Architecture and the Corporation: The Creative Intersection

Architecture and the Corporation: The Creative Intersection

by Thomas Walton



Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780029339312
Publisher: Free Press
Publication date: 10/28/1988
Series: Studies of the Modern Corporation
Pages: 208
Product dimensions: 6.52(w) x 9.61(h) x 0.95(d)

First Chapter

Chapter 1 The Rationale for Rational Design

"I like the thought," mused Philip Johnson, philosopher and enfant terrible of the architectural profession, "that what we are here to do on this earth is to embellish it for its greater beauty, so that oncoming generations can look back to the shapes we leave here and get the same thrill that I in turn get in looking back -- at the Parthenon, at Chartres Cathedral..." Johnson's credo would likely be embraced by the bulk of architects, who see themselves as a most interesting breed: inventive, important, and justifiably egotistic. They are, on occasion, as tyrannical as the legendary Frank Lloyd Wright, whom colleagues described as "always frank and always fight."

Innovation, originality, and high self-esteem are equally visible in the business executives who, not unlike the archons managing the political affairs of ancient Athens, preside over today's vast organizational complexes. While the jurisdiction of these contemporary archons differs from that of the ancients, their own domains offer as many opportunities for creativity as the city-state did to men like Solon (639-559 B.C.), who shielded liberty in an Athenian world seemingly bent on its own destruction. In the diverse arenas of commerce, finance, and industry, there are some Solon-like archons who produce not new political systems but new products for new markets and new buildings for new towns. When the energy and skills of business leaders interact positively with the energies and skills of architects and designers, the results have been beneficial both for the partners and for the larger community. Validation for this somewhat sweeping generalization comes from history itself.

In Mantua, Italy, there are many enduring and beautiful examples of the positive interaction between archons and architects. Although the city was waterlocked by lakes and rivers and threatened by decay, during the fifteenth century the Mantuans outperformed their rivals and transformed their provincial town into one of the artistic capitals of the world. Under the leadership of the Gonzagas, a landed family of peasant origins, Mantua attracted the painter Andrea Mantegna, the court composer Claudio Monteverdi and, especially interesting for the purposes of this book, the architect Leon Battista Alberti. Alberti and his followers made the lack of marble quarries nearby into a virtue, exploiting brick and stucco with such enormous originality that their influence is still felt. The grandeur of Venice provides a second illustration. St. Mark's and its piazza, the churches by Palladio, and the multitude of fine palaces along the canals continue to serve as both architectural models and as an expression of the economic vitality of that region's glassworks, textile shops, shipyards, and trading companies.

There is, of course, a dark side to the story. At times, architects have pursued their solitary course, indifferent to the client and to the environment. Business archons have behaved the same way when they ignored worker needs or plundered the landscape. When architect and archon, refusing to interact, have walked stubbornly along parallel lines, the outcome has been bleak. Few paintings have captured more effectively the loneliness of individuals and the starkness of the urban Hades of smoke-laden cities than Charles Sheeler's American Landscape. Sheeler's photograph-like expression of the contemporary industrial world -- a serpentine machine defoliating the garden of Eden -- suggests that the present-day archon has made a bargain with Faust, "swapping his soul for a summer cottage and a second car," and leading others into the same miserable contract.

Despite the artist's gloomy image, which reflects the hostility of many to modern cities, the metropolis has always been -- and still is -- a magnet for creative people. While there have been long epochs of dominance by agrarian societies, modern history is largely an urban story. In Europe and in the Middle East, places like Athens and Alexandria, Rome and Constantinople, Florence and Venice, and Paris and London have been the foci of industry and culture. In America, Boston and New York, Pittsburgh and Chicago, St. Louis and Detroit, San Francisco and Los Angeles have had parallel roles. It might be truly said, then, that as the city goes, so goes the nation, an axiom reaffirmed by developer James Rouse when he pointed out that

...nearly one-half of all the people in the United States in the year 2000 will live in dwelling units that have not been started and on land that has not yet been broken....Every month in the United States we are adding roughly 300,000 people, a city the size of Toledo. Every year we add a new Philadelphia. In twenty years we will double the size of Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay area. We will add 6,000,000 people to the New York Region in the same period....Such are the dynamics of our urban growth. It has been said that in the remainder of this century we will build, new, in our cities, the equivalent of all that has been built since Plymouth Rock. What opportunities this represents! Opportunity for business, for jobs, for the development of new and better institutions to serve our people. And the opportunity to plan and develop this new one-half of our American cities free of the mistakes of the past, responsive to the needs of the future.

In this expansion archons and architects play leading roles. Contrary to a rather common assumption that urban vitality is chiefly due to geographic and historical advantages, entrepreneurial factors must be given equal recognition. Historian Charles Glaab made the point exphcit when he wrote how simple it is to explain New York's rise to metropolitan dominance in terms of superior natural advantages such as a magnificent harbor and the reasonably level terrain sweeping westward across the state which permitted construction of the Erie Canal with relative ease. But, he notes, "it is also possible to point to organizational and entrepreneurial action on the part of the city's business community that earlier helped to insure the city's success." The conclusion is as significant as it is obvious: as the American metropolis continues to spread across the landscape, the isolation and grimness depicted by Sheeler must yield to the models provided by Renaissance Mantua and Venice -- all products of the creative partnership between successful business leaders and talented designers.

When there are problems in such partnerships, it is because, as one corporate analyst put it, "the artist and businessman march to different drummers. Practitioners of the fine arts ideally set their own standards of performance, personally and without reference to absolutes. The manager's work (eventually) is measured with tangible yardsticks, graduated in established units. Until there is a conversion scale by which we can compare aesthetics and coin of profits, managers and artists will pass through the forest on different trails."

