Are Architects Necessary?

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Of course they are. What follows is an example of a design created by the end client with minimal involvement of architects. To clarify: the firm had to follow regulations for renovating their space, which includes getting stamped approval on architectural drawings from a licensed architect. –WDM

Zeeto Media, a San Diego-based tech company, waited for its call center to move out before modernizing its pad. The specialist in customized advertising programs first occupied its 12,000 square foot downtown headquarters at 925 B Street in October 2011, uniting its call center and developers, media buyers, and business intelligence employees under one roof. Less than two years later, in March 2013, the call center took up residence a couple blocks away.

That’s when Zeeto’s creative juices really got flowing. The renovation was minimal and required no fire, life safety, structural, or egress changes. Three Zeeto Media employees stepped up to the plate with some design ideas.

“We completely changed the space,” said CEO Stephan Goss.

The goal was to mimic office layouts found in San Francisco’s popular SoMa area, which is saturated with forward-thinking startups.

Zeeto said farewell to a drab and conventional workspace environment. They removed the old cubicles and installed sleek glass doors. They tore out the carpet, opted to grind the floor, and then treated and smoothed it over to create a glossy concrete surface.

The team installed brick on a wall across the side of the office, with a giant IdeaPaint blackboard in the middle. Over the columns they added wood paneling and six hanging 52” flat screen TVs.

One team member got crafty and torched and sealed Ikea kitchen countertops to create desktops with attached metal legs. They furnished the space with contemporary couches and futuristic white chairs, and employees can choose what music to play from the newly installed ceiling speakers.

As a finishing touch, the team painted the walls with the same shade of orange used for the Zeeto logo. It’s only been a few months since the renovation, but Goss has already seen big changes in how employees work.

“As far as the changes go, we have definitely seen a difference in how different departments communicate,” he said. “People are close together – we can quite literally swing our chairs around and be at somebody else’s desk.”

That ease of access to one another has created a sense of instant collaboration, and as a result it has increased office productivity. If a conference room is occupied, no sweat.

“When the developers need to have a quick strategic meeting, everyone is together and can move directly to the couches,” he said.

The company didn’t hire an architect, he said, because the work was minimal and it already had extremely creative people at its disposal. Goss was joined by lead developer Jordan Stout and senior designer Magdalena Cebula.

“They envisioned a more industrial look based on a lot of other offices they had seen,” he explained. “We told our contractor what we wanted and he brought it to life.”

Their contractor, JLTS Maintenance’s Jose Tavarez, summed up the unique client-contractor relationship that resulted in a customized space by saying that “they knew exactly what they wanted and I knew how to build it – simple as that.”

The road to creating Zeeto’s new home wasn’t always so simple. The company, whose wildly popular flagship property is a daily deal site (, started out with just three employees three years ago. By September 2011 it had grown to 20 and needed to find more space.

Said Goss, “It was surprisingly hard – there’s not a lot of technology space. We wanted to be very open and we searched forever.”

The team kept its startup culture in mind when designing the space, which has the capacity to fit up to 80 employees.

“We are not your usual San Diego company,” he said. “Everyone brings a dog to the office.”

A chef cooks meals in her apartment and transports them to the office, which means employees don’t need to head out for lunch. They don’t have to leave to play games, either – an Olympic-sized ping pong table keeps hands busy during breaks.

Taking a page from the buzzed-about microbrewery movement in San Diego, Zeeto brews its own beer on a spacious patio that doubles as a balcony overlooking the downtown skyline.

Zeeto’s evident “work hard, play hard” motto was on full display at the remodeled office’s grand opening party on a Thursday morning in July, with Bloody Mary’s and mimosas being poured for local politicians and city leaders who were present.

“We usually don’t start this early,” quipped Goss

Note from the Publisher

This was a relatively small remodeling project. It is important to understand that Registered Architects are trained in understanding building codes, fire and life safety, structural limitations, emergency egress, and materials. They are required to stamp and certify drawings where changes to are made to existing conditions that impact those concerns. In order to ensure the safety of those who use the space, please check with your local building code officials before undertaking any renovation or changes to your workplace.

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  1. An architect isn’t just necessary for the creative stuff. What about the necessary permitting drawings? Making necessary trade-offs between technical and cost considerations? Keeping the contractor in line? In this project, the client doesn’t know what they didn’t get because they didn’t have anyone watching the henhouse.

  2. Excellent points. Architects are involved in these types of projects every day and bring tremendous value to those that use the space. While the client in this case may be creative, their skills are limited. Unless they understand all of the architectural, technical, building and related issues something was probably left off the table.

  3. Designing an office space is a lot more complicated than designing a room in your house. There is a significant difference between a creative individual and a creative individual that is trained and experienced at creating spaces. Based on the pictures provided the space looks organizationally dilapidated and unresolved. I agreed with the previous comment too many issues were left off the table– ¦btw, the \”“futuristic–  white chair appears to be a lounge chair designed by Ray and Charles Eames in the 1950s– ¦


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