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Making Work Spaces Make Money

AIA/CT honors Connecticut architecture that solves specific business problems

Business New Haven

April 17, 2006

An unusual space approach for an old-line Hartford law firm and an eye-popping reuse of a 19th-century South Norwalk lock factory were winner of the first Business Architecture Awards program of the Connecticut chapter of the American Institute of Architects' Design Committee.

According to AIA/CT Program Director Joanne T. Rees, the program, conducted in association with Business New Haven and the Fairfield County Business Journal, is likely to become an annual competition.

new award honors architects for solving business problems for Connecticut clients, demonstrating the power of architecture to shape business performance, to improve peoples' lives and provide a value-added service to clients in a business setting that significantly exceeds the costs of that service.

Program jurors were Joseph J. McGee, vice president for public policy and programs for the Business Council of Fairfield County, Michael C. Bingham, editor of Business New Haven, and Domenic Carbone, AIA, principal of the Hart Companies, AIA of Cumberland, R.I.

Award criteria included evidence that the design contributed to business success, design quality, and client support for the submission.

Two awards were conferred based on the number of employees working in the space designed: projects designed for companies employing more or less than 50 workers. The winning project in the over-50-employees category was the law firm of Shipman Goodwin, LLP at One Constitution Plaza in Hartford, designed by Amenta Emma Architects, PC, also of Hartford. Partner in charge of the project was Tony Amenta, AIA.

Shipman Goodwin project partner John Kreitler noted that the project had three design objectives that reflected the firm's business strategy and core values of success and excellence: business development - i.e., making the public spaces inviting and accommodating for meetings both with clients and also non-profit groups from the community; recruitment and training of new lawyers with first-rate training facilities and technology capabilities; and the creation of a collaborative and collegial atmosphere.

Kreitler credited Amenta Emma with design of S&G's reception area, the grand stair and penthouse conference area that made these so attractive to clients and other visitors that the firm now hosts two or three community events a month.

Kreitler added that the office design as a whole reflects a colorful, modern and progressive feeling to appeal to law-school graduates; the new training facilities represent a major step forward for the firm, allowing for practice judging and improving court and appellate work.

In addition, the "collaborative and collegial" objective was addressed by the conference center with an open reception hall and bar area, and the café and its adjoining rooftop patio, making use of prime space for the benefit of the staff.

Jurors commented that:

"This project 'gets it.' It is highly effective at maximizing the potential of the work environment in support of client growth, employee training and retention as well as the socialization with just the right balance of design. The materials are appropriate to portray a long-successful law practice. The forward-looking design, clean and contemporary, suggests that this venerable law firm is not mired in the past. The design fulfills the award program goal of advancing a particular business or business plan."

In addition, commented a juror, "The project reinforces the dramatic 'employee-focused' cultural change the client sought and took the quirks of a Class B building and turned them into advantages for the client."

In the under-50-employee category, the winning project was the money-management firm Greenfield Partners, LLC in South Norwalk, by Beinfield Architecture, PC, also of South Norwalk. Partner-in-charge was Bruce Beinfield, AIA, while Havilande Whitcomb was the interior finishes consultant.

This project was conceived to reflect the Greenfield's philosophy of creative investing in undervalued property, while yielding strong returns. For that reason the firm chose to renovate a space in a former industrial building.

The hulking 140,000-square-foot brick structure had loomed half-vacant and deteriorating over the corner of Marshall and North Water streets in SoNo. It was built in 1856 as the Norwalk Lock Co. and mostly vacated in the 1950s.

Long before the loft style of living and working space became a trend in SoNo, the Beinfield architects saw the potential of creating dynamic spaces in old environs, reflecting the values of their client, which manages money on behalf of a diverse client base, from Ivy League colleges to individual investors, with differing tastes.

Greenfield President and CEO Eugene A. Gorab said the project's success "helped me prove to our investors that great design adds value but need not cost more." He added that the project served as tangible evidence of the firm's ability to execute special redevelopment projects and create value for investor.

Beinfield's execution of the project struck a balance that reflected not only the client's own taste but was also "inoffensive to what might be otherwise characterized as a conservative investor audience, many of whom often visit the Greenfield Partners offices," Gorab added.

Jurors remarked that:

"[This is] extraordinary place making. Highly considered organization is used to express a real-estate investing operation. The project manages to invite and engage a wide variety of investors who are looking to invest money with the partnership in other real-estate ventures, as well as to provide a stimulating work environment. It sends a message about how the firm looks to invest."

Added another juror, "It makes a marriage of the 19th and 21st centuries work splendidly."

This article is reprinted with permission from Business New Haven © 2006 by Second Wind Media, Ltd.

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