This inquiry suggests that conversion scales are possible, and that such scales tend to validate the thesis advanced in a pioneering study by Richard Eells. Viewing art as a mirror of society and as an indicator of future trends, Eells argued that art (and by implication architecture) had considerable significance for policymakers in the modern corporation because "the survival and growth of the great corporations depend upon a constant instream of knowledge from every available source, and one of the still unrecognized sources of valuable knowledge is the domain of art."

Architects and the members of related design professions are part artists, part businessmen, and part city builders. Expanding on Eells' hypothesis, this study seeks to demonstrate that, while there is no precise way to measure the benefits of quality architecture and interior design in terms of profits, there is a relationship so fundamental that architects and corporate clients must give it attention. A necessary first step, however, is to understand the operations and the motives of the two major actors in the drama.


Forty years ago, economist Walton Hamilton hypothesized that government regulatory bodies established to control corporations were actually under corporation control. The only way to comprehend business and government relations was, in his words, to strip away the fiction "by piercing the corporate veil," a difficult challenge since the art of veiling had "reached such perfection so that by comparison Salome, with her seven veils, was a somewhat naked lady." Fortunately, the veil that mantles business and architecture needs no piercing. A gossamer material allows interested persons to see what has been going on within the relationship between business and architecture over the past century and a half. During that time, the prime motives of archons were profitability and prestige. For architects the driving forces were willingness to serve and hunger for recognition. Examples tell the story and, since western Europe was the pacemaker, the continental experience becomes America's mentor.

In 1840, at a time when muddy paths were more common than side-walks, a group of Belgian businessmen conceived the idea of a classical, glass-roofed arcade in Brussels which they decided to name the Galeries St. Hubert. It was to be a retail center that would "in its opulence equal anything similar in Paris or London." Prestige and civic pride, however, were not the only forces behind this grandiose enterprise. To titillate investor interest a prospectus proclaimed boldly that operation has ever been more straight-forward. For some shareholders it may be speculation, but it is, above all, the most solid of investments....There will be a theater, a concert hall, restaurants, and cafes. A theater brings with it twenty businesses which must be located nearby. All such shops are a constant attraction for pedestrian traffic and, as we have established, plentiful pedestrian traffic is the very lifeblood of retail trade.

Long after its completion, the Galeries St. Hubert remains a beautiful and economically successful landmark in the heart of Brussels.

The United States has had variations on the St. Hubert story. During the last two decades of the nineteenth century, Chicago provided a testing ground for wedding profitability and design. For the city's business community architects created a new and lean aesthetic, free of ornament and expressive of the latest in technology. Most buildings were offices and some rose an impressive fifteen stories or more. Their chaste facades paralleled the strength and spareness of the steel frames within; wide windows and bays filled interiors with light and offered expansive display space to ground floor shops. Both public and critics applauded the new skyline. Architect John Welborn Root even anticipated the impact such designs would have on future builders when he commented that "by their mass and proportion, [they] convey in some large elemental sense an idea of the great, stable, conserving forces of modern civilization." The prophesy was fulfilled when the so-called Chicago Style became the prototype for orifice structures during subsequent decades.

Like the Brussels arcade, however, the beauty and durability of this building type was intimately tied to an economic purpose. When architectural critic Montgomery Schuyler asked what would happen if a successful designer sacrificed one or more stories of a building for various embellishments and classical details, the response was blunt: "Why, the word would be passed, and he would never get another to do. No, we would never try those tricks on our business men." The creative process for these pioneering architects was straightforward: "I get from my engineer a statement of the minimum thickness of the steel post and its enclosure in terra cotta. Then I establish the minimum depth of floor beam and the minimum height of the sill from the floor to accommodate what must go between them. These are the data of my design." Like office construction today, one objective was to maximize return and the obvious way to achieve this was to build as much rentable space as possible. The particular talent of the Chicago architects was their ability to blend efficiency and function with a style that captured the imagination of both the business and the design communities.

In exploiting design as a business tool, a constant companion to the profitability motive has always been prestige, and a clear and early expression of this situation can be observed in the development of Renaissance Florence. During the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the Medici, Pazzi, Rucellai, and Strozzi families were among the most successful bankers and merchants in Europe. Florentine silk and wool were exported throughout the Continent; over thirty thousand people earned a living in the more than two hundred textile plants that flourished in the area; loans from Florentine banks, and their branches in Lyon, Geneva, Avignon, Bruges, and London, affected the fate of popes, kings, and princes. Yet later generations remember these Renaissance entrepreneurs less for their economic influence than for their lasting impact on art and architecture. With humble beginnings in rather mundane work, petty merchants formed partnerships with artists and architects; in time the small businessmen became like the classical archons because of their deep concern over the vitality and ambience of their cities. And ultimately such relationships brought about the patronage system that enabled Donatello to produce David and Botticelli to paint the magnificent Birth of Venus. As another sign of stature and concern, wealthy individuals commissioned imposing palaces noted for their beautifully proportioned rooms and courtyards. What is now the Uffizzi Gallery can perhaps be considered Europe's first corporate headquarters since it was the center for the many business interests of the Medici. Beyond their homes and places of work, individuals and guilds funded the construction and renovation of many civ ic buildings and squares in images that found inspiration in the greatness of ancient Greece and Rome.

To make sure that these edifices brought their builders the desired recognition, conspicuous details often included a "signature" for all to see. A common trick was to adapt a motif from the family coat of arms to the decoration of capitals, a practice that had no known precedent:

Capitals abound with such conceits as the balls of the Medici....the dolphins of the Pandolfini, and the griffin of the Rustici....The personal device of Giovanni Rucellai, the sails of fortune, run all along the front of his palace, and they appear on the facade he financed at Santa Maria Novella.

