Finding relevance in century-old principles

February 26, 2010
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Celebrating its 100th-year anniversary, the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Meyer May house has a lot of great history to reflect upon. But instead, Steelcase Inc., which owns the property, decided to look forward.

“I think we took a different approach to the anniversary opportunity. Typically, an organization might look at a 100-year anniversary for anything and say, ‘We’re going to celebrate everything that’s happened up until this moment,” said Georgia Everse, partner at Genesis, a business consultancy firm located in Colorado. Everse represents its Grand Rapids presence.

“The exciting aspect of this project was to not really look at it in terms of the past but in terms of the relevance to the future — in particular, to the company’s strategy today,” she said, noting that Steelcase’s meticulous renovation of the Meyer May house demonstrates the company’s commitment to design.

The anniversary celebration is focused on creating a conversation about Wright’s principles of design and their relevance today.

“I knew that had been a symbol of (Steelcase’s) commitment to design. I’m also aware that there is still a hunger for anything having to do with Frank Lloyd Wright. Those two things together popped out to me as an opportunity to say, ‘This really needs to be a conversation about what’s next,’” said Everse.

“We began our planning with the approach of future focus. We said we were going to take this opportunity of celebrating this 100-year anniversary and make it less about the past and much more about the future and a relevant topic for Steelcase, which is architecture and design in the 21st century.”

To spur the conversation, the celebration includes a touring symposium and, on the Meyer May Web site, information about Wright’s principles, a video of the house, information about the symposium, and a comment board for the general public to add their voice.

“We found that the best sources of inspiration really came from reading (Wright’s) own words or listening to interviews with him. We found these principles that had been published in his autobiography, and we realized we should look at those principles as the foundation … of this dialogue, and to be a bit critical and say, ‘Here we are, 100 years after this house was built. How far have we come? Was Wright correct? Are his views still valid? Have we taken them much further?”

The process in creating the conversation involved heavy research and a novel approach.

“We try to never take a typical approach. The first thing is, are we solving the right problem and is there a unique way to look at this?

“We want our clients to be able to leverage everything we do and take it back to their core strategy. You can do that with anything. You have to dig a little deeper and work a little harder, but if you do that, you can find connections back to the strategy, back to being relevant, and back to what matters to people today.”

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