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Placemaking. Opening Doors to Culture by Design.

I’ve spent most of my career building design capabilities and communities within organizations as a recruiter and team builder and when I think about corporate design architecture my mind immediately goes to a defined space with doors, walls, windows, desks, too many displays, and probably fairly empty on any given Tuesday afternoon. However, after a geek out session with our friends over at PDR Corp (a local architecture and design consultancy firm) - I started to understand placemaking quite differently.

“Building a new corporate office is often a huge undertaking and expense for our clients so we want to make sure we leverage every bit of that investment. Which is why PDR starts every project by asking WHY. WHY are you doing this project? What are your aspirations and your biggest obstacles? From there we can help them shape opportunities. We believe successful placemaking has a positive answer to all these questions, and our design process uncovers not only the user’s unique cultural and physical needs but also addresses bottom line business goals.

Another key factor in successful placemaking is technology, we know technology allows humans to work from anywhere, so the office needs to be meaningful and impactful or else it will become a dead waste. We inspire people to want to come to work so they can create great things together and thrive. Without creating a compelling reason to come to the office even the “coolest looking” office will sit empty. The future of work is changing rapidly so we help clients make sure that what is right for them to today will still be right for them tomorrow...”Shawna Hills, Regional Director at PDR, talked me through their unique design process and how they help clients begin this transformational journey by discovering their own “why”, not just starting with where, or even what.

I remember asking myself similar questions when we sought to launch Austin Design Week; what problem are we solving and who are we solving it for, how are we going to do it, and where. In our first year our theme was loosely tied to “if we build it they will come” with the hopes that someone would show up and they did! This was followed by #findingplace in our second year as we looked to carve out a space with our community, and finally this year, our third year, we seek to “open doors” by design.

Shawna explained that fine balance between “what an organization aspires to be and who they are in this very moment” and how PDR’s multi-disciplinary team is best suited to support clients in defining what they understand their culture to be and how that might play out in what I’d like to describe as “culture-making” perhaps instead of placemaking. It seems to start with drilling down to the cultural core of why an organization even exists and how that drives how the work gets done to help inform ethos forward.


ADW was never intended to make a place for design in Austin - there’s a design meet up every night of the week in a ton of different places, instead we saw a problem with the same people having similar conversations in familiar places. We really just aspired to see what might happen if these conversations could collide - what kind of impact could that have on the greater community beyond the design culture?

When I asked Shawna what a design firm could be doing to differentiate themselves when it comes to culture-making. “PDR stays ahead of the curve, we keep our eye on the future. This is our ethos and why we are so excited about ADW – we are not only designing for what is now, we are highly invested in preparing minds and hearts for what is to come. I’m proud to know that a firm like PDR Corp. has supported Austin Design Week since the beginning.

Consider what you or your organization aspires to be and how that stacks up to the aspirational state. Are you behind the curve or are you driving forward? Attend one of the 100+ events during Austin Design Week to get inspired and perhaps you will find a place to open doors by design!