The art of "signature" has not been lost. Modem corporations have often used architecture to express both civic pride and the prestige of the organization. New York's Pennsylvania Station is a case in point. Styled after the Baths of Caracalla, it was a lavish Beaux Arts landmark for the city. In addition, the design was a model of efficiency, employing the most up-to-date building techniques and a sophisticated multilevel circulation system to handle the complex mix of train, automobile, subway, and pedestrian traffic. But at the time of construction, company executives also knew that the grand interior halls and Roman details of the station would be a constant reminder of the prestige, power, and vast resources of the corporation in an era when the Pennsylvania Railroad was considered one of America's invincible giants.

Another example is Chicago's Tribune Tower. This Gothic skyscraper, designed by John Howells and Raymond Hood, was selected as the winning entry in a $100,000 international architectural competition in 1922 because of the way it celebrated "three fourths of a century of amazing growth and brilliant achievement" for the newspaper. In the eyes of its owners, it was "the most beautiful office building in the world." However, among all the structures influenced by the desire for prestige, New York's Chrysler Building, begun in 1928 by Walter Chrysler, has possibly the most fascinating story. The design was substantially changed after much of the construction had been completed because of the auto magnate's determination to have his monument capture the title "Tallest Building in the World." When newspaper accounts revealed that the Bank of Manhattan building in the Wall Street area would surpass his own tower in height, Chrysler informed his architect, William van Allen, that the situation was unacceptable and demanded that the plans be modified. The response was ingenious. Secretly van Allen had an aluminum-clad spire fabricated within the elevator shafts of the skyscraper and in the spring of 1930, only a month after the Bank of Manhattan had opened, the components of this gleaming crown were hoisted heavenward to surpass the height of its Wall Street rival by 119 feet. It was a great moment for Chrysler. His building dominated the New York skyline. His signature, like that of the Florentine merchants, was there for all to read, for he, too, had personalized his monument -- in this case, with giant aluminum hub and radiator cap motifs.

As the anecdotes suggest, using architecture as a business resource is not a new phenomenon. The process continues. In its inner-city shopping places at Harborplace in Baltimore and Faneuil Hall in Boston, the Rouse Company mirrors the attitudes of those who built the Brussels arcade, using design to enhance the quality of its urban projects and to improve the return-on-investment. The Rouse philosophy is significant because it articulates the value of the archon-architect relationship and it is, therefore, worth quoting in some detail:

* Each market is different from all others. Design begins with a sensitive understanding of what makes each market special. Innovation and freshness derive naturally from the history and tradition of an area. Good design fits easily with respect for the environment and established patterns of life in a community.
* Architecture seeks to emphasize merchandise and merchants. The shopping place facilitates the relationship between customers and that which they might need, wish for or discover. Beyond satisfaction, customers should derive enjoyment and delight from the shopping experience.
* Individual details matter in reinforcing the feeling of festival that should be part of the successful shopping environment -- landscaping, benches, fountains, courts, light, banners, graphics, signs, merchandise, merchants -- the entire center must be seen as a total environment designed to add to the fun of shopping.

This sensitive approach reaps significant economic rewards. For example, in its first year Baltimore's Harborplace had "sales well above $300 a square foot, more than double those of a typical suburban mall."

Developers Edward J. Minskoff and Gerald Hines, well known for their office and commercial ventures in New York and Texas, also carefully calculate the impact of design on their investments. Minskoff observed that a "building that is of high quality in both design and materials will prevail. It will have that standout quality ten, fifteen, twenty years down the road. And the quality will generate higher rentals even then." Hines commented that his innovative design for Houston's Pennzoil Place "paid off in rents that command a premium of $3 to $4 per square foot." Former Citibank chairman Walter B. Wriston discovered the same principle when an analysis showed that space in Manhattan's new Citicorp Center could be leased at 20 percent or more above the going rate. Wriston then decided to use most of the office floors for paying tenants rather than move himself or many of the bank's divisions into the structure. In a sense, by associating the company's name with the building's award-winning design and subsequently renting the space, he had the cake of corporate prestige and was able to eat it as well.

As the last illustration suggests, beyond producing income, image has been an important motive for architectural projects during the past two decades. Although the scenarios are not as dramatic as that of the Chrysler Building, like the stories of Renaissance bankers in Florence and turn-of-the-century speculators in Chicago, they reveal how pride and personality are blended in distinctive and sometimes controversial design. In initiating a new headquarters project for American Telephone & Telegraph, then chairman John deButts had a simple mandate: "The world's greatest skyscraper for the world's greatest corporation." The final costs were high (more than $230 per square foot), but the design's granite facade, Chippendale pediment, and triumphal arch entry were so unique and unprecedented that the building became an instant landmark. Indeed, it has even been compared to Alberti's church of Sant'Andrea in Mantua. In all likelihood, Philip Johnson, the corporation's architect, would be quick to admit that Alberti, who died in 1472, was one of the authentic fathers of modern architecture. And the builders at AT&T would probably be happy to align themselves with the Gonzagas in their mutual determination to unite aesthetics and function in a single structure.

The nexus between quality architecture and image is also evident in Humana's new Louisville headquarters tower, a monument the Kentucky-based hospital management firm consciously exploits as a prestigious and recognizable corporate symbol. Construction was not even complete when, in late 1984, Humana chairman David Jones and president H. Wendell Cherry used the building as a backdrop for an interview concerning heart transplant patient William Schroeder. In a similar way, Pittsburgh Plate Glass's Gothic-inspired complex is a stunning three-dimensional showcase for the company's energy-saving products.

Critic Joseph Giovannini has written that buildings such as these may have restored faith in "signature" design as an approach that can both satisfy corporate needs and improve the quality of urban life. Philip Johnson makes the point that, "the people with money to build today are corporations -- they are our popes and our Medicis....The sense of pride is why they build. Nietzsche would call it the will to power, the French would call it la folie des pierres, and developers call it good business." And when good business translates into profitable and prestigious architecture, then contemporary business archons can and do contribute significantly to civic pride, community joy, and the reawakening of American cities and towns.

