when we get ready to do something.”

I'd (over-) characterize almost every commission I've been part of for the millions of square feet of corporate space we've planned, designed and built or built-out over the past decade or more as driven by a set of values only nominally connected to what actually drives the performance of our clients' businesses. Through most of this time, our profession has made extensive use of programs and metrics around efficiency, productivity, effectiveness, and performance, yet with little reflection of a core understanding of the underlying businesses and with primary measurements related to amount of space.

In the happiest of cases, we've built new buildings under an optimism around business growth and scaled both by planning standards and credit equations. In more stressful times, we've made new workspaces driven by integrations, consolidations, and revised standards generated primarily by an interest in occupancy cost reductions. In relatively informed times, we've put together strategies and implemented programs to leverage potentials in technology advancements and acknowledge trends and benefits in mobility. In the best of cases, although these were very few, our projects were driven by an appropriately appreciated definition of sustainability for both the business and the property.

Now, I wonder, if this unfolding new collapse could present the critical conditions for a dramatic change in the way we think about occupying space for work? What might be the new answers to questions like these –

  • Could work look different now? The "look" of work has been shape by management concepts about command and control, attendance, entitlement, and hierarchy and made physical by cubes. The reality of work in most leading companies looks like teams and networks, visibility and activity, and its physical presence changes the definition of what "work" is. Will the predicted second wave collapse cause a closer examination of what the workplace is? What "activates" value?
  • Will there be a C(B)D anymore? With ongoing and building momentum reshaping how and where work is done, can we any longer zone for work separately from lifestyle? What will be the attributes of a building reprofiled for recovery after the crash, and can it have the same attributes, configurations and approach to tenants as now? Can a building be planned simply within its site, or will collaborative and coordinated community-based planning approaches provide a richer, more robust, more sustainable and more attractive domain for how work is done?
  • Will we care more about quality in cities? Will quality of environment mean the end of economic incentives to attract development to cities? That is, will owners, developers and cities work together to find the means to promote a broader perception of the value of place? Will quality of place demand a premium that outweighs any incentive intended to overcome the negatives? What will define quality? Will this example be a model in other places? Is this model relevant anymore?

Will this be end of "exit strategies" and the beginning of radical and aggressively positive "attraction strategies"?

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Fuller ideas

I realize now, however, that the evening was a "shaping" event, where extraordinary consideration and thought about the way in which access to resources affects peace or causes war, and the way in which architects and planners affect that competition with every decision to build.

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Some of my delicious bookmarks this week

A few things I found interesting on the way to other things:

Facebook Statistics | FlowingData

Facebook recently surpassed MySpace as the most popular social network in the world. Let's take a brief look at the current state of the growing social network.

Gary Hamel on Managing Generation Y - the Facebook Generation

The experience of growing up online will profoundly shape the workplace expectations of “Generation F” – the Facebook Generation. At a minimum, they’ll expect the social environment of work to reflect the social context of the Web, rather than as is currently the case, a mid-20th-century Weberian bureaucracy.

the selby - photos in your space.

featuring photographs, paintings and videos by todd selby of interesting people and their creative spaces

Design Revolutionaries: Should You Be the U.S. Secretary of Design?

Back in November, representatives from most of the major U.S. design organizations, from architecture to graphics to interiors met in D.C. to find a way for design to have a greater role in the incoming Obama administration. The resulting document named Redesigning America's Future included an outline for an official U.S. National Design Policy.

Re:Vision Competition for Sustainable City Block

The latest from design competition leaders Urban Re:Vision, Re:Vision Dallas is a newly-launched design competition that’s not just an ideas contest, but a real urban project. The City of Dallas is asking for designers, architects, students, engineers and planners to look particularly at one city block in Dallas right across the street from the City Hall, envision the most sustainable city block ever, and draw up the plans. Winners will receive a cash prize and a chance to sell the idea to the developer, Central Dallas CDC, to eventually be built.

Employer Branding

Ask most people about "branding," and they'll usually start talking about products and services. But in recent years, companies have begun branding themselves as employers, too, betting that if they can convey to the world why their workplace is appealing and unique, they will have an easier time attracting good workers

World’s Cheapest Car: Boon or Bane?

