Q&A: Reworking the Federal Office

The U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) has initiated a pilot program to show employees how easy it is to transform their messy, ill-functioning offices with simple, low-cost interior design techniques. This and many other programs are overseen by the agency’s Interior Design Program Manager, Dianne Juba, who helped conceive, develop, and implement the Workplace Transformation program. Since this is an on-going project, Juba will function as a design consultant for the GSA office-fixer-uppers.  But this sprucing up of the vast federal holdings goes way beyond DIY. It’s a new, green day at the GSA.  Administrator Martha Johnson is shooting for nothing less than “Zero Environmental Impact” for the thousands of buildings under her supervision (362 million square feet when you add it all up). We talked to Juba about her involvement in the federal agency that sees itself at the head of the green vanguard.

Susan S. Szenasy: How did your department go about making the pilot program operational?

Dianne Juba: We began by testing the principles on three problem workplaces in our inventory–effecting three low cost transformations to illustrate the benefits of simple transformations and good design. Using those three projects as examples, we created a video to promote the program, market it, and inspire government agencies to take advantage of our free professional design services. The three pilot projects featured in the video demonstrate how agencies can improve their workspaces using the five tips. The three agencies that agreed to participate were offered $5,000 towards the cost of design implementation.  We hope when other agencies see what’s possible, they’ll want to sign up too.

Click here to view the video, “GSA Shows How to Transform a Workspace in 5 Easy Steps

SSS: The GSA is very proud of its Interior Design Program and how it can contribute to the health, safety and well being of its employees. Yet the DIY pilot program seems to by-pass the professional interior designer. How do you reconcile the two seemingly different agendas?

DJ: The design services rendered through the Workspace Transformation program will come from an in-house professional interior designer, so we will not bypass the professional but rather expedite the design delivery process.  Using in-house staff, imaging software, and exchanging design ideas over the Internet should allow us to provide quick solutions to tenant agencies. The Interior Design program encompasses multiple initiatives, each with diverse and distinct agendas. This program is intended to offer design consultation to agencies whose space is not programmed for immediate modernization or relocation, yet have extremely limited funds for design improvements.

SSS: As the GSA works on Administrator Martha Johnson’s pronounced goal of achieving “zero environmental impact” for their thousands of buildings, what do you see as the biggest challenge to meet for interior designers?

DJ: GSA is excited to be a leader in the sustainability movement, encouraging the private sector to develop new products, methods, and technologies that will increase the performance of our inventory and allow us to achieve a “zero environmental impact.”  Our in-house design team–and the consultants we hire to help us execute our projects–are working to develop design strategies that look at our buildings holistically and will help us realize effective, efficient, and sustainable work environments for our tenant agencies.  To be successful, we must provide scientific research data to support these strategies, as well as simple and concise formats for demonstrating and visualizing this data.   We need to assist our customers, including their unions, in directing appropriate and sustainable design solutions, so everyone can understand how good design decisions will benefit all employees equally.

Our 2011 Next Generation Design Competition, in partnership with the GSA, challenges designers to bring a 1960’s federal building to zero environmental impact.

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