Some New Dimensions

One of the most respected students of corporate financial policies, A. S. Dewing, concluded that the gradual evolution of business organizations through centuries of changing economic circumstances required that their leaders project purposes "beyond the limits of a single human life." Like human beings then, corporations only achieve a certain immortality by carefully tending to their needs and by appropriately adapting to new situations. That profound changes are coming to contemporary society is a truism. That there are spillover effects from such transformations into the business-architecture relationship is less obvious but equally true. In the past, the prime motives for businesses to use quality architecture were to increase return-on-investment and to create a symbol of corporate prestige. Changes came about through scientific management of the Taylor variety and through technological innovation of the Edison kind.

Within the last two decades, however, concerns have emerged which suggest corporations should include design as a facet of a larger and more comprehensive business strategy. The economic realities of the 1980s open new possibilities for architecture and interior design to address such issues as white-collar productivity, corporate culture, changing values of the work force, cost control, planning flexibility, and social responsibility. A brief examination of these points reveals why each has an important design corollary.


Commonly known data make it obvious that the composition of labor in America is undergoing a major shift. Blue-collar jobs are declining and women are now a majority in the work force. As corporations move production outside the country, union membership drops so drastically that labor representatives bargain as aggressively for job security as they do for wages and benefits. At the same time, employment in the service fields continues to expand at a rapid pace. Offices, once regarded as passive support mechanisms for the manufacturing process (tracking sales, recording inventories, and monitoring production) are today "increasingly concerned with the generation and communication of ideas." Vast data bases and analytical models have replaced paper as a medium and the once labor-intensive assembly line is now becoming the domain of robots and computers.

Not unexpectedly, change has been accompanied by a growing focus on white-collar productivity. The first scientific research on office management, begun in the early twentieth century, complemented Frederick Taylor's famous management studies of factory production. Investigators like William Leffingwell and Harry Hopf stressed organizational and technical procedures to improve the flow of work, and Leffingwell even endowed an award for the "outstanding accomplishment of practical value in office management." Today, emphasis is on information technology -- word processing, teleconferencing, microcomputers, and sophisticated reproduction techniques -- and even traditionally conservative developers are responding to these techniques for enhancing the output of white-collar employees. In collaboration with builders, United Technologies is incorporating its Techloop Data Highway into "intelligent" offices. Advertisements for this sophisticated electronic system promise access to simultaneous voice/data communications, personal computing, word processing, electronic mail, outside data bases, management decision modeling and analyses, and much more.

This "hardware" approach, however, does not address equally important, albeit much softer, issues. John Naisbitt has urged managers to remember that the complement to "high tech" is "high touch" because corporate success is dependent on both elements: "Whenever new technology is introduced into society, there must be a counterbalancing human response -- that is, 'high touch' -- or the technology is rejected. The more high tech, the more high touch." The design implications are significant. Ultimately, to improve white-collar productivity, a quality work environment is an essential complement to quality tools. Considerable evidence supports this conclusion. In a 1982 study conducted by the New York Stock Exchange Office of Economic Research, well over half of the forty-nine thousand firms surveyed subscribed to the idea that better design and better productivity went hand in hand. Specifically, the study found that "structuring plant and office space" was rated as "very successful" in enhancing productivity by a third of all the companies surveyed, and "somewhat successful" by nearly a third of the remainder. A two-thirds batting average is an arresting statistic.

Another relevant study, undertaken by a team from the University of Michigan for the National Office Products Association (NOPA), was called "The Future of the Office Furniture Industry." Noting that office expenses had reached almost 50 percent of the overall cost of doing business and were climbing at the rate of 15 percent a year, the researchers reported that 90 percent of these costs were for direct personnel expenses. Given this fact, companies must address the physical, social, and psychological needs of workers to have a positive result from their investment in technology. A new field known as ergonomics is investigating the relationships among furnishings, equipment, and human comfort, but there are other issues relevant to managers and architects. As the NOPA study states:

Evidence is mounting that working in an automated office poses potential health hazards, and job satisfaction among workers in automated offices tends to be low. Dealing satisfactorily with this situation means countering not only the problems inherent in automation -- the mechanization and the routinization of work, and the consequent boredom, fatigue and stress -- but the potential hazards associated with these developments. Computerized scheduling, registered electronic mail that lets a sender know when a message has been read, the ability to monitor and measure productivity electronically -- these and other outgrowths of office automation have resurrected a host of issues traditionally associated with the dehumanizing environment of the factory: worker alienation, surveillance, invasion of privacy, job elimination and decline in physical and psychological health.

The challenge to leaders in the business, building, and design communities is obvious. The Buffalo Organization for Social and Technological Innovation (BOSTI) has identified aspects of the workplace that require particular attention. In 1983, this organization isolated four design elements that directly affect job performance: (1) the quality of lighting, (2) control over visual access to a space, (3) control over physical access to a space, and (4) participation in the design process. In addition, nine environmental factors were cited as influencing job satisfaction: floor area, temperature and air quality, lighting, safety and security, noise, ease of communication, comfort, participation, and flexibility. What makes this research especially valuable is that the authors translated design-related improvements in job performance and job satisfaction into dollar figures. They estimated that over an eight-year depreciation period "the present value of good design for (each) manager/supervisor is almost $7500; for (each) professional technical worker over $8000; and for (each) clerical worker over $2000." The numbers become part of the conversion scale linking business and design that, until recently, was lacking.