Environmentalists, however, have decried the Nano and its low-cost imitators as an impending disaster.

Greener and Cheaper

The conventional wisdom is that a company's costs rise as its environmental impact falls. Think again.

High time for a monumental rethink

In North America, the biggest challenge will come in reinventing a suburban landscape marred by boarded-up houses, old-style shopping malls and big-box retailers. The stars obsessed over one-off, showy works of architectural sculpture. A new generation is required to consider new questions: How to negotiate the future of the bloated suburban house in light of changing demographics and a desire for intimate communities?

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Detroit Wildlife

Florent Tillon has made a video on its way to becoming a movie, about Detroit. He says, "...the vision of Detroit that other people have around the world is more a Mad Max picture than anything else... When I was there this summer, I found something else, really, very far from this reputation : I founded great people, wonderful landscape, and a life rather pleasant, after all..." [vimeo]

more about Detroit Wildlife

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Cerberus, Not Chrysler, Owns Firm's Headquarters

Photo from For about a decade, I was the principal programmer and lead designer of the Chrysler Technology Center in Auburn Hills, a building that is now a factor in the sale of the corporation as the American car industry bailout take place.

As programmer, I lead a team of architects and engineers in the identification and definition of the technical---space and systems---requirements for the organization to do its job in its rejuvenation. As designer, I coordinated with a team of more than 100 architects and engineers to give shape to the places and spaces in which Chrysler's designers, engineers and technicians would transform their company, and the industry, at the end of the century.

There are so many interesting stories about that heady time, when Chrysler was emerging from bankruptcy with a big government guaranteed loan, and leaving the dregs of older industry in Highland Park, emerging as a powerhouse of innovation and productivity in the American industry.

Here are a couple stories, roughly recalled. There is much more to each of these stories, in the sense of how architecture and planning enables the work of the organization, but I offer these short versions in context.

Build it and they will come

When you consider the early days of this project---designing and constructing the largest building in the world---you might also consider the technology of the time, or its absence. I think we may have just then been beginning, in darkened rooms, using the earliest generations of CAD programs. There was no such thing as a laptop or notebook computer. If there were mobile phones, we may have called them car phones, and they were, effectively, a briefcase with a conventional full-size hand set and a big and heavy battery...but these were extremely rare. The fax machine was the instrument of "instant" communications.

I began my days heading into the office to check the faxes that morning. The CM, on behalf of Chrysler, published a list of scheduled meetings by fax to all the firms involved in the project. What a marvelous communications and management device! I'd check the subjects of meetings to determine those that I or others who worked with me might contribute to, and then made the mad dash about 20 miles away to the construction building to meet, present designs, debate values, plan strategies, etc. Back in my office at noon, I'd check the fax again to determine which meetings I'd have to head out to again in the afternoon.

In those days, a meeting was attended by at least 30 people from different design and consulting organizations, all attempting to catch up on the subject, the ongoing construction, the financial status, the latest concepts for engineering and production.

I remember the delight of the optimism of those days. The building concept---a cross of four wings of engineering offices and labs---allowed a construction strategy of phased development. Each meeting involved some element of challenge to the construction of the next wing ---why should this be built? Each meeting, however, had a Chrysler executive proclaiming that if they built it, they would find a use for it. So design and construction moved progressively from 2 to 3 to 4 to 5 million square feet.

At one point we did a short study to answer the question of "how big is too big?" We had planned fo about 5,000 people on site, but imagined, if I recall correctly, the potential of 10,000.

What do we do with it if they don't come?

At the core of the WSJ article is the potential reuse of the facility if Chrysler is sold or folds. Early in the project, we helped prepare data for scenarios for the potential re-use of the facility of Chrysler were to go under at that time, the late 80's.

One key meeting took place down in Boca Raton where Chrysler execs, including Lee Iacocca, met to plan for the sustainability of the company, and to consider alternatives for the ongoing plans.

