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Elizabeth Bellsey Marketing and Business Development Coordinator BAM Architecture Studio

Elizabeth Bellsey
Leadership Lunch: New Metrics-New Mindset: A Conversation with Melissa Marsh Opening by confessing her childhood desire to be President of the United States, Melissa Marsh’s Leadership Lunch explored her industry and professional development leading to the recent founding of her firm, PLASTARC. A firm that focuses on people metrics in workplace design, Melissa has sought to improve office environments and workplace experiences through new metrics and methods for data collection and user feedback. .

[expand title=”Click here to read more about January’s Leadership Lunch…”] Her interest in design inspired research began when she joined the research team tasked with figuring out why the new London Millennium Bridge wobbled. After taking extensive measurements of the bridge and the habits of people walking along the bridge, the wobble was attributed to the natural composition of moving crowds. The combination of not completing a full step due to stopping for people in front of you and groups falling into step with one another resulted in an unsteady bridge. The design solution involved an energy-absorbing damper, while the human factors research remained a point of interest for Melissa’s professional growth. Projects like the Millennium Bridge led Melissa to realize that the measurement of spatial, physical and social aspects of architecture could be combined to improve overall design. Melissa explains that empathetic design, or imagining your self in the position of the user, is not enough to design a truly optimal space. Continuous collection of qualitative and quantitative data, coupled with a holistic, user experience perspective on workplace optimizes the performance and functionality for both the employee and the organization. Tracking these trends across companies and organizations can lead to a collective understanding and library of information to reference, similar to the proliferation of LEED and other certification systems for the built world. Echoing the concepts of James Surowiecki’s book The Wisdom of Crowds, looking at data, feedback and findings on a macro, ‘crowd’ level can help us to better understand the functionality and performance of space. Data in design also presents an opportunity for the professional practice to set expectations; collecting data at the beginning of the project drives long-term opportunities for post construction research. As an organization that partners with architecture firms to prove the efficacy of design work, PLASTARC promotes the benefits of immediate and continued data collection to strengthen firm marketing, collateral, and the value proposition. Melissa pointed out that a majority of other industries are competing on analytics, except for architects. She strongly encourages all architects to participate in measurement, collection, and analysis of data, both people data and machine data. By better leveraging existing data sources and actively collecting data, the architecture industry will be able to better understand the performance of existing spaces and design better future spaces. At PLASTARC, data collection and analysis involves highly experienced people with specialized skills to help gather data, such as a Workplace Anthropologist, Socio-Spatial Analyst, and Data Visualizer. As the founder and CEO of PLASTARC, Melissa highlighted that cultivating a staff of talented, diverse professionals with fresh perspectives contributes to a fun and enjoyable team culture, key to her firm’s success. She used this point to transition the discussion from industry leadership to firm leadership. Melissa attributes the success of her endeavors to maintaining an inclusive and broad network, from clients to academics. For example, Melissa’s audience included Shelly Bloch, head of Real Estate for Skadden and a thoughtful supporter of diving deeper and thinking differently to better workplace design. Also in attendance, Peggy Deamer a leading academic at the Yale School of Architecture, an advocate for the discipline and a leader in seeing architecture and experience (psychological, environmental, and theoretical) as one. Sara Francini, SMPS Leadership Committee Member, joined in this part of the discussion to lead an informative question-and-answer session with Melissa. In a question about Work/Life Balance, Melissa explained that she viewed it more as Work/Life Integration. Illustrating this with a picture of a baby in her lap while she sat at her computer, Melissa’s leadership style eminates from using technology to be constantly connected, loving the people she works with, and a husband who makes everything else run exceeding well. Her leadership advice involves three key ideas – understand and hone your own capabilities, lead by example, and leverage your network with confidence. Melissa Marsh is Founder and CEO of PLASTARC, a social research, workplace innovation, and real estate strategy firm dedicated to shifting the metrics associated with workplace from “square feet and inches” to “occupant satisfaction and performance.” Since 2012, Melissa has led the curation of a unique lecture series, sponsored by the Professional Practice Committee of the AIA Center for Architecture. The Transforming Architectural Practice Series draws on the expertise of creative professionals across industries to bring innovative approaches and insights to business management in AEC, real estate and design. Sara Francini, Director of Business Development at Studios Architecture, works closely with firm leadership to identify potential opportunities for new business and to drive and implement firm wide strategy. An AIA Associate Member and a member of the SMPS Leadership Committee, Sara engages with the A/E/C community through CoreNet, SMPS, and the NY Building Congress organizations. [/expand]