The Corporate Culture

While academic and managerial interest in the nature of corporate cultures has not led in the past to systematic examinations of this phenomenon, it is increasingly evident that a strong culture has invariably been a driving force behind continuing success in American business. Illustrating this thesis with lively personal accounts from well-known companies like IBM, AT&T, General Electric, Procter & Gamble and National Cash Register, Terrence Deal and Allan Kennedy perceptively recorded five factors that nurture a healthy culture:

* A clear understanding of the business environment,
* A shared and well-articulated value system,
* The presence of corporate heroes,
* Rites and rituals to guide behavior, and
* An informal network to transmit values and mythology.

Understandably, their concern is with people and events; but they might have explored the issue of architecture because buildings can both express a culture and facilitate changes in it.

Quality architecture, though not emphasized by students of corporate cultures, is obviously an aspect of the Naisbitt thesis that high tech requires high touch. Two other well known students of corporate culture, Thomas J. Peters and Robert H. Waterman, Jr., concluded that "all the stuff managers have been dismissing for so long as intractable, irrational, intuitive, and informal can be managed." Such management recognizes the profound importance of the allegedly "soft stuff." Unfortunately, Peters and Waterman did not take the next step to point out the significance of the physical environment as the context within which the "soft stuff" becomes meaningful.

That the physical aspects of corporate culture have been understated by theorists can be shown in a few examples where business executives and architects have worked together to give serious responses to a serious concern. In Santa Clara, California, the headquarters for ROLM Corporation boasts a million-dollar sports pavilion complete with Nautilus equipment, jacuzzis, a gymnasium, and a tanning parlor. At Tandem Computers in Silicon Valley, employees gather with President Jim Treybig every Friday afternoon for a party around the company swimming pool; at other times, they relax in the exercise room or on the company golf course. In both cases, the management philosophy is that first-rate facilities foster high-level creativity and loyalty -- attributes essential for success in the quick-paced, competitive, high-tech industry. The Beneficial Management complex in Peapack, New Jersey, reflects a different culture. The wooded campus is a semiformal composition of low-scale, red brick buildings organized around several exterior plazas. While the arrangement and office designs suggest the hierarchical and conservative nature of this financial services firm, the shared dining, recreation, and outdoor spaces stress the notion of community and recognize the contributions each individual makes to the corporation's success. In this instance, a potential tension between authoritarian and democratic values has been reconciled through an architectural dialectic.

The recent history of Levi Strauss & Company provides a telling example of why the design component of a corporate culture cannot be taken for granted. After going public in 1971, the apparel company grew so rapidly that it needed a prestigious office to replace the casual but overcrowded headquarters that had been its home for sixty-eight years. In 1974, the firm signed a long-term lease for twelve floors of a major San Francisco skyscraper. The address was perfect. The space was not. Levi Strauss' personable chief executive officer, Walter Haas, reported being isolated in his twenty-eighth floor office: "My style is pretty informal....I like to barge in on people and keep up with what's going on." There were other problems as well:

Executives stepped from a shopping arcade into one elevator bank while nearly everybody else used another set of elevators. There was no lobby the company could call its own. For some employees, getting a cup of coffee required a ten-floor elevator trip....Executives hated the fishbowl effect of glass-walled private offices, complaining that if they pulled the venetian blinds for privacy, rumors spread that something hush-hush was afoot. Lower ranking employees missed what Howard Friedman, for three decades Levi's chief consulting architect, calls "the old Levi spirit: 'Good morning, how's the baby?'"

In many respects the experience of Levi Strauss was the very opposite of Beneficial Management: its culture was democratic but its new home encouraged authoritarianism. Thus, while the offices looked "right," they were incompatible with the company's style. The very year Levi Strauss moved into the building, it began to explore possibilities for constructing its own facility. After seven years of complex negotiations, an extended and careful design process, and a $35 million investment, the mistake was corrected. Its headquarters today is the highly acclaimed Levi Plaza, a low-scale complex of relaxed and warmly decorated offices. More important to employees is the fact that this facility nurtures the company's culture. As CEO Walter Haas happily noted: "At last we're back together again."

Employee Values

Whereas management seeks consciously to create a culture, the values of workers seem to change almost whimsically. Shifts in demographics, education, fashion, and attitudes regarding family, leisure, and entertainment are among the items that influence the motivation and priorities of employees. In this respect, the third area in which quality architecture and interior design influence corporate success is found in how effectively they respond to the changing values of the work force. During the past two decades employees have become more affluent, better educated, and less job-dependent. Well educated youth, taking for granted the security their parents strove so hard to achieve, emphasize "creativity, autonomy, rejection of authority, self-expression ahead of status, pleasure seeking, hunger for new experiences, quest for community, participation in decision-making, desire for adventure, closeness to nature, cultivation of self, and inner growth."

How different this new model is from the "organization man" described by William Whyte, Jr., in 1956, when fulfillment came from total dedication to the firm: workaholics were common; neglect of family was widespread; success was spelled out in statistics and dollar signs. For the present generation, work is only one facet of a satisfying lifestyle. In managerial positions, younger employees wish "to be dealt with as nonconforming individuals, rather than as members of a group;" they seek "a clear mission, creative and cooperative co-workers, open communication, and a fair division of duties." They are not particularly interested in traditional corporate concepts such as strong leadership, clear lines of authority, or exact directions.

In light of this new work ethic, an Aspen Institute study suggested four steps businesses should take:

1. Link rewards closely to performance. Most Americans believe there is little relationship between how hard they work and the recognition they receive. When individuals receive equal rewards regardless of effort, the message from management is clear: "We don't care about extra effort."
2. Develop programs that enhance human relations and productivity. Too often managers focus on efforts that make work more agreeable without taking actions that improve performance. Job holders need both satisfaction and motivation.
3. Enforce high standards of quality. Nothing undermines dedication more than a perception that a company is indifferent to quality. Conversely, a strict, even harsh, emphasis on the highest standards of quality reinforces the conviction that work is meaningful.
4. Flatten the hierarchy. Reexamine the status and authority system in the firm. Rigid distinctions between managers and employees tend to reduce motivation. Bureaucratic organizations put layers of formal distance between those who do the work and executives who make decisions and set goals.

