August 28, 2012

10 Questions With… James Goettsch

James Goettsch, president, Goettsch Partners.

James Goettsch, president, Goettsch Partners.

With 90-plus staffers located throughout offices in Chicago, Shanghai, and Abu Dhabi, Goettsch Partners is a longstanding, formidable presence in global architecture, interior design, and planning. At the helm is president James Goettsch, FAIA, whose commitment to top-tier design and function has brought to life a diverse cross-section of projects—from Hilton and Wyndham hotels in Riyadh to Shanghai’s China Diamond Exchange Center and the Chicago headquarters of companies such as Blue Cross Blue Shield and Japanese pharmaceuticals giant Astellas. He is personally involved in sought after commissions the world over, including a recent competition for the tallest building in China. Always meeting new opportunities with visionary, exacting standards, Goettsch is a powerhouse in every sense of the word.

Interior Design: How do you keep consistency and cohesion throughout your company, with projects of all different types, throughout the world?

James Goettsch: Fortunately, communication is pretty easy these days. For us, everything cycles in and out of the Chicago office. Some firms work globally and have twenty-five offices… It’s hard to imagine they can maintain certain consistency. And that begs the question, “Is consistency important?”

ID: At Goettsch Partners, is consistency a benchmark?

JG: I’d say it is for us, in our approach and the ultimate quality of the work.

ID: How does your design in Chicago differ from those projects you take on farther afield?

JG: When we’re working outside of Chicago, it’s typical that we’re working on building types in which we have substantial expertise—vertical mixed-use towers, five-star hotels, high rise office buildings. But in Chicago, we have the good fortune to create one-of-a-kind projects. When it’s close to home, we can monitor and have direct contact with the clients, and it’s a little easier to be adventurous.

ID: Goettsch Partners recently designed the new home of Northwestern University’s Bienen School of Music. What does that project mean to you and the firm?

JG: We were all very pleased to have been selected to work with Northwestern, and personally I find it really rewarding. The college had big plans for the space, and it’s a big boost for our people working on it. They can talk to the clients, visit the space, and see it have meaning well into the future.

ID: You have offices in the United Arab Emirates and Shanghai as well as in Chicago. What do your decidedly Chicago roots offers these places?

JG: Through the years we have noticed an artificial exuberance, particularly in the Middle East, with regards to building… There seemed to be more money available than judgment at times. We try to provide a balanced approach, with a focus on function and how a space works. Being from Chicago, we’re very conscious of how a building is put together. It’s just a natural way that Chicago architects look at architecture. Not every building needs to be front-and-center.

ID: And would you agree that highly functional spaces tend to stand up aesthetically over time, as well?

JG: We all want to be relevant and up to date. There was post-Modernism in the eighties, Deconstructionism in the 90s… I’ve always felt—especially when doing a high-rise building—that you don’t want it to go out of style in ten years. This is easier said than done.

ID: What clients inspire you to create the most interesting work, or bring you the most satisfaction?

JG: It comes down to clients wanting to do something special. A lot of the time, we’ll be working on office buildings and its tenants are people we won’t necessarily meet. We haven’t done a lot of large civic buildings, but we were involved in the remaking of Soldier Field. That had a lot of depth and meaning for us.

ID: What were some of the earliest instances when you found yourself engaged by good design?

JG: Wherever I went while I was growing up, there were substantial, imposing public buildings, very often with large public spaces inside. Where I grew up, there was a large bank building… very dignified with a lot of marble. I have always been impacted by lobbies and other such strong public spaces… hotels like the Palmer House.

ID: What helped steer your vision early on, as an architect?

JG: I remember buying a book in my early years… Architecture As Space, by Bruno Zevi. That left a big impression on me.

ID: Are there any secrets you can share for professional fulfillment?

JG: Take advantage of opportunities as they come.

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