Designing Innovation

By Laura Fletcher


he Ed Kaplan Family Institute for Innovation and Tech Entrepreneurship is the crown jewel of Illinois Institute of Technology’s recently completed Fueling Innovation: The Campaign for IIT. Before the Kaplan Institute opened in October 2018, furniture company Steelcase, Inc. and Chairman of the Board Robert C. Pew provided the finishing touch—a donation of $1.7 million in new furniture.

Designing Innovation
Comfortable chair and footstool donated by Steelcase in the Ed Kaplan Family Institute for Innovation and Tech Entrepreneurship

Steelcase, based out of Grand Rapids, Michigan, is the largest supplier of office furniture in the world. In addition to being Steelcase board chair, Pew is also the founding chair of the Institute of Design Board of Advisors, a role he held twice between 1989 and 2016. This isn’t the first time Pew and Steelcase have provided Illinois Tech with furniture. When the Institute of Design (ID) moved from Mies Campus to downtown Chicago in 1997, Steelcase gifted ID with $1 million in office goods—along with a special tenant deal in the building it owned at 350 North LaSalle Street, amounting to $6 million in free and discounted rent. This most recent gift brings the relationship full circle, as ID has moved back to Mies Campus and into its new home in the Kaplan Institute.

Pew is a member of the Philip Danforth Armour Society, which recognizes families who have made transformational gifts of $1 million or more in support of the university’s mission. In fact, Pew’s family has given more than $10 million to Illinois Tech, and Steelcase is ID’s largest corporate donor.

“Steelcase has been a generous donor to ID, but Steelcase gets as much out of the relationship as ID does,” Pew explains. “We’ve hired many talented ID graduates over the years, and our company’s ability to stay ahead of competitors has benefited from the design leadership coming out of ID.”

The Steelcase furniture in the Kaplan Institute solves problems posed by traditional classrooms. A portion of the desks come from the Steelcase Bivi line, popular in professional design firms and open-plan offices. Bivi desks can easily be clustered in modules of six to eight workspaces to foster collaboration and have integrated power and communications systems. Other desks and chairs Steelcase has provided can be quickly moved and reconfigured throughout the building for different purposes and stacked for high-density storage. Most important, this new furniture will provide the flexibility for students and faculty to engage in the collaborative, interdisciplinary design work that embodies the mission of the Kaplan Institute.

Besides furniture and rental spaces, Pew and Steelcase have helped ID in other ways. The Steelcase/Robert C. Pew Endowed Chair in Design supports the work of Distinguished Professor Patrick Whitney, considered one of the most respected leaders in the human-centered design movement. Pew also established the Charles Owen Endowed Professorship, which has supported Professor Keiichi Sato, a well-known expert in systems design.

Institute of Design Dean Denis Weil (M.Des. ’01) perhaps puts it best. “This is the third home of ID that has Steelcase furniture. We love it, as it lets our students and faculty live and learn in a space that embodies the practice we teach—human-centered and systemic design. For the Kaplan Institute, Steelcase has done an amazing job in turning the whole building into flexible, friendly learning spaces.”