Any comprehensive implementation of these strategies requires understanding of the role design can play. As previously noted, simple things like lighting, control over access, and participation in the design process can enhance productivity. In addition, environmental factors can be a significant tool in countering the corrosive effects of declining loyalty? Design decisions allow firms to demonstrate their commitment to employees in distinctly visible ways. Convenient location and a workplace free from dirt, noise, and pollution translate into more satisfying jobs. These concerns, for example, were evident during the mid-1970s when Union Carbide studied a move from New York City to Danbury, Connecticut. In making its announcement, company officials wrote employees that while they recognized New York's many advantages, "the long-term quality of life needs of our headquarters employees were the overruling factors in arriving at this conclusion [to relocate]." Had such a philosophy been extended to blue-collar workers at the company's plants in Bhopal, India, and Charleston, West Virginia, the world might have been spared tragedies and the corporation would have avoided costly and time-consuming suits.

Company executives routinely decide on matters that affect worker safety, productivity, and satisfaction. And designers have the skills to make genuine contributions in these areas. With respect to these issues, then, there is every reason for the architect to become the archon's counselor. Today, there is a growing awareness that employees are conspicuously underutilized resources and that "striking a balance between cost considerations and human not altruistic; it is astute management and makes bottom line sense."

Olivetti, the Italian office products and high technology concern, deserves recognition for its leadership in this area. For more than seven decades, its products, graphics, and showrooms have set the standards others follow and have made the firm an international success. During the 1950s the corporation's approach to design was even an inspiration to the fledgling IBM. But while the company has creatively pursued its economic objectives, it has also sought to provide a satisfying lifestyle for its workers. Adriano Olivetti, son of the organization's founder, spent much time preparing a proposal for an ideal community which he described as "a happier place where tomorrow the factory, nature, life -- brought once more into spiritual unity -- may succeed in giving a new conception of dignity to a new conception of man." To give substance to the ideal, Olivetti has expressed this sense of responsibility in an architectural tradition that is truly extraordinary. Not only are its retail outlets, offices, and manufacturing plants well designed, but similar talent, energy, and resources have been invested in creating housing, daycare centers, and recreation camps for employees. The company's nursery at Borgo Olivetti, constructed in 1942, remains a joyful retreat of gardens and classrooms for youngsters. In 1976, this commitment was again demonstrated in a multi-use structure in Ivrea, Italy (site of the company headquarters) that contains an array of living and social areas, including fifty-five mini-apartments, a restaurant, movie theatre, a restored Roman/medieval street, and a swimming pool as well as numerous shops and bars.

For those businesses that regard these efforts as extravagances, it is well to re-emphasize the point that architecture has very real impacts on quality control, corporate culture, and the respect, hence legitimacy, accorded companies by the public. Without being lavish, a well designed and efficient office or factory can set a standard that, along with other commitments to excellence, enhances the pride individuals have in their work and the products they create. With regard to hierarchy, an interior layout can be so developed that individuals have privacy and a sense of place while, at the same time, feeling they are responsible parts of the organization. Such an approach was important when Procter & Gamble looked into the construction of new facilities. In this company, products are initiated by competing brand teams. The concept of "creative competition" led a consultant to recommend an imaginative "cluster" design that encouraged communication and cooperation and allowed status to evolve from superior performance rather than from superior office location, titles, or certain other amenities. To summarize, if management genuinely believes that its most important asset is its people, then this belief system must be reflected in its design philosophy.

Cost Control

It is axiomatic that profitability is related to cost containment. The homely observation that "a penny saved is a penny earned" has particular meaning for large organizations, where even slight increases in cost have staggering negative effects on the bottom line. Conversely, decreases in cost add substantially to the bottom line. This obvious generalization was at work when Republic Airlines decided to build a new reservations center in Livonia, Michigan. Since its completion, economies in staffing, reduced leasing and rental fees, and improved passenger service all enhance profits. With respect to buildings other cost factors also have to be considered, especially the escalating price of construction and high interest rates on loans. These constraints make it essential to develop facilities within budget and on schedule, and in this area architects and interior designers can have their most immediate and tangible effects on the bottom line. The opportunities fall into three general categories which deal with: (A) design and materials selection, (B) energy conservation, and (C) project management.

Design and Materials Selection

In most cases, a building can be so planned that, with a knowledge of local practice, it takes advantage of standard construction techniques and commonly available or mass-produced components. This approach generally saves both time and money, without sacrificing quality. The Herman Miller Seating Plant in Holland, Michigan, which opened in June 1980, is an example of this sensible and "centsible" approach. The decision to use simple bar joists, steel columns, and prefabricated wall panels permitted completion of this facility within fourteen months. A quality work environment was created by suffusing the interior with natural light; employees are never far from a window and a relaxing vista. Finally, the streamlined facades, accented with bright colors, give this building an air of distinction -- a visual statement of the corporation's commitment to the community and to design excellence. All this was accomplished at a cost of about twenty-five dollars per square foot, an average price for an above-average structure.

Over the long term, the selection of materials with respect to life cycle costs, rather than initial expenditures, is another way designers can save money. In this approach, maintenance, repair, and replacement costs are included in the evaluation of price. An item is not chosen because it is initially cheap but because, after upkeep and future changes are considered, it is cost-effective. With the complex technology that is part of almost every building, communications and electrical wiring are areas where this method is particularly useful. In one analysis, engineer Gary Hall noted seven alternatives to the wiring problem: poke-through, flexible plug-in, modular plug-in, cellular floor, flat cable, access floor, and under-floor duct. When he combined these with various lighting and office work-station arrangements, he developed an array of twenty-one design solutions, each having different implications with regard to price and flexibility. A final determinant is how the client will use the building. When, for example, Lockheed Missiles and Space Company in Sunnyvale, California, was constructing a staff office, it selected a raised access floor as the optimum wiring system so that engineering teams, who were required to move frequently, could rearrange their spaces quickly without assistance from professional electricians.


