IIDA Headquarters

Gensler created flexible, neutral interiors celebrating Chicago for the International Interior Design Association headquarters. Photograph by Michelle Litvin

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With a truly modern interior lined by floor-to-ceiling windows framing views of downtown Chicago and its famed architecture, the new headquarters of the International Interior Design Association (IIDA) exudes both urban work life and the value of contemporary design. An exercise in strategy and beauty, the interior was crafted by Gensler to incorporate a neutral, monochromatic palette and straightforward plan that enables it to serve as a flexible venue for this global association of design professionals.

For years, IIDA’s headquarters had been located in theMART— the vast building that is home to NeoCon—where it was within walking distance of showrooms, and yet the team felt isolated and seemingly cut off from the city. IIDA EVP/CEO Cheryl Durst, Hon. FIIDA (Click here to read an interview with Durst), embarked on a lengthy process to find a new office space in Chicago, ultimately selecting 17,000 square feet within One Illinois Center, a notable steel-and-glass tower by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe that was completed in 1970, a year after his death. Here, IIDA takes the entire western length of the second floor, directly above the ground-floor space that will become the new home of the Chicago Architectural Foundation next year. Perched just above street level, IIDA now enjoys expansive views of the famous nexus of Michigan Avenue and the Chicago River to the north.

Channeling Mies’s “less is more” mantra
Gensler worked closely with Durst and her IIDA team on both the site selection and interior design. Gensler Principal Jim Williamson, FIIDA, who was the 2012–2013 IIDA president, describes the difficulties inherent in designing an office with a complex program: “The IIDA space—probably one of the ‘hardest working’ spaces I have been involved with—is challenged by the need to serve everyday work tasks, large conferences, intimate gatherings, and media events— all while looking great and being comfortable.”

Todd Heiser, IIDA, a principal at Gensler who was Contract magazine’s 2016 Designer of the Year, oversaw the design with colleagues from Washington, D.C., and Chicago. Knowing that IIDA is a member organization of more than 15,000 designers representing 58 countries, Heiser was aware of the pressure in orchestrating the association’s new workplace design. He conceived a blank slate that would be neutral enough to serve as a backdrop to the interests of the organization while allowing it to animate them as it pleases. Taking a space within a building by Mies, whose mantra was “less is more,” was ideal. “[An interior within a building by] Mies could not have been a more perfect canvas to develop this remarkably simple plan,” says Heiser. “The best designs actually speak very little.”

Beginning with a spare interior featuring window walls on three sides, Gensler stripped away previous dropped ceilings to reveal he original concrete waffle slab overhead, adding a sense of tactility and depth as well as “light echoes of Brutalism,” says Heiser.

The waffle slab is just one of the orthogonal grids relating to the city’s street plan seen throughout the interior. A depiction of the 1909 Plan of Chicago by Daniel Burnham and Edward H. Bennett is custom printed on a retractable wallcovering behind a reception desk of burnt maple and leather that obliquely references the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Another grid manifests underfoot: A mosaic by Sicis features a dynamic black-and-white starburst of square pixels that Heiser likens to a smashed disco ball. Above, a bulbous chandelier by Lindsey Adelman adds another layer of whimsy to the entry sequence, which leads to a long sectional sofa and a vintage shelving unit by George Nelson alongside the window wall. From the reception area, the plan is clear: Areas for meetings and large gatherings are on the southern portion of the floor and workspaces for the 25 staff take up the northern half of the office.

With only a few enclosed offices, the majority of the employees work in an open layout at Herman Miller sit-stand desks. The IDEA Studio, an event space that occupies about one-third of the headquarters, is the most visible synthesis of creative studio flexibility and institutional meeting space. Available to outside organizations, the studio can host seminars, presentations, training sessions, and large meetings.

Cultivating domestic eclecticism
Along the western window wall—spanning from the IDEA Studio to the open work area—a 15-foot-wide “boulevard” walkway connects the length of the interior. Both formal meetings rooms and informal seating areas line this boulevard, which was designed by Heiser with an eye towards simulating domestic eclecticism. The placement of furnishings along the walkway “looks pretty free flowing, but in general the space is quite rigid in terms of where we placed things,” he says. “We wanted those spaces to be minimal, but heavily layered— to be about the right product for the space.”

Defined by beautiful rugs, the seating areas include classic Herman Miller furnishings—such as the Womb chair and an Eames sofa—to instill a consistent, timeless quality. These “instantly recognizable classics help eliminate any preciousness,” says Durst.

Along the boulevard, Durst’s own office is a glass-enclosed space midway between reception and the employee work area. In her highly public role leading the organization, she chose to have her office centrally located within the overall plan rather than tucked away in a corner. Inside her office, Durst eschews the expectations for an executive’s workspace with a highly personalized, cozy interior and a comfortable sofa for conversations.

Crafting a creative studio in a team effort
As key decisions received extra scrutiny during the design process, Williamson played an important role as guide and connector. As a former IIDA international president, he brokered numerous discussions between Durst, the board of directors, and the Gensler design team. With one foot planted in both the client’s reality and the design team’s aspirations, Williamson described his role as “a bit like a coach on both sides of the wall.” His knowledge enabled the Gensler team to help the association transform an office of primarily administrative workers into a creative studio that is similar to the work settings of many IIDA members, who are architects and designers.

The day-to-day work culture of IIDA employees was top of mind for Heiser. “We wanted to celebrate the people that come to work every day—to create a place where these people both felt valued and that they truly had a mission,” he says. “That was an unbelievably important part of the design—essentially the art and science of the space.”


who Architect and interior designer: Gensler. Project team: Todd Heiser; Jim Williamson; Marc Herndon; Stephen Ramos; David Winans; Randi Richardson; Joohyun Son; Pierce Fisher; Yukiko Takahashi; Daniel Krause; Patrick Foley. Contractor: Skender Construction. Lighting: Kugler Ning Lighting. Engineering: Environmental Systems Design. Structural engineering: Magnusson Klemencic Associates. Graphics: Moss. Acoustician: Shiner + Associates. A/V: AVI Systems.
what Wallcoverings: Maya Romanoff. Paint: Sherwin- Williams. Laminate: Formica. Movable walls: Adotta Hard flooring: Daltile; Sicis; Ardex. Resilient flooring: Armstrong; Tandus Centiva; Johnsonite. Carpet/carpet tile: Shaw Contract; Mohawk; Oscar Isberian; Tandus Centiva. Ceilings: USG. Recessed lighting: Birchwood Lighting; Tech Lighting; Focal Point; Apogee. Architectural lighting: Juno. Floor/table lamps: Artemide. Pendants/ chandeliers: Lindsey Adelman; Tom Dixon. Hardware: Schlage; Tydix. Doors/custom woodworking: Huber. Architectural glass/glazing: Adotta. Decorative glass panels/ partitions: McGrory Glass. Window treatments: MechoShade; KnollTextiles. Workstations: Herman Miller; OFS; Geiger. Seating: Herman Miller; Knoll. Upholstery: Herman Miller; Maharam. Conference tables: Geiger; Herman Miller; Agati; Touhy. Files/shelving: Herman Miller. Accessories: Poppin; Pagoda Red; Holly Hunt; Tom Dixon; Maharam. Plumbing fixtures/ fittings: Kohler; Grohe.

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