“UNDERNEATH ALL I DESIGN LIES THE SOLID BELIEF THAT BEAUTY IS A POSITIVE FORCE.” – BARBARA BARRY
When you walk into the Central Hub of Rock Ventures headquarters in downtown Detroit, you are hit with a sense of peace amid the hustle and bustle of the rest of office space. Throughout all parts of the office space you are met by beautiful pieces of artwork by Daniel Arsham, FAILE, Tyrrell Winston and many others. The workspace is brightly lit with natural light, making you feel comfortable while remaining energetic. There are plenty of central meeting areas and glass walled conference rooms in which to… say… start an online editorial focused on speaking about talented Midwest artists.
But the true beating heart of the space is The Central Hub. The Hub’s layout and design is Silicon Valley modern with a reverence akin to a modern art museum. The foyer, in fact, is centered by two white-walled, spiral staircases that give the space a look reminiscent of The Guggenheim. A curved wall of windows allows for a peaceful, panoramic view of Detroit and into Canada.
WHEN YOU ARE IN THE ROOM YOU ARE TRANSPORTED OUT OF A WORKSPACE AND INTO A SPACE MADE SPECIFICALLY FOR TRANQUIL REFLECTION.
A space like this may appear simple in its understated elegance, but it takes an aesthetic eye and educated understanding of the power that well-designed spaces wield over the individuals that occupy them. Today, I am meeting with Design Director Chrissy Fehan, and Director of Strategy Sarah Davis, of Pophouse, the design firm that gave Rock Ventures headquarters its crown jewel.
If you are in the world of interior design, or you are just a curious admirer of beautiful spaces, you are going to want to familiarize yourself with all things Pophouse. Outside of the RV Space, which was recently featured on the cover of Interior Design Magazine (granting Pophouse the honor of being the very first Detroit design firm ever to have their work grace the cover of the magazine), the team has designed spaces such as the headquarters for Brooklyn-based ad agency Translation, StockX’s sneaker store, and the art gallery/event space Playground Detroit.
“At the nitty-gritty core of all the work that we do, the most important thing is that we want to positively impact how people function with a space,” explains Chrissy at the beginning of our interview. Right away I can see that the team at Pophouse runs a buttoned-up operation. The two women refer to notes they have in front of them throughout our conversation, helping them to easily explain to me aspects of their work that would otherwise be lost on someone who may not be versed in the art of industrial or environmental design.
(See also: Me.)
“WE TRY TO BE FEARLESS IN EVERYTHING THAT WE DO. IT GIVES US THE OPPORTUNITY TO PLAY WITH IDEAS AND FAIL, AND TO REMAIN CURIOUS WHICH IS ANOTHER ONE OF THE CORE VALUES OF OUR COMPANY.”
This is a unique trait that is often not appreciated enough when it comes to commercial design. The fear of failure is why so many spaces that you walk into these days are filled with the same safe, boring aesthetics as everywhere else.
(See also: White subway tiles on the walls of every boutique restaurant bathroom.)
While fearlessness is always at their core, creating without fear comes with a great deal of research and planning for each one of the projects Pophouse takes on. This was most definitely the case when designing the two-story headquarters for Rock Ventures.
“The RV Project was so big in scope,” explains Sarah, “and we knew we were designing for an incredibly dynamic team. So this couldn’t be a traditional, cookie-cutter space. So we had to think broadly and understand as much as we could all of the elements that would need to go into a project like this before we began. Before beginning there were specific goals and objects, and specific design features that would inevitably shape the project.”
Being a design firm based in Detroit, the first and only city to receive the UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) City of Design designation, is a fantastic opportunity. Detroit has a rich history of innovative design, with design schools like Lawrence Technological University, The College for Creative Studies, and Cranbrook Academy of Art.
(See also: Where Charles and Ray Eames met after Charles was expelled from Washington University.)
The city is a virtual tabula rassa for innovative design with so many new companies seeking opportunity in the redevelopment that has been taking place over the last decade. Getting this space right was not only important for the team at Pophouse because they wanted to create a magnificent space for their client. The space would house the diverse team at Rock Ventures that work to invest capitol and deploy resources back into the people and businesses they serve in Detroit and Cleveland. The designers at Pophouse felt a sense of duty to honor their city by making this space all that it could be and play their role in having a positive impact on the city they love.
“Pophouse is a reflection of the city itself,” explains Sarah, “and the opportunity like the RV Project to celebrate our community and its history and its footprint in design and arts is so pivotal.”
“TO HAVE A PROJECT THAT IS NOT ONLY FEATURED IN INTERIOR DESIGN MAGAZINE BUT ALSO ON THE COVER IS A HUGE TESTAMENT TO THE POTENTIAL OF DETROIT.”
“We are just getting started and being part of this team of talented individuals that get to help build on this city’s potential is incredibly exciting. The RV Project showcases perfectly what we can and want to accomplish as a team moving forward.”
I can see Chrissy looking admiringly at her business partner while she listens to her answer.
“That was such a great response,” she tells Sarah, “I couldn’t agree more. I think Pophouse is here to help put Detroit on the map in its own way – but also to uplift and collaborate along the way with voices that might not always have the opportunity to be showcased or have a spotlight. That’s why we do so much work with nonprofits in the community. We’ve done work with veteran’s projects, right now we are working with Pensole Lewis College…”
(See also: The revived Detroit HBCU that is soon to become a household name.)
“… That way we can make sure that we are always helping to uplift others and not simply take from our community.” Chrissy fans away the tears that begin to well up in her eyes. “It makes me a little teary-eyed. We are not just us in the city and that’s how I feel like Detroit is in general. Everyone in this city wants to help lift each other up. I moved here in 2004 and it was a much different city back then, and it meant that a lot of good talent would leave because there really wasn’t a lot of good design in the city back then. I think that Rock Ventures believing in design and believing in us as a company and knowing what the space would mean for the community just means there will be more to come. The cover of Interior Design Magazine is just the first.”
It may have been true before that a lot of amazing talent was getting an education in Detroit and then leaving to seek opportunities that were not available to them some years ago, but that’s no longer the case. With Cranbrook Academy Of Art’s, “2022 Graduate Degree Exhibition” taking place from April 24th – May 15th, as well as Design Core’s upcoming “Month of Design”, design firms will have a direct line-of-sight to the work of the young, freshly-minted talent that is coming out of Detroit’s top design schools. Pophouse will have their team in attendance hoping to find the next Charles Eames or Frank Lloyd-Wright.
Chrissy explains to me, “Every year we host a summer fellow from Cranbrook (and other universities) and give them a platform to spend three months with our team in hopes of allowing students to remain local during the summer, but also to allow them to explore the city and see that there are opportunities here. They get to learn about our team and process and get introduced to the business side of things more fully. Our hope is that will stop local talent from leaving before they know what we, and Detroit in general, can offer them.”
(See also: More than you could possibly imagine.)