Since the oil crisis in 1973 energy conservation has become a significant variable for designers and businesses. Available techniques range from simple, passive devices that reduce energy-loss or heat-gain to sophisticated active systems that recirculate energy and solar collectors that heat or cool a building and its water supply. In Boston, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation Building provides a relevant illustration. Roof-mounted collectors generate 82 percent of the structure's hot water needs; heat pumps transfer energy to the perimeter offices during winter and store excess in three 250,000-gallon water tanks in the basement for use at later times; in addition, the water tanks also keep chilled water to reduce summer cooling loads. While the initial costs may have been high, these strategies allowed engineers to "reduce the amount of mechanical refrigeration from 2000 to 1200 tons and eliminate a backup heating system altogether." The Lockheed office, mentioned above, is also a case in point. Here, an atrium design and a carefully detailed fenestration and lighting system reduced the annual electricity needs for ambient illumination by 70 percent.

Project Management

The efficient management of projects is a third requirement for controlling costs, and the most common techniques are: (1)construction management, (2) value engineering, and (3) fast-track construction. The construction manager is an individual who oversees the programming, design, and development of a building on the owner's behalf. This coordinator not only makes sure that the design will serve the client's needs but also suggests cost-saving measures and strategies for construction. For companies that build infrequently (or for those undertaking a new project type), such expertise can be quite effective. Value engineering is the incentive built into construction contracts that encourages the builder to suggest alternatives for saving time and money without sacrificing quality. Essentially, if such proposals are accepted by the owner and implemented, the contractor is rewarded with a percentage of the savings.

Finally, there is "fast-track construction," a process where foundation and site preparation begin before all the contract drawings and specifications are complete. In theory, this speeds work since documents for later stages of the design can be finished while construction is actually going on. If the project is straightforward and well managed, this approach can be quite successful. But certain drawbacks have to be weighed by the client and the architect since final costs are generally not fixed until late in the process and expenses can grow if the commission is an unusual building type or if unexpected site conditions arise. For these management techniques and other methods of cost control, what is most important is for executives not to substitute outsiders' recommendations (from architects, engineers, or consultants) for a clear, in-house understanding of corporate needs and for good communication among all members of the design and construction team. Only in this way will officers be able to balance price with other corporate design objectives.

Planning Flexibility

On a General Motors assembly line, it once took up to forty hours to retool the dies used to stamp out automobile parts; in Japan, this job has been reduced to two hours. This flexibility problem is a design issue. Architecturally, it is a crucial element because plant and office configurations must be able to change rapidly in response to the development of new products or new management goals. During the past two decades, open office landscaping has been the traditional solution to this problem. Interiors are designed with movable panels and furniture components that, at least in theory, can be easily rearranged. Interestingly, this concept may have had its roots in a headquarters project developed by the German architect Peter Behrens in 1912 for the Mannesmann Tube Company in Dusseldorf. Frustrated by the directors' inability to agree on a functional program, Behrens devised a modular scheme based on the unit of a typical six-person team. This "cell" was used to create structural and spacial divisions. At the dedication ceremony, the architect pointed out the inherent flexibility of his design because the building was "arranged like a big hall in which you can partition off rooms as you like to meet your requirements that may arise at any moment." The statement provided one of the earliest definitions of the "open systems" approach.

Still, such a concept may not be for everyone. Open systems have been criticized on grounds that: (a) they are not genuinely flexible since changes require extensive planning, time, and technical assistance; and (b) the work spaces are impersonal and lack privacy. In light of these comments, it is worth noting how Union Carbide's headquarters achieved flexibility by using enclosed offices. Since all rooms are approximately 182 square feet, operations can be moved with relative ease; at the same time, employees have opportunities to personalize these otherwise uniform areas by selecting chairs, desks, rugs, and cabinets from among four different furniture styles. This relative freedom, combined with views from every office of the forested site beyond, has created a relaxing and productive environment. In the words of one financial officer, "I can sit in this room and do in eight hours the work I did there [in New York City] in ten."

Beyond planning at this micro level, design can also address flexibility issues on a larger scale. The pinwheel plan of the Herman Miller Seating Plant in Holland, Michigan, was developed and sited so that the manufacturing facility could readily expand to three times its present size without sacrificing its high-quality work environment. For Westinghouse Electric Corporation, the Pittsburgh architectural firm, Archiris, analyzed such things as production, distribution, sales, and marketing goals to prepare a five-year facilities plan. The designers specified four prototypes and made recommendations for phasing in twenty-three buildings across the country. The architects noted that the approach provided "our clients with a plan that is directly pertinent to their business goals." The long and the short of flexible design is this: while serving immediate needs, imaginative and careful planning helps a company meet future objectives.

Social Responsibility

A retrospective view of corporate social responsibility indicates that the earlier definitions were somewhat limited. While the meaning of the term was implicit in many of the old classical writers -- John Maurice Clark was one of them -- its scope tended to be restricted to corporate philanthropy by the famous A. P. Smith Manufacturing Company case of 1951. The tiny New Jersey company, selected by several large businesses to test the principle that corporate giving to higher education was lawful, made the court's narrow definition a headline and a constant. Recent societal pressures, however, have induced corporate officers to go beyond philanthropy toward what some analysts have described as the "artistic model" of corporate social responsibility. Here, the organization is summoned "to fulfill a larger vision of man and society" by becoming a servant "in the cause of a higher civilization and culture."

