Meena Krenek uses design to tell stories and craft culture: Focus on Leadership - Oct 2017
Interview by Kemp Harr
Less than two decades into her career, Meena Krenek already has a lot under her belt. She currently serves as design director for Gensler’s Atlanta office. Prior to that, she was interior design director for Perkins+Will’s New York City location. With her hands-on approach, Meena believes that design has the capability not just to complement but also to transform company culture, and she loves clients who are willing to push the boundaries of experiential and experimental design.
Q: How did you decide that architecture and interior design was the right career focus for you?
A: I always knew. I played with Legos as a child and was fascinated with houses, buildings and books with great graphics. Also, I loved to draw. I had a wild imagination as a child, and I don’t think that has changed.
Q: What mentors helped shepherd your career?
A: Mentorship is the true foundation of our industry. I’ve been very fortunate to have had and to continue to have incredible coaches and colleagues in my career. I had a professor in college, Tracy Moir-McClean, who taught me how words can be expressed through architecture and space. In her class, we studied poetry and learned to interpret prose and translate the meaning into architectural sketches and collages. In my experience, our design concepts start with a vocabulary derived from the clients’ drivers and specific needs; then we turn the verbal language into a visual one, creating truly meaningful environments. Tracy provided me a unique perspective in design thinking that is fully integrated into my process, as well as a level of confidence that allowed me to evolve as a designer.
Q: What are your thoughts about the open office environment? Does it always enhance productivity? Where does it go from here?
A: Open office design does not work for every office. It is important to truly understand the organization as well as how to create a workplace that supports its business goals and culture, providing spaces that enable employees to do their best work every day. The idea is to provide the correct balance of open and closed spaces that accommodate different tasks, work styles and personalities. The future of the workplace is a big question for everyone. We are continuously seeking and exploring ways to integrate flexibility and multi-use into the design to support future proofing.
Q: How do you get your clients comfortable with trusting and investing in your designs?
A: I build mutual trust with my clients so that together we can explore new design possibilities that positively transform all aspects of their businesses. I’m always looking to partner with clients who want to be expressive and bold-pushing design to places that were previously unthinkable. It’s a partnership with a capital P. It’s finding an emotional connection with clients and connecting with them in ways that build an alignment with their mission and aspirations.
Q: Do you try to integrate biomimicry and outdoor spaces into your designs? Does tying in with nature and fresh air make for a better work environment?
A: Yes. First and foremost, natural light is essential to workplace design, and creating spaces that allow all users to experience natural light is essential. Of course, outdoor spaces are a wonderful amenity for the workplace. When this is not feasible, providing views to the exterior and a connection to natural light is a must. As a designer, it’s important to educate clients about aspects of wellness in the workplace. All our clients are now seeking height-adjustable workstations, areas to encourage stand-up meetings, group treadmills in the meeting spaces, wellness rooms, active design and healthy food choices.
Q: Which project has given you the most satisfaction, and why?
A: I really love each project for a different reason. My most satisfying projects are those within which a client wants to do something big-opting to disregard normalcy and embrace risk-taking.
Q: How important is the flooring decision to the overall function of any given space?
A: As a designer, the flooring is a part of the immersive experience of creating impactful spaces. The flooring, wall treatment and ceiling all must come together as a holistic experience.
Flooring is where most non-designer’s eyes go while experiencing an environment. When I’m selecting flooring, I think about how to use the flooring to define the diverse parts of the space, and it becomes the foundation for wayfinding.
Q: What is your go-to resource for questions about flooring?
A: We are lucky to have a strong A&D community in our industry. Our reps are an incredible resource, sharing case studies and new product information. The flooring solution is typically a response to our design concept and supportive of the type of spaces we are creating.
Q: Why are we seeing more polished concrete in the workplace? Aren’t there acoustic and comfort barriers that must be overcome to make this “cool” look really work?
A: Sure, exposed concrete floors and exposed slab in the ceiling are very authentic ways of expressing the rawness of a space. But we must balance the space with flooring that absorbs sound, like carpet tiles, or add acoustic clouds in the ceiling to damper sound in the space.
Expressing the right look and feel is a science and an exercise in balance. But “cool” comes in many forms, and the key is finding the right “cool” for each client.
Q: What do you do to sharpen your way-to become better informed-so that you can offer the client the best solution available?
A: I have always been with firms that are thought leaders in the industry. Research and ideation are the keys to innovation. Every day at Gensler, we are solving ideas for the future and exploring new topics in design. It never stops. With this mindset, great design solutions are born.
Q: You worked first in Atlanta, then in New York, and now you’re back in Atlanta. How are these cities different from both a client and design perspective?
A: This is a great question. Atlanta and New York are very different in size, culture and lifestyle. I believe every designer needs to spend time working in New York City. There is nowhere in the world like Manhattan. But when it comes down to clients and design perspectives, by working for global firms I have been fortunate to work across the nation and world with some of the most sophisticated clients and minds.
I believe that to be a successful designer in our society today, you must serve the world and express design through your unique lens. You can’t have simply a regional point of view. Regardless of what city you’re in, finding clients that believe design is a business tool and value the creativity that design yields is crucial to being a world-class designer.
Q: What advice do you have for recent graduates who want to follow in your footsteps?
A: Find your personal brand and embrace your passions. You will attract clients that align with your values this way. Never stop listening. Being able to emotionally connect with clients and co-workers is a beautiful thing. Listen between the words-there is so much to gain. Never let someone tell you something can’t be done or built. Question everything and explore possibilities. Be bold.
Q: How have your roots in the South helped you be successful?
A: I adore the South and have enjoyed both being a part of Atlanta’s growth and watching it mature. And I appreciate all the businesses that have made Atlanta their home. The individuals and clients I have met in the South have helped me in my career. It’s all about the people that have trusted me to transform their workplace and the colleagues that have worked beside me to produce award-winning projects.
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