The Office as a Place of Wonder

by Lee Askew

Architects are all about space, especially the space they occupy.  Notable architects often have notable offices, places which excite the general public when they visit.  The offices of ANF Architects in Memphis are no exception and have become a center of community activity by being used for a wide variety of civic, social and business functions.  These events have not only helped our community in many ways, but have also had an impact on our firm.   

New Orleans is a great city and Tulane was my first introduction to how a school and a body of students/ professors can be part of the social fabric of the city.  This was most evident during Mardi Gras, art gallery openings and the Beaux Arts Ball.  After studying for a year at the Architectural Association in London and participating in London nightlife and events at the AA, I made my way to Sydney, Australia and joined the firm of McConnell, Smith and Johnson (MSJ) -- an excellent firm and a fun place to work.  MSJ had great offices and they sponsored all kinds of parties, lectures, field trips, competitions,... and more parties.  Looking back, I probably would have paid them to work there!  Everyone at MSJ worked hard - lots of deadlines and charettes - and they played hard.  I was amazed and delighted to work for MSJ and promised myself that my office, should I ever have one, would follow this model.   

After returning to Memphis,  I had an opportunity to put some of these ideas into practice when I started my firm in 1975.  With help from an emerging Memphis company named FedEx, we began to grow.  I purchased two older houses in Midtown that were unique because they faced parallel streets creating a large, shaded courtyard in the center that we used for social gatherings.  Because of the uniqueness of these two older houses, many of the boards and civic organizations that we belonged to would ask if they might use our conference room or courtyard for their events.  Not only were we centrally located but our office was unusual and this helped attach attendees to their meetings.  FedEx gave us lots of work and we expanded our offices in 1986 and 1993 with an eye toward a even greater connection to the community.  As part of each expansion we increased the size of our main foyer to be used as an art gallery, the number and size of our meeting rooms and our ‘outdoor rooms’ to make our office work well for community events.  Consequently, our office became a preferred place for fun events.  We had the location, parking, large gallery area, and meeting rooms needed to invite the public into our space.  And they came in great numbers.   

Here’s some of the events we do today:    

  • Art Shows R&B Parties/Taste of Caribe 

  • Meetings  

  •  Lectures  

  •  Social Gatherings & Events 

  •  Training   

In General:  Aside from being known as the architects who throw that great R&B party, our firm has also become known as a place where people come together and learn.  Because there is always something going on in our office, there is always life and some activity in our building.    

Publicity:  We have received a lot of publicity in the local papers and this publicity helps distinguish our firm from others – a good thing.   People constantly remark to us about how they appreciate the time and effort we put into community activities.  They don’t know exactly what these activities are, but know that we are doing some interesting things.  We have a reputation for being generous with our time and our place, which translates in the mind of our community to being good to work with and open to suggestions.  We think that our connection with the community has paid off in several ways, the least of which is new projects.  Because many organizations use our space for their meetings, our associates and projects managers are encouraged to join the organization of their choice and sit on their board it possible.  This has greatly increased the number of people who are familiar with our firm.   

Morale:  Most people want to work for an organization that offers a fun place to work and has a good image in the community.  The better the image, the more likely that people will feel good about where they work.  A sense of pride is high on the lists of things that retain personnel.  What better way to keep people happy with their lot than by creating and maintaining a strong pubic image for your firm?  Coupled with design excellence and creative recognition programs, a strong firm image goes a long way to retaining your key people.  At ANFA everyone takes pride in the fact that we are known as folks who care about the community and do things to make it stronger.    

In Summary:   By using your office as a place where the community can gather, party, learn and celebrate, every architect can become better known in their community and have a reputation for being concerned and committed to their community in which they live.   We are recognized in our community as people who care, our office morale is always high, several key employees have developed strong ties with our firm, and we have an extensive art collection at very little cost.  ANF and its people have become much more aware of the needs and activities of our community and how much work is left to be accomplished to make our city even greater.

Posted by Eli Cloud at 10:59 AM
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1500 Union Avenue
Memphis, TN 38104


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