NCIDQ News: The Grass is Greener

Oct. 8, 2009

Heavily involved in the design of its new headquarters, the National Council for Interior Design Qualification learned firsthand about Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.

This spring, NCIDQ relocated to a new office in Washington, D.C., with the goal of achieving LEED- CI Silver certification. Since its completion, I’ve wanted to know what impact the design process had on the NCIDQ staff and how they might compare to an average client.

NCIDQ experienced firsthand what “interior design” entails in a corporate setting. I was curious how the LEED process and “going green” might be affecting its employees. I talked to our design team at Perkins+Will, and I asked NCIDQ staff to share their thoughts with me about the design process and the finished space.

“From my perspective as design principal and managing principal of Perkins+Will, NCIDQ has been a unique and stellar client. To be considered for this project, they requested that the team be led by an interior designer who was an NCIDQ Certificate holder, licensed in the District of Columbia and a stakeholder in the firm. To me, that spoke of NCIDQ’s commitment to the business and practice of interior design,” says Tama Duffy Day, NCIDQ Certificate holder and project leader. “After we were awarded the project, NCIDQ began to blog about their move experience. Their blog added more depth to documenting the design process. Jeff Kenney, NCIDQ’s executive director, trusted us and gave us the latitude to be the best we can be, which I believe led to the success of the project. He asked questions, prodded and poked us—all in a very positive way.”

“What stood out to me was NCIDQ’s attitude toward the project,” notes David Cordell, project interior designer and also a Certificate holder. Jeff really saw this experience as a chance to educate his staff, who serve interior design professionals every day, about the design process. The staff was included in the presentations and participated in a very dynamic visioning session that helped establish the project goals.

“It was refreshing to have the employees participate in it, since many organizations restrict that activity to upper management. Our meetings were educational seminars as much as they were formal design presentations. There were moments during presentations when I would see someone’s face brighten as we explained why a room was configured a certain way or described the ergonomics behind setting up the work stations just so, and it was exciting! I think the space is much more successful, and everyone has a sense of pride in the final product because they helped to create and shape it,” adds Cordell.

All of the NCIDQ staff had positive comments about their new offices, perhaps, as Cordell surmised, “it’s a reflection of their having a hand in the design.” Yet, the nugget for me was project coordinator Amanda Fountain’s disclosure: “I went with Jeff to the weekly on-site move meetings. The biggest thing I learned is that interior design is about 90 percent design and 10 percent decorating. There was so much to do before I got to see any of the exciting results (paint color, tiles, carpet, etc.). The best part of the new office is the relaxing environment. All the colors and open spaces are very relaxing; I enjoy being at the office!”

Other NCIDQ staffers had similar observations—from commenting on improved internal communication and collaboration, to expressing enthusiasm over the quiet acoustics in an open environment and the amount of natural daylight they enjoy in their low-paneled workstations.

“I had always thought that not having a private office and working in a cubicle was a bad thing, but now I’ve learned that this is not necessarily so. When the walls are low, there is enough sunlight, and co-workers can still feel they are part of a team instead of isolated from the group. I can see that it can be a perfectly fine way to work,” says Joshua Prentice, director of operations, NCIDQ.

To be considered for LEED certification, sustainability, water reduction and energy efficiency had to be primary components of the design program. Products were chosen carefully for characteristics such as recycled content, local manufacturing, low VOCs, FSC-certified wood, and formaldehyde-free adhesives. The greener aspects of the new space were not lost on the staff, and the LEED process has caused other behavior changes. “Being in a green space has made all of us more aware of sustainability issues,” reports Kathleen Butler, the Council’s deputy director. “We have always followed the D.C. recycling laws, but now it’s much more than that. The staff has made a commitment to becoming more green, through distributing e-newsletters rather than printed ones, specifying soy-based inks and FSC papers in our printed products, using china and flatware rather than paper or plastic, and being aware of our energy usage—especially through Energy Star appliances and motion sensors on the lights. All of our staff takes public transportation or walks to work.”

In addition to creating a green environment, the interior of the space is quite exciting. Unique aspects of the new office communicate interior design history. From the iconic Mackintosh wood chair, to the Victor Panton plastic and the Bertoia metal chairs, the technological advancements in design and construction are conveyed. Use of textiles ranging from hand-loomed, jute, wool and nylon fibers to the more current-day introductions of recycled and sustainable materials also communicate the evolution of design in a historical context. The new office handily supports the day-to-day work of the staff and is well designed for volunteer committees, team meetings and board meetings, which happen quite regularly throughout the year.

The design of the new office seems to have succeeded on multiple levels, with a happier, seemingly more productive staff, who has been educated by this firsthand experience of the interior design process—and through the delivery of an outstanding space that all Certificate holders can be proud of and that NCIDQ gets to call home!

Kimberly A. Marks is president-elect of NCIDQ, an NCIDQ Certificate holder and a practicing registered interior designer in Texas. For more information on NCIDQ or to read the “NCIDQ on the Move” blog, visit www.ncidq.org.

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