Analysis

Better together

The merger of Schmidt Hammer Lassen and Perkins+Will enables both firms to work together to create smarter buildings driven by human behaviour, Sanne Wall-Gremstrup and Phil Harrison tell Stu Robarts


When Perkins+Will (PW) bought Schmidt Hammer Lassen (SHL) in early 2018, the US behemoth knew it was getting the Danish firm’s expertise in human-centred design. For SHL, it was a chance to develop that expertise further.

“It’s always been core to us to take a hard look at human behaviour,” SHL’s managing director Sanne Wall-Gremstrup tells CLAD. “We are constantly looking for ways to improve our understanding of how people and spaces coexist, as it drives productivity, joy and health.”

Tracking and gathering that sort of data has become easier over time, but it’s something that Wall-Gremstrup says SHL has been able to accelerate further under PW’s ownership.

“We’re currently involved in projects where we’re making use of advanced sensors in our pursuit of learning more about how people use buildings. We used to simulate it, but now sensors empower us to explore things in real-time with real data.”

Among the metrics the sensors are being used to track are things like movement, acoustics, temperature and light. By applying custom algorithms to the data collected and combining it with subjective data from users gathered through surveys, questionnaires, and observations, SHL are able to develop their understanding of how people behave in, perform in and appreciate space. They are then able to modify spaces accordingly.

“As an example, in the common spaces of libraries, we can tell if people are concentrated or stressed,” says Wall-Gremstrup. “When stress arrives we can offset this through, say, reshuffling interiors and work processes. Then we validate the prototype, and if it works, we stick with it and capture the learning, and if it doesn’t, we’ll try something different. It allows us a life more in beta, always dynamically testing and pursuing perfection.”

 For PW, the acquisition was never simply a matter of asset gathering – in SHL they saw a firm with both a similar philosophy and, as CEO Phil Harrison explains, the ability to render complicated ideas into its space-making with “elegance and beauty”.

“A lot of this comes out of the Danish ethos – they’ve been at it a long time – the ideas of democratic architecture and democratic space, the philosophy that space is for citizenry and that buildings serve a larger purpose than just being for the owner or the person that happens to occupy them at a certain point in time.”

By way of example, Harrison cites SHL’s Dokk1 project in Aarhus, Denmark – a library and public square, the place you go to get your passport and driving licence, a pre-school and an arts and culture venue.

“It transforms the idea of what a library can be,” says Harrison.

Wall-Gremstrup also cites Dokk1 as a good example of SHL’s approach – specifically in exploring the impact of its architecture on the experience of its users.

For the Monroe Blocks masterplan project in Detroit, meanwhile, SHL have been using energy performance, daylight and people-flow simulations to understand potential massing and to inform elements such as the location of entrances and lift capacities.

And, for the Seaport World Trade Center in Boston, SHL have been using weather scenario simulations to assess site resiliency and how to adequately protect the building against extreme sea-level rises.

“We’re just scratching the surface on all the technology components entering into the design field, says Wall-Gremstrup. “It’s tremendously exciting and we’re going to learn much more about building materials, upcycling, recycling, intelligent lighting, energy consumption and how to deliver sustainability goals.

“We can use these insights to fuel our essential belief that quality architecture enhances people’s lives. Now, it’s smarter, faster and comes at a lower cost. It’s not that everything becomes scientific, it’s more that our creative decisions become better informed.”

The innate human-centredness of SHL’s design will be something PW can draw upon with the practices now working alongside each other in New York and San Francisco studios – and for Harrison, who has led the company since 2006, it’s a timely opportunity.

“Just in the last couple of years, I’ve seen a notable shift where most clients – or at least the clients we want to work with – are very focused on how buildings are used and experienced as the primary design driver,” says Harrison.

“The qualitative, experiential and environmental aspects of space have become that much more central to most client’s missions. It’s a fundamental shift.”

Although PW and SHL will continue to work separately on plenty of projects, they will also work together – with each taking the lead where appropriate – on certain projects, including an upcoming mixed-use development in Toronto and a mixed-use masterplan in Vancouver.

“Our inspiration is not to have a single style or a single methodology across the firm, or even a single voice, but a recognition that we’re much richer and that we have greater excellence in our work if we embrace a notion of diversity,” says Harrison.

“This goes for the people in our firm, our clients and the places in which we work. And we think having a Danish voice in a diverse organisation in which you share certain core principles that may be put into practice by different people makes for a richer design conversation.”

Schmidt Hammer Lassen

Completed buildings 

Skanderborg Town Hall, Denmark (2016)

Thor Heyerdahl College, 

Larvik, Norway (2009)

Vendsyssel Theater, 

Hjørring, Denmark (2017)

Malmö Live, Sweden (2015)

ARoS Museum, 

Aarhus, Denmark (2004)

Ongoing projects

Monroe Blocks, Detroit, US

Fisketorvet Copenhagen Mall, Denmark

Sports and Culture Campus Gellerup, Denmark

Dahlerups Tower – Carlsberg Byen, Copenhagen, Denmark

Seaport World Trade Center, Boston, US

Perkins+Will

Completed buildings

Albion Library, 

Toronto, Canada (2017)

Historic Emancipation Park, Houston, US (2017)

National Museum of African American History and Culture, Washington, US (2016)

Northwestern University Ryan Fieldhouse and Walter Athletics Center, Evanston, US (2018)

Shanghai Natural History Museum, China (2015)

