FitzGerald Prepares to Move; Begins Designing Next Studio

FitzGerald takes on the design of our own studio and reflects on firm growth and the future of workplace design

 After 21 years on Lake Street, FitzGerald is moving! Later this year we will move from our adapted loft studio in Fulton Market to a new space at 200 West Adams. The new FitzGerald studio, designed in-house, will become a multipurpose space for collaboration, client engagement, and firm culture that exemplifies how the workplace will be renewed for the post-pandemic era.  

Throughout this spring and summer, we will use the rare opportunity of being our own client to give you an inside look into the early stages of our design process, sharing in-process plans and the conversations around them. This will provide an intimate look at the current design approach for offices that so many business owners are currently considering and the experience of a firm with 103 years of history as it explores its identity and plots a course into the future. 

Today we’ll start at the beginning of the story: A Q&A with firm president Mike DeRouin on the thinking behind the move, what has changed since the firm moved to Lake Street in 2000, and laying some groundwork for the new office design.

Q: First of all, why move?  
Mike DeRouin: In addition to the market forces from an ever-growing Fulton Market office market, FitzGerald now has an established interior design practice with expertise in commercial work, and we wanted a space that more fully demonstrates our abilities and reflects the type of work we see ourselves doing in the future. In 2000 when we moved to the loft building on Lake Street, 50% of our work was adaptive reuse of existing structures. Our studio served as a great testing ground to practice what we preached to our clients interested in the same sort of development.  

Now, in 2021, we’re expanding strongly into the commercial market and every industry is looking closely at how workplaces will be renewed to serve the changing needs of companies and their workforces—ours is no exception. We can design this studio to support our own needs and those of our clients, test our ideas about workplace design, and demonstrate our capabilities to visitors and prospective clients.

Q: How did you narrow down where to look for our next office space? 
MD: We asked ourselves: “How do we help our employees spend less time commuting?” We knew that proximity to transit is critical for us. Our employees come from homes across the entire metro area, so being close to all forms of rail and bus transit with as few transfers as possible was very important for convenience and our commitment to sustainability.  

There’s been a lot of discussion internally about our personality as a West Loop / Fulton Market Firm, and how that can be perceived differently in our industry from a “downtown” firm. But we’re steadfast that our passion for exploration and merging of innovation and practicality to achieve our client’s vision will remain intact regardless of our locale. And besides, we’re still about 100 feet outside the Loop! We’re confident that our new studio will be a hub for our business operations, just like the Loop is a hub for Chicagoland, and Chicago is a hub for the nation.     

Q: How have the creative, spatial, and logistical needs of an architecture firm changed between 2000 and today?  
MD: Technology has changed completely. When we moved to Lake Street in 2000, CAD was growing in its dominance but hand-drafting still occurred. In those 21 years, we’ve experienced the complete digital transformation to BIM, and gradually became less and less dependent on paper—especially full-sized sheets for every internal and client discussion. Once our industry caught up to email, the fax machine was only collecting dust.

The Lake Street studio was designed around those large drawing sheets and foam core presentation boards. We have huge amounts of space dedicated to the storage of records and files, reference volumes, and material samples. Coordination meetings took place on the phone, or around a large table with a full-sized set of drawings on it. Where possible, digital collaboration has meant gathering together around the latest digital displays with colleagues, consultants, and clients. In both cases, those functions placed increased demands on our conference rooms and internal meeting rooms to support client needs.  

The yearlong work-from-home experiment we’ve all undergone will forever change the way we work. The reasons we need an office have changed, in some ways, as we understand individual work can happen in flexible ways. In-person collaboration will also continue to be an important tool for project teams and clients alike, and our studio will be full of spaces for discussion and creativity. The goal is seamless integration between participants from wherever they are—local or remote—through the latest integrated digital collaboration tools.    

Q: Speaking as “the client” and a leader of the firm, are there any other components of the Lake Street studio that you want to make sure the design team safely transplants into the new space? Other areas for evolution? 
MD: Most of all, an attitude that Design Matters. This new office gives us an opportunity to demonstrate our belief in the future of workplace design and, much like the Lake Street studio, the new space will be a sort of showroom for our design ideas. Our current space has served us very well —we will make sure this intent carries forward to the new space, with even greater flexibility for the ways we like to work and an eye for continued adaptation in the future. We will be doubling the collaboration space in the new office, and provide a variety of spaces that support the work that an employee or team needs to tackle on that day. Quiet spaces for focus, sonically-isolated spaces for a phone call, lively spaces for collaboration, and flexible, functional gathering spaces for clients, events, and entertainment.  

Our new studio must serve the needs not only of our own team but our clients and industry partners as well. Our staff coordinates projects all over the country—Boston, Cleveland, Dallas, Miami, Oakland, Phoenix, Seattle, and Washington DC to name a few—so our position downtown will be an easy link to both airports for outgoing staff and incoming clients/teammates, and serve as a comfortable touchdown place to reconnect with their team and do meaningful work.