While this altruistic self-image is rare among businesses in the United States, there is evidence that the corporate vision of social responsibility is expanding and that architecture helps express this commitment. An early and classic example is Prudential which, through its then chief executive, Orville Beal, made a decision in the late 1950s to build in Newark when skeptics saw the site and the city as looming disaster areas. Today, as travelers approach along Amtrak's northeast corridor, they can see that Prudential's tower has not only enhanced Newark's skyline but also has acted as a magnet around which other attractive buildings cluster. The circumstances were similar in 1978 when New York City officials were deeply concerned about the "corporate flight" to the suburbs. In this case, AT&T gave the metropolis the much needed vote of confidence by announcing a new midtown headquarters:

We are convinced that this city's greatest days as a center of commerce and culture -- and of communications -- still lie ahead. In short, we believe New York City is destined to set the pace among the great cities of the world far into the future. And we want to be a very positive part of that future.

The company certainly is an exciting part of Manhattan's future. Its controversial pitched-roof skyscraper contributes a dynamic alternative to traditional office design; a handsome street-level arcade includes elegant shops and its landscaped interior offers a tranquil interlude to the hectic pace of Madison Avenue.

Some firms have specifically acknowledged architecture as a moral imperative in their corporate social responsibilities, reflecting the conviction of one observer who believes that institutions are "the bridges that link architecture to civilization, that allow formal order to symbolize moral order." Alexander Giacco, the chief executive of Hercules Corporation (a Delaware-based chemical firm), reflected this attitude at the dedication of the company's headquarters in 1983: "This building represents the revitalization of downtown Wilmington and the spirit of cooperation between private industry and government that has led us to this rebirth....We are pleased to have been the catalyst to help bring Wilmington back to life." And "back to life" meant not only jobs but a beautiful city center hallmarked by a riverfront park, the renovation of several historic buildings, and the construction of additional offices and stores. A second dramatic example is Pittsburgh Plate Glass, which has developed a complex of gleaming towers in that city that have helped restore a major town square. Still other companies include retail, entertainment, or recreation facilities within their office buildings as a way of enhancing the community. Whatever the form, there is little doubt that quality architecture is a significant expression of good corporate citizenship which, as part of a broadened definition of social responsibility, is making cities and towns more livable, more enjoyable, and even more lovable.

The Challenge: Full Utilization of Resources

Looking at the American past is to see the evolution of different kinds and styles of management to meet changing needs. Small merchants served colonial patrons adequately but were ill suited to manage the more complex enterprises of the post -- Civil War period. In response, businessmen evolved into what might be called "entrepreneurial capitalists" -- individual leaders who knew how to attract large groups of workers with the aid of generous immigration policies and how to exploit this labor force with modestly effective organizational techniques. But these companies could not solve the problem of capital formation. Firms, especially the railroads, needed more machinery, equipment and hardware to keep growing, a demand that was eventually met by a new resource known as "finance capitalism." Investment houses such as J. P. Morgan; Kuhn, Loeb; and A. M. Kidder began selling and trading securities in railroads and other industrial concerns. This was the era when Andrew Carnegie's steel holdings led to U.S. Steel and when John D. Rockefeller made Standard Oil a standard for ruthless efficiency.

But there were limits, the most significant of which was the inability of managers to coordinate satisfactorily the many activities of a large business. To deal with this issue, during the 1920s and 1930s yet another resource was added: the executive who knew how to decentralize a firm's operations into a multidivisional organization based on patterns successfully pioneered by General Motors, DuPont, and Sears. Streamlined production, managerial accounting, product distribution, and advertising techniques facilitated even further corporate growth. Today, experts continue to fine-tune these resources with new approaches to management efficiency and technology. Matrix decision-making and Theory X and Theory Y are just a few of the recent theoretical alternatives.

What many of these specialists ignored, however, was the fact that, as larger numbers of people became dependent on sophisticated machines to do their jobs, one of the critical challenges was to improve relationships among workers (from factory personnel to executives), their tools, and their environment. This interface is precisely the problem designers are trained to solve. Needed, therefore, is a kind of artist-executive whose canvas is a montage of both old and new approaches to business. As in the past, markets must be created; capital must be acquired; organizations must be built and rebuilt. But the successful executive will also have a designer's eye that can see the significance of corporate building. And the architect, in turn, will have an archon's eye to read what the firm and the society require. In this analysis, then, the marriage of archon and architect is not merely a convenience but an absolute necessity.

Historian James Allen has documented one aspect of this link by investigating the motives and methods that led Walter Paepcke, former chairman of the Container Corporation of America, to found the Aspen Institute of Humanistic Studies and the International Design Conference in Aspen in 1950. Observers have noted that the altruism of this early effort has evolved into more pragmatic ties in which corporations recognize that the arts help them "realize key marketing and sales objectives, involve them with audiences they wish to reach, and give them the kind of public image that is critical to success." When the Wall Street Journal reported that "real estate -- the buildings and land owned by companies that are not primarily in the real estate business -- accounts for at least 25 percent of most American corporations' assets," it indicated one way to measure the value of architectural arts to the business community. But the corporate-design partnership offers even greater opportunities. Architects and interior designers are underutilized resources unless asked to address the issues of productivity, a finn's culture, values in the work force, cost control, planning flexibility, and social responsibility. While no panacea, design is an important aspect of successful business strategies, the crucial theme of this analysis.

Copyright © 1988 by the Trustees of Columbia University in the city of New York

Table of Contents

The Rationale for Rational Design
Two Maxims to Maximize Results
Three Building 157 -- The Lockheed Story
Four A First New Home -- The Hercules Headquarters
Five Building the Company -- The Beneficial Design Program
Six Herman Miller -- Design and the Corporate Culture
Seven Philosophy and Process -- United Technologies' Design Audit
Eight Architecture and the Corporation: Approaches to Excellence
Resources in the Area of Facility Management
About the Author

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