Ongoing projects

Destination Crenshaw, 

Los Angeles, US

The Meadoway, Toronto, Canada

The Stage, London, UK

Suzhou Science and Technology Museum, China

Gallery
Click on an image to open the image gallery
featured supplier
Featured Supplier: CSI Design Expo Americas 2024 announces new Attractions & Entertainment Technology Zone
Cruise Ship Interiors (CSI) invites cruise lines, shipyards, design studios, outfitters, and suppliers to take part in CSI Design Expo Americas in Miami, Florida, the region’s only event dedicated to cruise ship interior design.
company profile
Company profile: Painting With Light
Painting with Light is a team of professional lighting and multimedia experts who design and produce visual experiences that dazzle & shine.
Try cladmag for free!
Sign up with CLAD to receive our regular ezine, instant news alerts, free digital subscriptions to CLADweek, CLADmag and CLADbook and to request a free sample of the next issue of CLADmag.
sign up
features
The hotel features an underwater restaurant and aquarium
Martin Jochman founded JADE+QA in 2013. He formerly worked for Atkins
"We didn’t want to put in any gimmicks. We wanted to create a building that’s inherently sustainable through passive sustainability"

When Martin Jochman set out to transform an old quarry into a luxury hotel, he faced some serious challenges

François Pinault
Tadao Ando architect
"The most important challenge is maintaining this old classical context"

Renovating the Bourse de Commerce for Francois Pinault's Paris art museum

The Vault Door leads to The Ned’s members’ club, housed in the former bank strongroom
Lund has worked as a designer for Soho House since 2014. She co-led the design of The Ned
"My favourite part of the building is the original bank vault, in the belly of the building. It once stored gold bullion deposits of £335m"

On the challenges of creating The Ned

Catalogue Gallery
Click on a catalogue to view it online
To advertise in our catalogue gallery: call +44(0)1462 431385
features
The museum’s below ground memorial space features light diffused by water and offers a place for contemplation
"The museum is about rethinking the connection between Africa and America"

Ahead of the launch of the National Museum of African American History & Culture, its designer tells us what the project means to him

Wellness kitchen
"I’ve used my own life as a living lab to study the hurdles from a busy career mom’s perspective"

Veronica Schreibeis Smith couldn’t find a kitchen which worked for her plant-based diet, so she invented the wellness kitchen

Barack Obama has described the OPC as a gift to Chicago
Van Valkenburgh studied landscape architecture and fine arts at Cornell University and the University of Illinois
"Building a park is the ultimate act of democracy"

The US landscape architect on why the Obamas are his kind of clients

Each of Moxy’s bars and restaurants have been designed to deliver a distinct experience
"Millennials are pushing us architects to design hotels with distinct personalities"

Sameness is out, authenticity is in when it comes to designing for millennials says Greg Keffer

The running tracks in the airport are colour coded: red for arrivals and blue for departures. White stenciled symbols direct passengers to the correct part of the building
Naoko Ito Chief creative officer, Party
"I thought it would be interesting to capture the positive feeling that occurs when running"

On why he built a running track into his Tokyo airport redesign

cladkit product news
Koto Design introduces wood-fired hot tub
Koto is known for crafting modular, energy-neutral cabins and homes
Katie Barnes
A striking wood-fired hot tub has been unveiled by Koto, an architecture and design studio which has a passion for ...
Eco Resort Network conference to convene in Mauritius this May
The event will be hosted in the Mauritius in 2024
Megan Whitby
Hospitality industry event Eco Resort Network is set to take place at the Ravenala Attitude Hotel, Turtle Bay, Mauritius, from ...
Codelocks develops new glass door smart lock
The new lock model allows facilities and building managers to create and manage access via an app or online portal
Megan Whitby
Codelocks has launched its first glass door smart lock to bring intelligent access control to modern spa, leisure, fitness and ...
cladkit product news
Siminetti unveils iridescent decorative panelling range inspired by plants
The Clematis design
Megan Whitby
The Botanicals is Siminetti’s newest Mother of Pearl decorative panelling collection, inspired by the distinctive patterns found in botany and ...
Jaffe Holden helps bring Academy Museum of Motion Pictures alive
Jaffe Holden provided architectural acoustics for the Academy Museum
Magali Robathan
Acoustical consulting firm Jaffe Holden provided architectural acoustics and audio/video design services for the recently opened Academy Museum of Motion ...
Eden project uses drones to spell out climate change warning
Magali Robathan
Almost 300 drones were used to signal an environmental message above the Eden Project’s biomes, during the UN Climate Change ...
cladkit product news
Mather & Co and ITV unite to create Coronation Street Experience
Mather & Co has transformed the visitor centre into the ultimate haven for ardent Coronation Street viewers
Magali Robathan
Experience designers, Mather & Co, have orchestrated a remarkable collaboration with ITV to unveil the new Coronation Street Experience, a ...
Alberto Apostoli designs tech-forward Wellness Therapy furniture collection for Varaschin
The furniture collection draws on absolute geometries, pure lines, neutral colours and strong references to nature
Megan Whitby
Furniture manufacturer Varaschin has unveiled the new Wellness Therapy range, designed by Italian spa and wellness architect and designer Alberto ...
Alberto Apostoli and Newform collaborate to launch the A.Zeta showerhead
The showerhead offers two modes; rainfall or waterfall
Megan Whitby
Italian architect Alberto Apostoli has renewed his partnership with Newform – an Italian wellness company – and designed A.Zeta. A.Zeta ...