Will Speros • Photography by Eric Laignel • January 10, 2018

Photos: IIDA

When the International Interior Design Association’s (IIDA) lease at the Merchandise Mart in Chicago ended last February, a change of scenery seemed like a natural next step. The organization set its sights on another city landmark to host its headquarters—the Ludwig Mies van Rohe-designed One Illinois Center. Already evoking a strong design personality, the structure only needed select upgrades to ensure flexibility and symmetry.

“We wanted to create a space that was emblematic of IIDA and its members. Clearly, it needed to resonate design excellence and reinforce a deep connection to place, purpose, culture, and brand,” says Cheryl Durst, executive vice president and CEO of the IIDA. “We aimed to create a next-generation model of living design; a space that encourages productivity, health, and wellness through human-centered design.”

Gensler was selected to lead the overhaul of the 17,000-square-foot space. With original elements like a waffle slab ceiling design and a strong sense of place served by iconic city views, the environment provided more than a sufficient starting point to craft the thoughtful design.

“Our aspirations were to create a place that celebrates all the things that happen at IIDA. We wanted to tell a simple story: the story of me, we, and us,” says Todd Heiser, design principal and studio design leader for Gensler’s Washington, DC office. “We wanted to celebrate the bones of the space, as it was a building by Mies, whose mantra was ‘less is more.’”

Representing the “me” of the design, northern city views are positioned for employees at every corner to enjoy. “Us” is conveyed in the form of meeting rooms and the IDEA Studio installed at the southern end of the office, while the “we” is captured in the ethereal sense of community articulated in the openness of the interior. The design also incorporates memorable elements of interest, from mosaic floors upon entry and conversational hubs that line the windows with classic furniture.

A black and white palette spans the interior offset with moments of vibrancy communicated through upholstered, modern furniture—a layering technique that embraces the bones of the industrial structure. To celebrate Chicago’s rich architectural heritage and IIDA’s aspirational vision, one wall of the reception area is adorned with a mural depicting the 1909 Plan of Chicago co-authored by Daniel Burnham and Edward H. Bennett.

“It’s incredibly important in an office to have moments that require you to reflect, to be revived and invigorated, or simply to be curious,” Durst notes. “A workplace can and should engage the entire human—brain, heart, and soul. Great design makes that happen when you put people, connection, and choice at the top of list of workplace priorities.”

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