Tom Powers of Global Interior Architecture Firm IA on the evolution of the designer-client relationship

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In his Q&A with Metropolis, Powers also explains how technology is driving workplace design and how NeoCon is evolving.

For Hoboken, New Jersey, home of e-commerce company Jet.com, IA designed a 100% free indoor address setup that allows employees to work anywhere in a shared office. Courtesy of Eric Laignel

Tom Powers is a Chicago-based architect / designer and CEO and Co-Chair of IA Interior Architects, which has 20 offices around the world. Powers and AI have designed office, research, and hospitality interiors for tech and corporate giants, including American Airlines and LinkedIn.


Avinash Rajagopal: You have such a big picture of how American workplaces have changed over the years. What are the major changes in the way we work?

Tom’s Powers: Much of the change in the workplace is driven by technology. One of the things that has really gained momentum over the past few years is the expectation that the workplace should be responsive to the way people work – and how businesses and people want to advance business. innovation, and how the workplace can be part of it.

AR: Can you discuss any specific technologies and how they have changed the way the workplace is designed?

TP: One of the biggest was the laptop. Once it became more common to have your laptop or iPad in your hands, the mobility aspect really opened up. Expectations about the types of spaces people wanted to work in fundamentally changed. You see a lot of this influence in work environments.

I heard that it was about “wanting to work alone together”. For many there is the desire to work alone, but also to be next to other people and in a social type atmosphere. This is quite a significant change.

AR: Your customers straddle many different verticals and markets: technology companies but also more traditional industries. Could you tell us a bit about the technology from a customer perspective?

TP: We’ve been around for 34 years, so we’ve seen how this profession has evolved. I think the workplace took a foothold in the more traditional businesses — the banks, the IBMs — where there was a large workforce. But as the tech industry has grown, innovation has had such a big impact. Turnaround times were quick and the work environment started to react. This is where you saw all those agile work environments and collaborative spaces and less traditional spaces.

These workplaces attracted certain types of people who were also agile, innovative and collaborative. We have seen companies recognize the importance of individual inspiration. And other organizations, watching the pace of innovation coming from the tech world, said, “We want the same in our more traditional worlds.” Part of the solution is providing the spaces that take advantage of this type of work.

tom inner powers qa
The open space includes lockers for all staff, a “community center” event area with movable bleachers and views of the Hudson River. Courtesy of Eric Laignel

AR: Has the role of the customer changed in the design process? How have the products changed?

TP: Customers who believe the workplace can be an important part of their success are very involved. It is not uncommon for the CEO to be involved from the start of the design. HR will step in to make sure she embodies the brand. It’s very exciting, but it’s also a challenge because it takes a little longer. But the product is better because it is more in line with what they want for their business and their employees.

For large projects, furniture manufacturers are now involved. We like to have their ideas because they know their products intimately. Together, we come up with solutions that may not have been out of the box, but are not personalized either; manufacturers have become much more agile. I really believe that this is a particular phenomenon: designers are becoming very responsive to [flexibility] working environments by helping to provide design solutions.

AR: How has your experience at NeoCon changed compared to your job?

TP: It really sets the tone for the future of design. The showrooms themselves are an experience to be had now. It’s not just “This is the office. Here is the score. Here are the finishes that go on it. But they’re involved in “If you want to work one way, here’s an idea.” And that’s a really powerful thing for people who aren’t immersed in the profession to be able to come in and visualize it.

AR: What do you think will be the lasting influences on workplace design in the future?

TP: My perception is that design revolves around creating spaces that allow people to work differently. Seeing spaces as places to unleash employee potential is something we are going to feel for a long time. And now that you have instant access to other people around the world, we can start to challenge what you see is the right thing for you. It used to be, “This is what you’re going to get. Be happy. ”And now the companies are basically saying,“ Within reason, we’ll provide you with what you think you need. ”That kind of influence is something that’s going to be felt in the future.

You can also take advantage of “Technology Special: The Future of the Workplace”.


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