Visualization Drives the Design of Our New Office

Studio21 Architects recently designed, built, and moved into our new office space in Downers Grove. It resulted in an incredible change in our physical surroundings which has then had a positive effect on the way we feel at work.

It didn’t magically happen overnight.  In fact, a new office location wasn’t even on my radar screen.  Having been through the major recession, I was comfortable with our relatively low rent and modest office space on Rogers Street.  Some said it was quaint, I always thought our clients were just being polite.  

The problem was, our previous location really didn’t give us much of an opportunity for growth.  Let me take you back to September of 2018.  We needed to hire some additional drafting staff, we wanted to grow the Design+Build aspect of our business, and we had just made a commitment to become a dealer of Woodharbor cabinets.  

During the same time period, the building we occupied was sold.  We still had several years left on our lease, but the new owners asked if we wanted to take a look at some office space on Fairview Ave.  I was reluctant at first but then said “why not, there is nothing to lose if we just take a look”.  The first space we looked at was OK, but it could just as well be an office space in an anonymous office park anywhere.  Next, we looked at a space that was last used as a dance studio. The second I entered this former dance studio with the large expanse of storefront glass, my mind immediately raced into all sorts of visions of what this could be.  Like the slow motion sensation of a race car crash, I started to imagine a multitude of possibilities in a split second with amazing clarity.  This was going to be our new office.  That was the easy part.

Imagining a design solution is exactly what I do as an architect.  The reality is now I had to determine how I could make this happen?   There was a budget to establish and a feasibility study to see if the space could functionally work as I had hoped.  We went through the same process our clients would go through regarding a “wish list”, code and zoning review, etc.  I also reviewed our Lifestyle Questionnaire and started to answer the questions of “why” this space is important and what I liked and disliked about our previous office space so as to make this new space perfect.  I started to visualize being in this space.  I visualized on a daily basis, to the point where I really despised everything about our current office.  The consequences of not moving were suddenly overwhelming.

As we started confirming the layout of the basic floor plan, my mind visualized glass doors to the conference room and to my office. I could picture my racing trophies on the walls of my office.  Just outside my office we designed an area, called our consultation table, where our staff could meet and discuss projects.   I started to envision those actual conferences taking place. I could also see the evening of our open house, right down to specific past clients, Ron & Mary Duitsman, in our conference room holding a glass of wine.  So deep was this visual that it helped conquer the roadblocks along the way.

Ron & Mary Duitsman share a glass of wine with Bill Styczynski.

One of the biggest hurdles to overcome was the budget. Yes, we could have eliminated the glass walls and the reveal details in the drywall, but that wasn’t in the vision that was so clear.  We had to have another solution.  I was able to negotiate additional build-out costs with an increase in the rent and three additional years to the lease. I made that happen because of how powerful the visualization was for me.  I couldn’t see the outcome any other way because the vision was so strong. 

The lesson I wish to convey is that you need to know the deep reasons you want to do a project and then visualize the outcome you want it to achieve.  The resulting space will certainly have some wonderful physical characteristics.  In addition, a truly successful space will also convey other attributes that affect how you feel such as warmth, comfort, and/or safety.  They should also reflect a functionality that reflects your lifestyle.  This is what we consider a Return on Design, a solution greater than a mediocre design. 

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