User-Focused Resource Center Design

Jan. 1, 2009

Erdman's new headquarters features a materials and research library geared for the firm's ‘power users.'

By Kenn Busch 


In a sense, it was a project within a project for Amy Doyle. She had just been hired to create a centralized resource center in the impressive, soon-to-open headquarters for the Madison, WI-based architecture firm Erdman Company. At the same time she was asked for her input on the overall project, which has since been certified LEED Gold.

Doyle had more than a dozen years' experience as a resource director for another progressive architecture firm in Madison, and came armed with a degree in architecture from Kent State as well as experience running that
university's architectural library. Even so, she had her work cut out for her.

Erdman, a Cogdell Spencer company, is one of the top design-build firms in the country specializing in healthcare design, including medical office buildings, ambulatory surgery centers, hospitals, and clinics of all kinds. It offers complete turnkey services, from market research and strategic planning, to delivering the art on the walls.

With this range of services and specialties, the sheer volume of resources its architects, interior designers, engineers and construction staff need access to is nothing short of daunting. And as Doyle explains, it was anything but centralized as the company prepared for the big move.

"I would say we actually had to combine 20 libraries. Sometimes it was nothing more than a bookshelf in someone's office, or a departmental library in a corner. The largest was the interior design library, which encompassed about four different rooms. And, they were in two different buildings, each of which had been added to over the decades, so it was more like a bunch of small buildings joined at the hip, It had a lot of ‘character' to say the least."

One of the first priorities was what Doyle describes as "a huge purge" throughout the entire firm. Some details:

  • Total paper recycled by the entire company: 143,000 pounds (71.5 tons)
  • Eight carts (2,600 pounds) of product samples were donated to the community
  • More than 1,000 carpet samples were returned to the manufacturers
  • Fifty fabric sample books, 14 tile sample books, and three large copy boxes of tile samples were donated to the University of Wisconsin Interior Design library for use by students
  • Twenty-three material binders were returned to vendors along with porcelain tile samples which were also returned to manufacturers
  • In all, only 500 pounds of waste was landfilled and more than 164,800 pounds of other items were reused or recycled
  • Forty-two moving carts of materials were moved to the new resource center, including books, binders, periodicals, and samples

"Our priority for the new resource center was to make everything accessible for everyone in the company," explains Doyle. "I leaned on other resource directors I know [rdanet.org] for ‘do's and don'ts.' I also worked closely with our vendors and our internal Furniture Services Group, who were a really good sounding board for my ideas and they helped me find some sources. We did some different configurations with the interior designer who was working on the project, and ran it by a lot of what I would call the ‘super users'—design architects and interior designers—the people who would be in the library on a daily basis. They gave us good feedback, and we tweaked a number of things along the way.

"We knew we'd need some basic steel shelving, but I asked them to help me find a closed storage solution that would keep things neat and tidy, [and one] that was also easily accessible."

Erdman's source for Aurora Shelving, Filing Systems Specialists, connected Doyle with Rousseau Metal. Rousseau's systems are built mainly for industrial storage (primarily automotive and machining parts).

"We were their first installation in the corporate world. They were able to match a paint color from Aurora, and were able to give us drawers of varying heights in units that were a standard 42 inches high. Our materials samples come in so many different sizes, but we were able to work through our rep to get the right number of drawers at the right sizes to neatly house nearly all of them," notes Doyle.

Not all the samples were that simple to stow, however.

"For fabrics, we couldn't come up with a better solution than baskets on shelves," says Doyle. "It works fine for now, and we can easily tweak it if someone comes up with a better idea.

"We also had to standardize how we store and display our laminate samples. Our system is perhaps more uniform than some of the suppliers would like to see, but I didn't want to clutter up our wall space with all the different shapes and sizes of different vendors' wall boards ... drilling holes indiscriminately for something that will change every a couple of years. Our solution is what I call a ‘wing wall' from Metroplex. It has several hinged vertical panels you can flip through that hold all of our laminate samples, as well as samples of the picture frames and signage that are also part of our projects."

Doyle jokes that she could "make millions by advising vendors on how to sample companies like us.

"You can't live without samples in this industry. It would be wonderful if every vendor in a category would sample in the same format. Are they going to? No. They always want to try to do something to stand out from the others, and that's understandable. For them, it's marketing."

One challenge Doyle's internal clients face all too often, she says, is getting information on maintaining materials and surfaces; especially flooring. In a recent project a client was experiencing excessive scuffing and having a tough time getting their floor to look clean. After lots of legwork, and in spite of misinformation from the product's rep, Doyle and the design team, working with Erdman's warranty services department, found that the floor was shipped with a protective coating that needed to be stripped off after installation.

"We should have known that up front, but it wasn't in any of the marketing or technical data," says Doyle. "These situations create very unhappy clients, and headaches that could easily be avoided."

The Erdman resource center is home to more than just samples. Dozens of magazines adorn one wall, covering both the gamut of interior design and architecture, as well as other issues related to healthcare markets by specialty as well as region. Research librarian Molly Beverstein is in charge of hunting down information that's not readily at hand.

"Molly and I are part of the advance planning team," explains Doyle. "We meet with our internal clients [AP consultants, directors of business development, marketing staff] to help them determine what they actually need—[and to] help them understand markets in new locations and do studies to help them refine their goals.

"Part of our job is also to arm our people with all the information they need to approach a new client or a new project. One of our design architects was in here the other day and wanted to know more about inpatient psychiatric healthcare design. We had some information, but not a lot, so I connected him with Molly to find other sources to help us educate ourselves more on that market.

"Overall, I think we got the resource center about 98 percent right," concludes Doyle. "We didn't have time to specify a controlled lighting area, and there are materials like the fabric samples that I'm sure we'll eventually find a better way to store. But we've accomplished our main goal—creating a relaxed, useful and user-friendly library for our staff. It's also a great space for us to meet with clients and vendors."

Kenn Busch has been writing about and photographing furniture and interior design for publications in North America, Europe, Asia and China since 1990. Based in Madison, WI, he also runs the Web site www.materialintelligence.com—a resource for specifiers.

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Studio e is the company's multi-discipline studio comprised of the leadership team for design, architecture and engineering.  PHOTO: © Mariankrausphotography.com (larger image)
The Erdman Legacy Walk represents the company's history and direction. Every employee with 15 years of service is recognized with their thumbprint on a piece of colored glass, creating a colored mosaic pattern. PHOTO: © Mariankrausphotography.com (larger image)
Open staircases create flow and encourage casual interaction. The "Artichoke" chandeliers are from Louis Poulsen Lighting.  PHOTO: © Mariankrausphotography.com (larger image)
Fabric samples are stored in an indexed basket system, while laminate, frame and signage samples are displayed on a "wing wall" supplied by Metroplex. photo: kennbusch.com (larger image)
The Erdman building's interactive elevator lobbies were created with panels from Skyline Design Art Services. The cork floors contributed to the project's LEED Gold certification. PHOTO: kennbusch.com (larger image)
Rousseau Metal created custom closed storage cabinets with drawers of varying heights to house Erdman's wide variety of material samples. Rousseau even matched the paint color of the Aurora Shelving chosen for the resource center. PHOTO: kennbusch.com (larger image)

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A Cogdell Spencer Company
One Erdman Place
Madison, WI 53717-2171
(608) 410-8000

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