If COVID-19 has led to any positive professional outcomes, one of them is surely the realization of how easy it is to work remotely. Many designers and architects, however, maintain the view that the physical office is not just beneficial but also essential for their practices. “Because we do many hospitality spaces, which are about people coming together and meeting in person, it’s difficult to convey that emotion and feeling over a computer,” AD100 designer Martin Brudnizki tells AD PRO. “All this technology doesn’t really help. I would rather invest the money in having great offices.”
Just over a decade after launching his London studio in 2000, Brudnizki opened a second office in New York, where his American business continues to boom. But just how necessary is it for firms to have multiple spaces, and how do you know when it’s time to expand? AD PRO spoke to three firms about their distinct approaches, and above all, why satellite offices should be truly additive and intentional.
Thomas A. Kligerman cofounded Ike Kligerman Barkley in New York City in 1989, and around 2002, the AD100 firm opened a West Coast office to serve clients in California, Aspen, Vancouver, Cabo San Lucas, and beyond. The architect tells AD PRO that bicoastal offices aren’t essential to procuring international work, but they do often tilt things in the company’s favor: “If people are working on the same project in different cities, you have a day that’s no longer eight or nine hours long but 12 or 13.”
Brudnizki warns that the biggest mistake when opening a satellite office is doing so before securing enough projects to make it financially viable. Moving too quickly, however, can also lead to a firm compromising its integrity. “Position yourself to open another office in pursuit of the work that’s actually your goal, rather than having to take things on just for revenue,” says James Carse, who cofounded architectural and urban design firm ALAO with Aya Maceda in Brooklyn in 2013. “You should open another space because it’s going to interject something into your office culture that’s going to make the work stronger and your life more joyful.” Since they officially opened a satellite location in New Orleans in 2019, Carse and Maceda have been able to explore their passion for socioeconomic activism on a larger scale.
Unlike their Brooklyn office—specially conceived with a storefront window so passersby can peer at the creative collaboration taking place inside—Carse and Maceda don’t feel their New Orleans home is final. “We’re still in the stage of prioritizing developing business relationships over investing in the physical office,” says Carse. Similar to their first New York studio, ALAO’s New Orleans space is a private office within a warehouse-like environment chock-full of artists and creatives. Kligerman’s firm, too, started small in California: Although the practice is now housed in a sleek Oakland space, the partners first rented four spare desks at another architecture firm’s office.
Pre-pandemic travel for Kligerman, Carse, Maceda, and Brudnizki entailed visiting their secondary offices at least monthly. As for team structure, however, approaches vary. While Brudnizki prefers both of his studios to function independently, there is virtually no geographic delineation between projects across ALAO’s and Ike Kligerman Barkley’s offices. To bridge the coastal gap, the latter employs video cameras and large TV sets so its full staff can participate in meetings. Team members are encouraged to spend time in both New York and Oakland, and the firm even hosts an annual retreat for additional relationship building (past retreats have been held in Charleston, South Carolina; Key West, Florida; and Watch Hill, Rhode Island). For further continuity, both offices use the same stationery, presentations are generally done in the same manner, and the same photographers shoot all projects. The offices themselves are also outfitted in a similar minimalist fashion to provide visiting clients with a sense of familiarity.
Although Kligerman states that maintaining multiple offices requires effort, he believes the payoff is absolutely worth it. “You have to balance keeping things inspiring, open, and challenging in both places, but you still want to make sure it’s the same office and design philosophy,” he says. “We learn from each other because we are far apart. It’s a nice counterpoint to business as usual.”