The Studios Secret
Among the most innovative of Giants, Studios Architecture knows how to think small, too
Laura Fisher Kaiser -- Interior Design, 11/1/2002 12:00:00 AM
In the early stages of building the headquarters of XM Satellite Radio in Washington, D.C., Studios Architecture had to ask Jack Wormington, a retired Air Force general then in charge of the company's satellite engineering, to sign off on a delivery of color and materials palettes. The general peered over his aviator glasses at the orange paint chips, waffled plastic sheeting, and raw steel samples—and scratched his crew cut. "Look," he said, "if you can just assure me that this is funky, it's approved."
Wormington might not know Stickley from Starck, but he knew that his boss, president and CEO Hugh Panero, like so many Studios clients, trusted the firm to give them what they didn't know they wanted or could get. This ability to divine clients' inner thoughts and translate them into polished, pragmatic design has earned the firm a raft of accolades and awards from the AIA and IIDA, among other organizations.
"One thing we're good at is intellectually partnering with our clients to understand their culture, personality, and priorities," says principal Thomas Yee, who works out of San Francisco. "When we have a programming session with a client, it's one thing to define size and location. It's another thing to take it to the next level, understanding the aspirations and vision of the company and how its environment can be a strategic element for culture and growth."
As adept at law offices and hotels as at public institutions and retail stores, Studios has a lengthy client roster: ACTV, Bertelsmann, Bloomberg, Burson-Marsteller, E*Trade, Microsoft, Miramax, MTV, Polo Ralph Lauren, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, Starwood Hotels & Resorts, Stella McCartney, and the Pentagon, for starters. Services in architecture, interior design, master planning, strategic consulting, and environmental graphics are provided by a professional staff of 170, including the eight principals. "We're big enough to go after huge projects without spending time feeding the machine," says managing principal Todd DeGarmo.
Defying easy categorization, Studios is a corporation but functions like a collection of boutiques. It's so decentralized, in fact, that saying whether headquarters is in Washington, San Francisco, New York, London, or Paris becomes impossible. "We have a ridiculous geographic spread for the size of our firm, but we like it that way," says I. Guyman Martin, a principal in Washington and New York. "We're nimble. We can choose the opportunities wherever they are."
If all this sounds a bit Silicon Valley, it is. Founded by five partners, Studios got its start in 1985 designing offices for Silicon Graphics, 3Com, and Apple. That intense collegiate culture rubbed off. "We've built our whole ideology around dealing with ambiguity and thriving on it," DeGarmo adds. And there's another benefit of those early days: The new-new-thing ethos of Silicon Valley has helped Studios mature quickly beyond interiors. "The high-tech communities move so fast that we get to practice over and over again. We're not just sitting on one project for six years. Many of them are designed and built in less than six months," says San Francisco founding principal Erik Sueberkrop. "Practice makes you better."