Becky Button (left) and Reid Brockmeier are co-managing directors of Gensler’s New Jersey office in Morristown. — Courtesy: Gensler
By Joshua Burd
Gensler’s arrival in New Jersey in 1993 came with a clear opportunity for a firm whose roots and expertise were in corporate interiors, in a state that had seen a wave of new office construction in the decade prior.
“We knew there was a market for this,” said Reid Brockmeier, who joined the global design firm in 2001 but is well versed in its history. “There are millions and millions of square feet of office, and we felt that we can do something to differentiate ourselves in the market, which Art Gensler set out to do to begin with when he (saw) that this is an underserved area of design.
“That’s also how we started in New Jersey. We felt it was really underserved in terms of how they were addressing the human experience, even at that time.”
Gensler spent the next decade or so establishing itself in the market while growing its practice to include tenant work and core and shell design for ground-up projects, Brockmeier said. Its expansion has been even more profound in recent years with its move into asset classes such as health care, life sciences, sports and film and studio production, among others. It’s how the global design firm, 30 years after entering New Jersey, now finds itself at the forefront of not only the fast-changing office market, with questions about aging inventory and how to bring employees back to the workplace, but several of the state’s key growth sectors.
“It’s always changing because we have to change with the market — and that’s constantly changing,” said Brockmeier, a managing director and principal with Gensler, who leads the Morristown office alongside Becky Button.
“I think we’ve pivoted more now in the last 10 years than we pivoted in the previous 20. And that’s a good thing. Clients are changing and the entire firm has this attitude, it’s extremely entrepreneurial, and we are constantly, for lack of a better way to put it, reinventing ourselves, because we have to. And it’s important — our clients are expecting us to do that.”
To be clear, Gensler’s industry-leading role in the office design is still on full display in New Jersey, where the firm has more than 100 employees. The team has guided a long list of high-profile commercial projects in the state, some of which are just steps from its office in downtown Morristown, including SJP Properties’ new two-building, 375,000-square-foot M Station complex that houses Deloitte LLP and will soon welcome Sanofi U.S., along with Valley Bank’s new headquarters nearby. It also led the revamp of the iconic 2.3 million-square-foot Gateway office complex in Newark, working on behalf of Onyx Equities, as well as suburban projects such as CSG Law’s new headquarters in Roseland.
All the while, the demand for so-called workplace strategy consulting has never been higher, Button said, as employers ponder everything from sustainability goals to recruitment and how to lure workers back to the office after the pandemic.
“We’re definitely still focused on workplace,” said Button, who joined the New Jersey office in 2022, succeeding longtime co-managing director Brenda Nyce-Taylor. “It’s a big part of what we do as Gensler … although now we’re known for a lot of other things as well. It’s not like that’s going away. Right now, the whole world is looking to see what happens in this sector.”
Ironically, Button and Brockmeier said, there is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to dictating how and when employees should be at the office. Clients are increasingly interested in hearing about what their peers and competitors are doing, but Gensler continues to urge them to develop their own distinctive approaches, while also thinking about employees that they’ll be hiring in years to come.
“It can’t just be about what a space looks like,” Button said. “Yes, design is important, but just creating a great-looking space isn’t enough. I think we try to make sure that people are thinking holistically about the employee’s experience (and) why they should want to come to the office, so they don’t think that just putting down new carpet is going solve it.”
That has also made it “exciting for designers to be able to reinvent what it might be,” Button said, all with the benefit of Gensler’s vast trove of research. The firm has much to offer clients in that regard, with more than 50 offices globally, providing data and survey findings from other markets that clients often lean on to help inform their decisions.
“People really are dying for information right now,” Brockmeier said, especially in the wake of the COVID crisis and the rise of hybrid work. He added: “They need data, they need information in order to justify doing things differently.”
Gensler’s breadth as a company has also helped the Morristown team pivot to other asset classes. Look no further than a current project in Morris Township, where the firm is working on behalf of Major League Soccer’s New York Red Bulls to design a new 80-acre training complex. It’s doing so in tandem with designers from Gensler’s Austin, Texas, office, which has an established sports practice, ensuring the team has the right expertise as well as local representation.
It’s followed a similar model for projects such as 1888 Studios — a planned $1 billion development with more than a dozen film and television production facilities along the Bayonne waterfront. For the media sector at large, which is a clear growth area in New Jersey, Gensler’s local office has drawn on the expertise of the firm’s Los Angeles team.
“We started introducing people to that product type,” Brockmeier said, later adding: “It’s also exciting for their own professional development because they’re working on another building type, but they’re being trained by experts in the firm that already have that. And that’s kind of how things have worked in general and how we grow offices — we grow offices because we actually grow our people first.”
In the meantime, it’s leaning into well-established practice areas in New Jersey, including the life sciences sector. Led by Emily Ulrick, a studio director and senior associate in the Morristown office, the firm has designed projects for the likes of Bristol-Myers Squibb, Bayer and Celularity, among others. It’s also working in traditional health care on behalf of major New Jersey players such as Hackensack Meridian Health and Atlantic Health Systems. For the former, Gensler has designed both the core and shell and the interiors for a new ground-up, 80,000-square-foot medical office building on Route 3, which will be one of the newest additions to Prism Capital Partners’ ON3 campus in Nutley and Clifton.
As Button notes, the design of such projects has changed as health care providers seek more of a “hospitality-inspired” environment and a better patient experience, especially with the growing trove of research focused on how the right environment can help the healing process.
“A while ago, it maybe wasn’t that exciting to work on a health care project,” she said, as designers were somewhat restricted by the standards at the time and the need for functionality.
“And now I think we’re bringing in a lot of thought from other practice areas as to how you make it a really wonderful experience to be in a health care situation,” she added. “It doesn’t have to be bleak.”
Brockmeier added that, across the firm’s practice areas, “we’re all used to them blending.”
“Even when we talk to clients about their project, we’re going have people from different practice areas on a project, (which) traditionally, maybe 20 years ago, you would’ve never done,” he said. “And that’s the expectation, especially now that after these two and a half or three years we’ve been through, it’s really about the human experience when you’re going into any of these types of projects.”
Equally important, Brockmeier said, is ensuring that local clients are not overwhelmed by Gensler’s size as a company. The firm notes that, despite having more than 6,000 employees globally and 100 locally, it typically has studios of 15 to 30 people that try to approach a project as a boutique firm would.
“They have all of the levels of experience necessary to do an entire project from start to finish,” he said. “And that’s really important because that also directly goes to people’s professional development … You might think it’s one big office and you come in and get lost. But (those studio teams are) the key to serving our clients, but also our people that are coming into the firm.”
That’s not to say that the Morristown team, like other local offices, doesn’t benefit from Gensler’s global reach. That breadth enables the firm to offer more growth opportunities and more sophisticated talent development programs, Brockmeier and Button said, from internal leadership roles to companywide networks and committees that are specific to a practice area.
“We want people to feel like they’re growing,” Button said. “So anybody in this office isn’t limited to what this office has. We have the whole of Gensler, where you could move up into a management committee role or something like that. That’s kind of wonderful, and it really helps our people, I think, to see that their career can spans far beyond just the single office they’re in currently.”