Reflecting on a New Home for Design: An Interview with IIDA EVP/CEO Cheryl Durst, Hon. FIIDA

Cheryl Durst, Hon. FIIDA, is the EVP/CEO of the IIDA.

In her role as executive vice president and CEO of the International Interior Design Association (IIDA), Cheryl Durst, Hon. FIIDA, is tasked with a variety of leadership responsibilities. Overseeing an international organization of designers—with a membership that includes the leading experts on workplace design—Durst undertook a significant decision-making process as client for the new IIDA headquarters. Earlier this year, IIDA moved its office from theMART in Chicago to a new location at One Illinois Center, a building by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe just east of Michigan Avenue overlooking the Chicago River (Click here to read the full feature on the IIDA workplace, with a gallery of online-exclusive photos of the interior). Durst talked to Contract about the office relocation process and the design decisions that went into the new headquarters designed by Gensler.

After years in theMART, your organization made a major move. How many Chicago office locations did you view and consider, and what drew you to this location?
We started our search for a new IIDA headquarters in 2015 for both sound economic reasons and design decisions on behalf of the association, and we proceeded to look at more than a dozen locations in Chicago. As we considered locations, we knew we needed more space to produce IIDA special events such as design awards presentations, member events, and education courses. Our new office is now 17,000 square feet, which allows for the fluidity and flexibility we desired in our workplace. This specific location also appealed to us because it is in an architecturally significant Mies van der Rohe–designed building. Being located here allows us to represent IIDA’s deep-rooted connection to Chicago. With sweeping views of the Chicago River and iconic buildings such as the Tribune Tower and the Wrigley Building, our new office celebrates Chicago as an international capital of design and architecture.

Cheryl Durst has her own office strategically located along the “boulevard” walkway to be central in the workspace. Photograph by Michelle Litvin

When you began the design discussions with Gensler, what was the most important concept that you wanted the new workspace to portray?
I worked closely with Todd Heiser, IIDA, design director at Gensler’s Washington, D.C., office and Contract magazine’s 2016 Designer of the Year, to ensure that we had a variety of optional and optimal areas where the IIDA staff could choose to work. Our most significant intention was that we did not want people to feel tethered to their desks—we wanted them to be mobile within the office. And we wanted the IIDA staff and members to instantly fall in love with the space. We thought about what a contemporary office feels like and exemplifies—fluidity, mobility, and comfort. We wanted to create a sense of purpose, culture, and community within the space for both employees and guests, as well as a place that defines and represents who we are as a design organization. The new office reflects how workplace design has evolved to accommodate the varied ways people like to work. We feature several collaborative huddle spaces along with a variety of private offices, conference rooms, and an open plan working area.

IIDA is an organization with a membership of leading designers. And knowing that product manufacturers would all love to have their products in your workplace, how did you proceed with an approach keeping in mind that all eyes will be on your new office?
The design intent of the office came first: The vision we had drove specifications and selection of each piece for the space. Many of the decisions were driven both by function and the interest of the design community to want to connect and create here. The diversity of the design allowed us the freedom to incorporate a wide variety of products that beautifully express this intent. We were grateful for the generosity of many of our corporate members who contributed product to the new IIDA headquarters. You personally travel a lot, and your members are worldwide. How important is “place” for the headquarters? We want the IIDA headquarters to illustrate that “place” is essential. It’s important for our association to have a tangible, tactile, and real space to show both members and the public that design excellence matters. This space belongs to all IIDA members.

Team members at IIDA find various ways to make use of new office space for both work and conversation. Photograph by Michelle Litvin

You have been in the new workplace for a few months. Has your team’s way of working changed in any ways? How so?
Numerous studies show that people interact more successfully in well-designed spaces, and I’ve found that our team is taking advantage of the variety of places to work here in ways that are beyond my wildest dreams. People love the materiality of the space, and they move naturally throughout the space on a daily basis. We have shared our office with groups who have come in for events and tours as an example of how the contemporary workplace can look and operate. The new IIDA headquarters serves as a tangible sourcebook of sorts where one can get ideas and inspiration— it’s a knowledge resource, and beautifully and effectively reinforces the IIDA brand.