Looking Up: A Series With Armstrong World Industries | Episode 1: Ceilings Offer Clean-Air Solutions for a Post-COVID World

Gensler Design Exchange Podcast
5 min readJan 28, 2021
Guests (L-R): Vic Grizzle, Janet Pogue McLaurin, Don Ghent

When you walk into a space, what’s the first thing that you do? Is it looking up…at the ceiling? At Armstrong World Industries, that’s precisely what they do. Ceilings play a crucial role in the holistic design of interior space, and for more than 150 years, Armstrong has offered innovative solutions that make a positive difference in the spaces where we live, work, learn, play — and heal.

Today, we’re kicking off a three-part series we’ll be hosting with Armstrong that digs into how our organizations are reimagining buildings, spaces, and products to enhance health and wellbeing in our return to the office and shared spaces. These solutions, excitingly, also enable sustainability and provide new points of inspiration and connection for our communities. Building upon a 25-year partnership, our shared mission of improving the human experience through design is being driven towards a critical — yet hopeful — time of transformation. Together, we’ll explore how we might transform the built environment to bring greater value to individuals, organizations, and society as a whole.

“This pandemic has really accelerated the idea of health and wellness, and it has accelerated the climate crisis as well as social injustice…I think all of these things together are transforming our cities and every aspect of live, work, and play.” — Janet Pogue McLaurin, Principal, Global Workplace Research Leader, Gensler

As architects and designers meticulously work to transform our workplaces, retail, restaurants, schools, and virtually all places where humans connect in a post-COVID world, each space element has taken on a new sense of purpose and intentionality. Ceilings are certainly no exception. In our first episode of this series with Armstrong, Janet Pogue McLaurin, a Principal and Global Workplace Research Leader who has been at Gensler for more than 38 years, moderates a conversation between Vic Grizzle, CEO of Armstrong World Industries, and Don Ghent, a Principal and Design Realization Leader at Gensler, about how ceilings are an important part of the holistic approach to design we must take as we reimagine shared spaces in the future.

The Tower at PNC Plaza, Pittsburgh, PA

Gensler recently completed a series of Global Workplace Surveys in the the U.S., the U.K., France, and Australia (Australia report is forthcoming). While results varied slightly by country, overall, we found that only a small percentage of workers want to work from home full-time; most want to return to the office full-time or a few days a week. And as people return to the office, they want to feel safe, healthy, and valued.

Post-pandemic, we have the opportunity to improve what didn’t work before and to create great experiences for people — places where people want to be, including transforming buildings and workspaces where people can be their best selves and do their best work with each other. Armstrong is at the forefront of this movement, using their own workplace as a living lab and leading model for collaboration across the industry, beta testing new health-focused solutions and emerging innovations in workplace design, and ultimately transforming their campus to elevate wellness and sustainability.

Latham & Watkins, London, U.K. | HGEsch Photography

COVID-19 has been a huge disruptor in every aspect of our lives. We have been forced us to reexamine our priorities about what’s important and what really matters. It is allowing us reimagine a new workplace where people come together, reinforce culture, and strengthen relationships. The new role of the workplace will be to come together to be with our teams, colleagues, and clients in person, while reserving days to work independently at home for intense heads-down work. The design of physical workspaces must change to support this new role with new space types that connect us with each other and support group work.

“If 52% of the people [want to be] in a hybrid [work] mode from here on out, or at least the foreseeable future, how do we plan spaces for that hybrid mode? How do we make sure people are comfortable and we’re thinking about the future…we need to actually make this part of our practice.” — Don Ghent, Principal, Design Realization Leader, Gensler

This new design must reinforce the culture, mission, and purpose of organizations in visceral ways, giving each employee an understanding of how their work contributes to the whole when they are present and how it includes them even when they are working from home. We must also create solutions that support the health and wellbeing of workers. We’re already seeing touchless technology, synergy of indoor and outdoor spaces, nudging of healthy behaviors, and a sense of psychological well-being incorporated into office design.

Confidential Government Client

The roofs over our heads are, ironically, often overlooked. But, in fact, ceiling products are a crucial component of the holistic design of a space. Though many of the temporary solutions we’re seeing to address the current pandemic — like plexiglass and mask mandates — may eventually phase out, one lesson learned from this experience that is here to stay is an emphasis on clean air for all. And innovative ceiling technologies can provide the proper ventilation and filtration solutions to address just that. So, as we plan our safe re-entry into the cities we inhabit, let’s not forget to… look up!

“Our mindset around healthy spaces and the spaces we go into and the definition of healthy, have changed forever…This has been a health crisis and it’s gotten to the most fundamental element of human beings and that is their survival: their innate need to survive and stay safe. When that’s been attacked, change happens the most.” — Vic Grizzle, CEO, Armstrong World Industries Inc.

Subscribe to Gensler Design Exchange on Soundcloud, Apple Podcasts, iHeart Radio, Spotify, Alexa AnyPod, Google Play, Stitcher, and Libsyn — or anywhere you listen to podcasts.

As always, thanks for tuning in!



Gensler Design Exchange Podcast

The Gensler Design Exchange creates a dialogue between design experts, creative trendsetters & thought leaders to discuss how we can shape the future of cities.