Catching Up with Corgan’s Lindsay Wilson on the Evolving Workplace
Lindsay Wilson of architecture and interiors firm Corgan, discusses current trends in workplace design and looks back at her first visit to NeoCon.
Lindsay Wilson has been with Dallas-based architecture and interiors firm Corgan since 2008; it was also where she started her career, working as a designer from 1998 to 2000. In between, she held positions in business development for Knoll and Benson Hlavaty Architects. Over the course of her career, she has helped design more than seven million square feet of interior space. Metropolis’s editor-in-chief Avinash Rajagopal sat down with Wilson to discuss her career, the evolution of the workplace, and memories from NeoCon.
Avinash Rajagopal: Looking back over your 20-year career, how do you think the American workplace has changed or evolved?
Lindsay Wilson: The biggest shift, to me, is from the office just being a necessary evil, the place where work gets done, to the office being the embodiment or the artifact of an organization’s brand and culture. It’s expected to tell a story instead of just being a volume where people come to execute a task.
Part of it is just the exposure that we all have to design now. We didn’t used to think about [the fact] that every item in our household was designed. Beginning with Target’s “Design for All” tagline in the late ’90s, design began to be seen as a right and not a privilege. You can point to Apple or Starbucks for the story they tell: How they look and feel is as much about the experience as going there and actually purchasing something. The workplace was an obvious place where people would start to expect a higher level of design and thoughtfulness around the environment.
AR: One of the big debates in the early to mid-2000s was the open plan. That seemed to be the definitive discussion in workplace design and continued through the decade. Is there a similarly polarizing issue now?
LW: There are two things that come up with a lot of clients now, and they’re intertwined. One, for my entire career we’ve used a metric of square feet per person to talk about workplaces. It’s led to an amenities arms race that has made those metrics meaningless. Philosophical choices about culture and brand and amenities are not always in line with this kind of corporate hangover on metrics.
The second one is, over the next three to five years, what is the right balance of mobility, policies, and technology use? What technology do workers need to work from home? What are the evolving policies of large organizations? That’s where it becomes hard. Small organizations can have agile policies and try things out, but the big organizations have little things to figure out.
The work that HR teams do in policy development is becoming more and more linked [to the work environment]. You can’t design a workplace that’s super casual and has all this collaboration space if the HR and technology policies don’t facilitate the use of that place. The WELL Building program has put another layer on top of that, because a lot of the requirements get into policy issues.
AR: You’ve been involved in some product development as well over the years. Can you talk a little bit about the products involved in interior design and how trends like data and a changing culture are affecting interior design on the product scale?
LW: One category I would specifically go to immediately would be acoustic products. I think the open office has gotten a bad rap because of poor acoustical design. Was it really the fault of the low horizon of the panels that all of a sudden people felt they couldn’t focus? Or was it a group of factors, one of those being sound, that led to that? [We’ve seen it] in the past couple of years [at NeoCon], and I think we’re going to continue to see it.
The other is products that are going to help us continue to be flexible with technology. Technology is going to continue to get faster and faster. The products that we’re asking our clients to invest in are going to be the ones that can demonstrate their ability to flex as the technology changes.
AR: Looking back, do you remember your first time at NeoCon? It’s now celebrating its 50th year.
LW: I do remember my first NeoCon. It must have been 2000 or 2001. The first time is completely overwhelming. Everybody tells you, “The halls are crowded and it’s hard to get an elevator” and “Wear comfortable shoes.” But if you love what you do, if you love interior design—and I do—it’s just an absolute feast for the senses.
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