Repositioning for a Millennial Workforce

As we completed the July/August 2017 issue of the magazine, I had the television shows “Moonlighting” and “L.A. Law” in mind—dramas from the late 1980s that were set, at least in part, within offices. The workplaces depicted on those shows were cool at the time, even cinematic— think private offices with mauve, leather armchairs, matching desk accessories, and a little more mauve, all under gauzy atmospheric lighting. Lobby entrances were dramatic, literally and figuratively, with plenty of marble and neoclassical detailing that had returned along with postmodern architecture—vaulted ceilings, rotundas, pediments over doorways, and faux columns. The workplace became an extension of status symbols for a generation of “Thirtysomething” (another late-1980s television drama!) young people—the Baby Boomers making their way in the world with boxy suits, power ties, and shoulder pads.

That was 30 years ago, which does not seem that long ago. But it is. And all that has changed.

In this issue, three of the four featured repositioned office lobbies are within buildings that were newly constructed in the late 1980s—built during the lifetimes of many Millennials. And those interiors would have been brand new, fresh, and cool for Maddie Hayes and her detective work on “Moonlighting” or for the attorneys on “L.A. Law.” With the repositions, architecturally, the postmodern formality and excesses are now literally stripped away to create new interiors that are adaptable, flexible, and nuanced.

Considering these repositioned office projects in context, understand this: The change is symbolic of the generational shift that has been evolving in recent years. The work atmosphere itself is seemingly more casual, as work can be accomplished anywhere at any time in many cases. A casual-cool cafe setting to enjoy a coffee is now a status symbol, rather than a interior dripping with neoclassical symbolism. Creatives enjoy the ability to work flexible hours in jeans, T-shirts, and sneakers, rather than a more buttoned-up, formal setting.

With this in mind, the repositioned lobbies featured here also underscore the need for real estate to respond quickly and somewhat radically to the changes to attract and retain tenants today. Aventine, an office building in San Diego, was designed in the late 1980s—the peak of the postmodern era of prominence in architecture—by Michael Graves, the legendary architect who was the most recognizable postmodernist. But less than three decades later, the Aventine public spaces seemed dated and its new owners faced a conundrum—maintain the Graves interiors or renovate for an aesthetic to appeal to tenants in a highly competitive market. The owners chose the latter, which required the Graves interiors to be removed. Gensler completely reconceived the lobby with a contemporary, open interior focused on a cafe—a highly desired amenity space that did not exist in the original space. Is it controversial to remove the Graves interior? Does it raise questions of what is worth saving? Yes. But while preservation and recognition of significant architecture and interiors is always desirable, in this case, the reality of a real estate market and evolving workplace needs won out.

In a bit of irony, though, up the coast in San Francisco, the lobby of 301 Howard Street has been beautifully repositioned by Huntsman Architectural Group. In that project, a postmodern interior was completely recast as a light, serene space that welcomes tech, media, and other present-day tenants and employees. The irony when compared to the Aventine project? 301 Howard was originally designed in the late 1980s by Gensler. It all comes full circle.

Enter the Interiors Awards
When you receive this issue, you’ll have about a month to enter your recent projects in the 39th annual Interiors Awards, presented by Contract. The Interiors Awards honor exemplary commercial interiors worldwide, and the entry deadline is September 12. Entries are accepted in 15 professional categories, including a new category for office lobby repositionings. An all-star jury of design professionals will select the winning projects, which will be honored in January at the Interiors Awards Breakfast in New York. Visit to learn more and to enter today!

John Czarnecki, Assoc. AIA, Hon. IIDA
Editor in Chief