Some firms are experiencing “reverse metamorphosis” —turning from frog to tadpole. However, other firms are instead successfully managing the process of change toward new relevancy and new professional satisfaction.

Nestled among the downtown’s major skyscrapers, the Dallas Museum of Art is a national treasure. This limestone-block structure with garden courts, patios, and top-lit galleries provide spaces that serve us metaphorically on issues of cycles, changes, and growth. Here’s how:

Three entrances to the museum allow different areas to be independently opened or closed. A gently ramping “spine” hallway slopes down the site to connect the entrances. The museum shop, prominent to all traffic inside the museum, is accountable to both visual arts education and enterprise itself. There is a steady line at the checkout counters where, according to the manager, “architecture books are our top sellers.” A cascading staircase leads to galleries of ancient and ethnic art. At the top of one of the longer stairways one discovers the museum’s gourmet restaurant — a classic design that is especially appealing for social and business appointments and even has an award-winning wine list.

Arranged on three levels, the galleries each give coherence to the diverse collections, allowing “guests” to progress in either direction from the bottom up, or chronologically, from the top down. The Founders Boardroom has a fireplace on one side and an open terrace looking out toward the city on the other.

Significantly, the museum spaces appear relevant today and yet flexible for tomorrow. In fact, the museum seems to be in control —and yet free to change. It got me thinking about current changes in professional firms and organizations during these cyclical and sometimes turbulent days.
The survival of today’s design organizations relies heavily on nimble management that can respond to— and keep ahead of change. J.P. Morgan, the famous banker, testified before a committee of the U.S. Congress around the turn of the century where he was asked what the stock market would do next. Morgan paused for a moment, then answered solemnly; “It will fluctuate.” His reply is of course just as relevant to architects and designers today. The economy will change. Certain segments will be stronger and others will lose their vibrancy. But just like the Dallas Museum of Art, design firms that are in control are also free to change.

We’re hearing some stories of firms who are experiencing “reverse metamorphosis” —turning from frog to tadpole. However, other firms are instead successfully managing the process of change toward new relevancy and new professional satisfaction.

In Dallas, it was Edward Larrabee Barnes and John M.Y. Lee, Architects, with Pratt Box Henderson and Partners who designed the DMA’s spaces (in 1983 and 1993) to be flexible, agile, resilient, and anticipatory. Thus, this museum offers a visual reminder of structure, anticipation of future use, cycles, and of change management.

There are methods and processes used to manage change, but fundamentally and most importantly it takes a structure that is open, flexible and free. This structure allows natural movement toward renewal and creation of effective, relevant, strong, and nimble organizations. The Dallas Museum of Art reminds us that value lives where there is freedom to change.