This year marked NeoCon‘s 51st year as the world’s leading platform and most important event of the year for the commercial design industry. Arrowstreet’s Sallyann Thomas Farnum, Kate Hespenheide, and Anna Vaivoda were in Chicago to take in the latest trends, learn from industry leaders, and find inspiration throughout the Merchandise Mart and across the Windy City.
For three days, more than 50,000 attendees explored nearly one million square feet of exhibition space spread across ten floors of the iconic Merchandise Mart. Exhibitors included both leading companies and emerging talent, and the range of game-changing products on display was a significant source of inspiration for current and future projects here at Arrowstreet.
Highlights of the team’s time at NeoCon 2019 included a thought-provoking panel on client-designer relationships, a tour of the recently completed McDonalds headquarters, and standout showroom tours from Bentley Mills, Dirtt, Steelcase, Teknion, and Herman Miller, among others.
As a part of NeoCon, Arrowstreet designer and Boston Architectural College student, Anna Vaivoda, was selected as a participant in the IIDA Student Design Charette. Organized by the International Interior Design Association (IIDA) and sponsored by Herman Miller, Benjamin Moore, and the Wallcoverings Association, the IIDA Student Design Charette teams up 4-5 school-nominated IIDA Student members from around the country in a live, onsite annual design competition during NeoCon. Students have less than six hours to determine a design solution, develop a presentation, and pitch their concept to a panel of esteemed judges. NeoCon attendees are encouraged to observe the students during the creative and presentation process.
This year’s design challenge involved activating a large, underutilized corridor in an academic building to create space for individualized work, collaboration, and transitory movement. Once the challenge was announced, the student teams were off – and the clock was ticking. Teams spent the next six hours concepting, sketching, refining, and hand-rendering to create one 30” x 40” board and a five-minute presentation to convey their design solution using only analog methods, tools they brought with them to the competition, and samples from NeoCon exhibitors and Merchandise Mart showrooms. The experience was a crash course in rapid ideation, decisiveness in design, and both creativity and collaboration. With less than a full workday to agree on a design direction and execute on the various deliverables, agility, ingenuity, and teamwork were critical.
When the clock struck 3:00 pm, it was pencils down and the teams presented their solutions to a jury of industry experts. Solutions ranged from the straightforward to the fantastic, and judges were offered an opportunity to probe for more information about topics including conceptual design, space planning, FF&E, acoustics, and accessibility. Judges then took the late afternoon to deliberate before reaching their decision.
Students gathered at McDonalds’ headquarters for a reception to celebrate their work and announce the winners of the charette. The solution from Anna Vaivoda’s Team 4, titled “The Atrium” and inspired by the sophisticated energy generated by Chicago’s unique contrast between urban green space and highly linear, gridded architecture, was awarded second place out of twelve teams.
Arrowstreet’s interiors team returned from NeoCon similarly energized and inspired by the sense of possibility found in uncovering new products, forging new connections, and exploration of Chicago’s vibrant design scene.