In the brainstorming that took place before, and during, the event, were considerations of its use as a shopping mall, community college, and other uses. I recall that this may have fed considerations by Deutsche Bank at the time for their potential  role as principal financier/owner of the facility. I wonder of these are now part of the considerations for the future of the facility in the bailout, or the once-rumored merge with GM?

Decision making on the tower

The WSJ article incorrectly describes the complex as two towers. It is actually composed of more than 3.5 million square feet of a low-rise, four story building, and a connected 13-story headquarters tower with a low-rise amenities wing. This differential typology was a significant factor in the evolution of the master plan for the site.

The headquarters was a late addition to the program. Chrysler had bought 500 acres for the main complex. They had at one time had an option for 500 acres more, across Galloway Creek, on otherwise adjacent property. We had begun to imagine headquarters there, remembering Chrysler as a more diverse company (finance, missiles, mass transit, etc.) and more than just an auto company, and therefore with a headquarters appropriately separate from the automotive technology center.

When this was not to be, we began to study alternative planning. We were influenced by two key ideas from two key corporate leaders. Bob Eaton, then CEO, wanted a headquarters undifferentiated from the technology center, reflecting a belief that corporate leadership was just another member of the team. Bob Lutz,  the legendary product leader and with a tenure at Chrysler before his move to GM,, argued for a change in the "topography" of the site, and for a headquarters that had a form different than the "plant" typology then under construction.

I designed a 20-story cylindrical headquarters for Lutz. I designed an SOM-inspired, low-rise, courtyard-studded complex for Eaton.

The facilities leadership was concerned. "How tall was GM headquarters?" they asked. Thirteen stories. "How tall was Ford headquarters?" they asked. Thirteen stories. "Design a thirteen-story headquarters!" they demanded.

I presented the options to the Chrysler Executive Committee on a huge model of the 500-acre complex. After my presentation, Bob Eaton picked up the 4-story insert and placed it on the model and explained his concept of team. Then Bob Lutz placed his 20-story insert on the model and talked about the future of the company and the importance of landmark. After some back and forth between them, Eaton pulled up the 13-story insert, placed in on the model, and said, "Then that's it!" and everybody immediately turned and left the room.

That generated the picture that leads off the WSJ article.

A reason to support the auto companies

One of the reasons frequently cited for the bailout of the American car manufacturers was the strategic, and perhaps nostalgic, role they played/play in national security and defense. Someone asked: Who builds the tanks these days? I don't really know, but here's some of the past. 408478188_cc7a6ee886_ovia things magazine

Oh, and I'd like to introduce...

shapeimage_5 My wife and her great work.

SALT (sôlt), n. Sodium chloride (NaCl):

a semi-transparent granular substance

company concept:

The company name, saltlabs, makes for a good word tango as it relates to my various products.

Salt: for its surface resemblance to the glass objects I make; for the transparency it evokes; for its global and historic use as a trading commodity; and for it being an essential element of life.

Labs: to denote my “experimental” interest in diversifying my products through combining, testing and trying new things - all for the fun of it. No scientific stuff here.

Salt is indigenous to Michigan and part of our local legacy in Detroit. The Detroit Salt Company still mines salt under the City of Detroit. We live with a virtual city of salt under our feet.

handmade and vintage/global products:

The focus: my own "handmade-in-detroit" products, plus vintage/global products - hand made by others - that reflect good design, and authenticity.

The objective: a mix of old and new; of well-traded, well-worn artifacts vs. the simple & modern. Each fuels my design sense in different ways. Both co-exist in my home & work environment.

product design:

This site’s “handmade” products are original in design and handmade by me, Robbi Lindeman.

The product designs are based on images I collect, redesign and print. Transfer application  varies per product. Inherent in handmade objects are occasional minor imperfections that are meant to be part of their uniqueness and appeal.

New designs and product are introduced whenever possible. Keep an eye out for them - by browsing my product menu. Use the shop menu to make a purchase.


I am trying to get back into this blog, but it seems so much intrudes. For the moment, my time seems to be in the LEED Reference Guide as I prepare for the exam.

Crusing through the NYT this morning, I remembered this column, part of a relatively new "blog" on the Times site.