Philippe Paré, Gensler Design Director and Principal

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When we were recently asked if we’d like to meet up with the new man at the helm of the design direction for Gensler UK’s Work Sector, it must have taken tenths of a second before we responded with a resounding ‘Yes please’. Of course we wanted to meet him, to learn about his past, his hopes for the future, his take on the economy right now etc.

So we set about diligently scribbling down ‘intelligent’ and hard-hitting questions. Almost immediately, however, we discover that Philippe Paré, Gensler Design Director and Principal, is very much a man after our own hearts, keen to share, to learn and, to put it very simply, to sit and chat. His passion for his work is instantly apparent.

Philippe recently transferred from Gensler’s Los Angeles office to the London office, where he now leads the design direction for the firm’s workplace sector throughout Europe. ‘I think we’re now starting to get involved in the design process at a level we’ve never seen before,’ Philippe begins, showing that aforementioned passion. ‘We’ve recently started working with a fantastic company who are just establishing themselves here in the UK. They established themselves in Eastern Europe, but have global ambition. We’ve just started the process of designing their new headquarters in Bratislava. They don’t see themselves as a company that is looking to produce a building – they’re using this new headquarters as a laboratory of thought. Specifically, they want us to help them craft experiences.

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‘For us designers, that’s a little challenging. It’s definitely taking us out of our ivory tower, for one. Two, you really have to be willing to have an open mind – and sometimes I think we designers are a little reluctant to do that. On the heel of that, I think it is important that we really look at workplace design from the standpoint of the user. It’s not good enough to have a beautiful looking workplace – is it also a highly usable environment? I think if we start to be really honest with ourselves, we can often be very prescriptive with the types of workplace that we are building. Of course you want things to align perfectly and have everything coordinating – but is that truly reflective of what your client is looking for and is that an environment that will allow them to put their own touches on it and make it their own?

‘While a lot of the recent visual trends we have seen – such as industrial, imperfect, not pristine spaces – I think the next step, which is really fascinating, is going beyond what it looks like and how distressed it is. Can it in fact truly work for the user?

‘What we’re really starting to focus on is how these environments can help enhance wellbeing. I think sustainability was the first step in perhaps becoming more aware of how the working environment can have an impact on people’s health and now we’re looking much more at how this can impact all of our senses; how the body reacts to light, air quality, sounds and smells. I’m really, really excited to see where that will take us. Yes, it is about what it looks like, but it’s much more fundamental. We’ve done a lot of research on this. We’ve done some really interesting work with the Royal College of Art in terms of really understanding what this looks like. Imagine a working environment that not only has great places to work in, but also makes you healthier! That’s the ambition, right? Could you create something like that? It would certainly be pretty groundbreaking.’

So how is Philippe finding the grey-skies of London? ‘I think London is the design capital of the world. I’ll be honest, I’ve only been here for a couple of months, so my knowledge of the London market is evolving every day. I think there is a real opportunity here. I think London is miles ahead in terms of the co-working movement – and that has an impact on how occupiers and clients think about their workplaces. I think that is naturally spurring on an eagerness to embrace a more activity-based model.

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‘There’s a blurring of the line that is enriching both the corporate office properties themselves but also the way people work. The exciting thing – and also the real challenge is how you take something that works really well in, say, Shoreditch and then see if it has a life in Canary Wharf or the City.

‘It’s interesting to see how certain industries are changing. You now have financial companies who are becoming ω increasingly tech based and their need to hire and retain the best talent hinges on them offering environments that will speak to that talent. At the same time, they need to present a face that doesn’t scare investors – that’s an interesting balance.

‘We’ve recently been working with Hyundai Capital in Reigate. They are a financial services company whose services increasingly hinge upon their tech guys. They wanted us to create an environment for them that I call ‘sophisticated industrial’ – so you can dress it up or dress it down. It has to be serious enough and polished enough to not scare away their financial partners, but at the same time attract the right people to do the job for them. It was a really interesting job.’

Although the project was started while Philippe was still in LA it has now also become his first job since his move to London. As a Design Principal, Studio Director and Practice Area Leader, Philippe brings more than 17 years’ design expertise to each project and team he leads. During his 12 years with Gensler’s Los Angeles office he created a best-practice studio that embraces the art of craft as a driver of innovation.

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Philippe’s commitment to clients has led to multiple repeat projects. With an uncompromising attention to detail, he has proven that aspirational design offers exceptional mentoring opportunities, improves communities and benefits the companies and institutions he serves.

His idea-driven approach to design has earned Philippe numerous accolades (over 70!), including the AIA’s Institute Honor Award for Interior Architecture, and he most recently was recognized with Interior Design Magazine’s inaugural HIP award. An art enthusiast, Philippe serves as an Advisory Board member for the Art + Technology program at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Philippe earned a Bachelor of Architecture from the Université de Montréal, with additional architectural studies at Universidad de Guanajuato, Mexico, and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.

We ask Philippe, considering his not inconsiderable remit and territory, how he sees his own role and working life here in London. ‘I’m always looking for challenges,’ he smiles. ‘There is so much competition here and I thought, ‘I need to go over there and give it a try’. I think this is what pushes us forward – challenging ourselves. The talent here is just incredible. For me, this is all about great work. It’s about finding the environments that will allow us to do the best possible work.’

Philippe is clearly not taking a step back from the design ‘coal face’, continuing to work closely with Hyundai Capital (he’s already headed projects for the company in Germany, Seoul, Beijing and the United States, as well as Reigate) – and he will also be leading the team that will undertake Gensler’s own London headquarters relocation. Well, he did say he likes to challenge himself. ‘It’s really exciting,’ Philippe says of the move to Moretown – the revitalised campus at Thomas More Square. ‘Well have our own address again and direct access from Thomas More Square. It’s a multi-storey facility, which will have an incredible interconnecting atrium with stairs and overhanging meeting rooms, it’ll have a co-working space – like I said, it’s pretty exciting.’