Remaining Relevant

The Future of our Profession is People, not Buildings

February 28, 2017

Written by: Doug Demers

Clients traditionally hire architects and designers to solve defined problems: a new building, an interior design, or a master plan. Yet today, in an age of accelerated change and disruptive innovation, the solutions are more complex. Organizations wrestle with tougher questions, and uncertain futures:

Do we need more space, or less? Where will we be in 10 years’ time? Will technology have changed the way we work, or even render our current product obsolete?

Business as Usual is Risky

When the only thing you know for sure about tomorrow is that it will be different, investing in bricks and mortar that will stand for the next 100 years sounds like an increasingly risky proposition. At B+H we realize that in times like these our clients need our help more than ever – and they need it long before a building is conceived. That’s why we created B+H Advance Strategy, an interdisciplinary team of strategists, architects and designers with specialist expertise in real estate, brand positioning, organizational design, change management, and business performance.

Better Conversations Equal Better Results

Our approach has fundamentally changed our conversations with our clients. Instead of jumping in to design a physical space to meet a perceived need, we focus on our clients’ business performance goals. Through research, analysis and scenario planning tied to our clients’ key performance indicators (KPIs),

we visualize solutions that optimize their asset portfolio, advance organizational culture and performance, and provide a road map for future adaptation and flexibility. We compile data on market conditions, technological innovation and user trends. As architects and designers we are trained to analyze and interpret large, complex data and communicate findings in understandable visual formats. This ability is enormously powerful in a time when the C Suite’s ability to extrapolate informed decisions from complex data may set the trajectory for a company’s success or failure.

People Solutions Outperform Building Solutions

The data set that makes the real difference is the human dimension. The best solutions are not about space, they’re about the user experience. We all experience spaces on a daily basis. When we take the time to stop, think, and observe, it becomes clear that there are tremendous opportunities to optimize the user experience.

Our process maps the way people move through spaces and studies how they use them. It applies this information as a catalyst for a different design process: one that pays attention to the way people interact, their states of mind, their needs and expectations. The process is inclusive, engaging and productive. We shadow employees, observe how different spaces are used, convene focus groups and workshops – and ask lots of questions. Informed by this data, we script the interaction between people and space to promote comfort, success and innovation.

When we overlay the human dimension on our collected market, technological and financial data, we complete the picture. We create a powerful planning tool for our clients that allows them to evaluate different development solutions based on financial performance, risk and probability of success.

Aligning Space with Culture Boosts Performance 

The proof is in the practice. Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, Washington, is a dynamic research organization dedicated to finding a cure for cancer within 10 years. The evolving nature of research, the changing demographics of researchers and the rise of computational science mean that Fred Hutch’s current real estate and physical facilities do not align with the culture they need to create to facilitate such world-changing discoveries. Through work sessions, focus groups, and observation we have identified key points of intervention to evolve their workplace and amenities to support a team science culture focused on delivering a cure. Observing that their existing spaces intended for collaboration largely went unused, we proposed a different model: a hospitality-inspired “third place” that feels like a cozy café. The response from the researchers and scientists to this option is very enthusiastic, underscoring the demand for more choice about how we collaborate and socialize in the workplace.

Development Solutions Weighted for Success

General Electric (GE) came to us with a difficult decision. Although GE is best known as an appliance and industrial manufacturer, the organization’s long-term business goal is to reposition itself as a software company. They needed to reimagine their Meadowvale Campus in Mississauga, Ontario, to facilitate

a new workplace strategy and decide whether to reposition or dispose of their existing asset. It wasn’t a design conversation, it was a business conversation. We examined their existing assets, identified ways to attract and retain the best talent, then developed scenarios and cost models. After a two-month process we presented GE with five different scenarios. We evaluated each one for its “Probability of Success,” factoring in least total cost over a 15-year period and scored against leadership business objectives. The result was an informed analysis that allowed the GE leadership to make confident, informed decisions about the future of the Meadowvale Campus.


End-User Focused Design is Cost-Saving Design

Our work with Microsoft’s Windows UX team offers proof that user-focused design is cost-saving design. This talented, highly creative team elected to move from one location to another without a fully capitalized budget– meaning the relocation costs came out of the business unit’s own pocket. In a visioning process with the leadership group we identified strategic key performance indicators that were “must-haves” and trimmed out the elements that were not as critical to this user-group. Our end-user-focused process set a new bar for quality of design and cost management, bringing the project in at 60 per cent of a typical capital budget and establishing a new baseline for future work.

The Disruptive Path to a Stable Future

The Advance Strategy approach to problem-solving is disruptive and represents the future of our profession. It shifts our attention to focus on the true goal for our clients – optimizing conditions for their success, economic and human, over time. We can help our clients understand the opportunities and challenges they face and map a path through uncertainty to a sustainable, prosperous future.