Creative Thinking in Complex Environments: Conversations in the Garden

Last Thursday, Page hosted its second annual Conversations in the Garden at the Umlauf Sculpture Garden and Museum in Central Austin. The evening’s theme of creative thinking in complex environments was the core concept of a panel discussion featuring three Page clients from the bioengineering, higher academic and technology industries. Clients and friends listened to the presentation and then continued the conversation at the individual tables over dinner.

Panelists Andreas Schultz, Regional President & CFO of Ottobock North America; Sue Cox, MD, Executive Vice Dean for Academics Chair of Medical Education at The University of Texas at Austin Dell Medical School and Jim Leach, Vice President Marketing at RagingWire Data Centers were asked to speak about successful models for innovation and change in their workplaces. Their comments specifically related to the architectural and engineering endeavors of building their new office, medical school and data center facility respectively.

The conversation led by Page Principal Wendy Dunnam Tita and Page Senior Associate Sara Ibarra challenged the panelists to think about the variety of players essential to progress. Three distinct roles identified were those of the visionaries, individuals who are often the source of new ideas; gatekeepers, people who often put ideas into action as the shepherds of the vision and innovators, individuals who successfully implement the vision by either removing roadblocks to its success or promoting new ideas and concepts that result in the implementation of the vision. 

The conversation that ensued was insightful and humorous. Schultz emphasized the cross-cultural discussion between his primarily German team and the Page architect and engineering team. He shared that through thoughtful change management and design, the team achieved a project that lets its company work in happy, collaborative ways the group never anticipated.

Cox explained that she personally had taken on each role of the visionary, gatekeeper and innovator as the Dell Medical School came to fruition. Dunnam Tita notes, “Sue Cox made us laugh with her corollary of our triad (visionary, gatekeeper, innovator) to victim, villain, hero roles. It was a comedic highlight and left the audience laughing in shared sympathy. We have all been there.” Cox however also emphasized the relief she felt when handing off the role of visionary to the architectural team. “They just got it,” she said. “All of our ideas about how the school would work were suddenly coming together in a building.”

Leach’s many insights, notably about how persistently engineers work, also left the room laughing. His larger message however was that of collaboration. He emphasized that he wasn’t entirely sure where a singular project idea or vision came from because they were all generated through collaboration.

For Page Principal John Major having Leach participate was a unique opportunity for the event as the RagingWire facility is a strong statement of form and function uncommon for a data center. “It was great to have Jim’s perspective on the role that aesthetics play in reinforcing his company’s vision against the frequently banal aesthetic of many data centers,” says Major.

Page Principal Carla Fraser agreed, noting that Jim Leach’s presentation opened up a whole new world for her. “Understanding more about data centers and the RagingWire facility in particular was fascinating,” said Fraser. “I appreciated that he emphasized how important architecture can be for a company’s identity.”

Inspired by the panelists and their stories, conversations at all of the tables led by Pagers continued the evening’s discussion.

“We are grateful to our clients for joining us in an evening of shared conversation over a topic that connects all of our work,” says Dunnam Tita. “As we innovate, we have to not only be open to new ideas, but the ways that we connect the dots between our current reality and future solutions.”

For Ibarra it was refreshing to hear stories about the projects from the clients’ perspectives. “We know all of our project stories so well, but to hear our clients talk about them through the framework we set up for the evening was thrilling and eye opening,” says Ibarra. Page Senior Principal Bob Burke’s highlight was the opportunity to catch up with clients and collaborators in an enjoyable social environment. Conversations in the Garden co-founder with Dunnam Tita and Ibarra, Karen Fasetta concurred. “The Umlauf is important for Austin’s identity and history, and we are pleased to have been able to bring our friends to this lush setting while also hoping to engage everyone in an interesting discussion,” says Fassetta.

For Page Senior Principal Larry Speck, whose relationship with Umlauf stretches back decades and includes the design of its key buildings, there is no other spot like it. “That porch at the Umlauf is such a perfect place for this kind of event,” says Speck. “It was just big enough for our larger than usual crowd but also felt really intimate. A cool breeze came through just as we started and made for a lovely evening in their beautiful garden.”

We look forward to next year’s event.