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An Intern Reviews TBI, Plus: The History Of Our Studios

By Lena Phillips on July 31, 2014

An education grounded in psychology and communications trains you to over-analyze everything; so it’s no surprise that I was initially drawn to Think Brownstone due to their focus on research. I love knowing the history of everything, the reasons why decisions were made, and the path taken to reach any place in time. Being in a new environment (as a summer intern, this time!) naturally caused me to start asking questions…Carl’s latest blog post answered a lot of them. But as cool as it is to know where their name came from and how it relates to who they are and how they do business, I believe Think Brownstone’s atmosphere is a key component of their success.

On my first day, I’ll admit I was incredibly nervous and had no idea what to expect. I was prompted by everyone to check out the internal “TBI Culture” folder… then I started to figure it out.  Think Brownstone is composed of an incredibly talented, passionate, and diverse group of individuals with one thing in common: their passion. They’re light-hearted, friendly, and the nicknames and pop culture references fly around just as frequently as the emails. A recently begun Dungeons & Dragons club (probably 50% serious and 50% tongue-in-cheek) put the cherry on top for me, making me feel right at home coming from a family that lives for random facts, sci-fi, and fantasy. I got comfortable in the Conshy space almost immediately, enjoying the high energy and ping ponging of ideas around the room.

I’ve been on sports teams all my life, so I was intimidated to be thrown into a professional workplace where I assumed hierarchies would form the structure, and I’d be at the bottom of the ladder.  However, although on our website employees have different titles, if you walked into our studios you’d have very little sense of that. For the past couple weeks I’ve even had the pleasure of sitting next to one of our VPs Bruce. Tell me where else that would happen! But here, every person values each other’s ideas and knows that collaboration always leads to the best result.  It’s an environment that, much like a team, made me feel comfortable to openly challenge myself, ask questions, and embrace my creative urges without being afraid to fail. My only hesitation was that I just couldn’t see how the new Philly space we were about to open would compare.

Then at our Ribbon Cutting ceremony with Mayor Nutter, I was shocked that our Philly office (in the 45th tallest building in Philadelphia!) actually had that same feel. Sure, it was because it was populated with the same great TBI folks, but there was something more to it than that. I was perplexed so I began digging and realized that these two spaces, very different on the surface, had so much in common. They’re both iconic, beautiful open spaces that are rich with history—special places that bring people together through sketching, learning, questioning, debating, creating ideas, quoting, laughing and designing. I reminded myself how lucky I was to not spend my summer in an office full of uniform cubicles…then dug around on our new website and read, “Why does space matter? Sure, as designers aesthetics are important to us. But more importantly, we believe it’s hard to think outside the box when you work in one. We give our clients a break from the box.”

It all made sense, this company’s heart beats in its studios.

Our flagship studio in Conshohocken, where I first began, is inside the Sons of America building. It was constructed in 1891 with a late Victorian, brick style architecture and it followed the patterns set forth during the early industrial boom of the mid-century.  The Sons of America building is truly a Conshohocken landmark and is till standing and thriving—now as the headquarters of Think Brownstone.

The land on which it was built was originally from the estate of David Harry. The Harrys were Quakers who purchased over 200 acres of what is now in “Conshy”.  They played a prominent role in its development: creating its first industrial enterprise, setting up a hospital during the cholera epidemic of 1832, supporting the “Underground Railroad” in the 1830s, and helping establish Conshohocken as a borough in 1850.  They were even among 4 others who picked the name Conshohocken out of a hat, the name being a derivative of the original name given the area by the Lenni Lenape Indians, “Gueno-Sheiki-Hacki-ing,” meaning “beautiful or peaceful valley.”

The Patriotic Order Sons of America was one of Conshohocken’s numerous civic organizations. It was founded in 1847 to “preserve the Public School System, The Constitution of the United States, and our American way of life”. It is one of America’s oldest patriotic and fraternal societies still in existence. In 1891, the Sons of America found their headquarters at Second and Fayette, giving our building its name.

In 2007, the space proudly became Think Brownstone’s and our small (at the time) firm was right at home in the open space with high ceilings and loft style workspaces, complete with huge windows that let natural sunlight envelop the space.

Our Conshy Think Space, Then & Now

Our Conshy Think Space, Then & Now

Equally historic as the place I had begun to learn at every day, the Packard Grande building’s history also fits seamlessly into TBI’s culture.  The building, named after millionaire financier and insurance executive Charles S.W. Packard, was one of downtown Philadelphia’s first skyscrapers (built in 1922). The building was created as a “monument to capitalism, penny-shiny and dollar-solid”. Its creators, architects Ritter & Shay, relied on stylish touches to make their skyscraper stand out, and they’d go on to design the Drake and the U.S. Customs House, two other Philly landmarks.  This setback tower represented the extension of the business and finance district west of Broad Street and south of Market, adopting features from the Italian Renaissance and interpreting them in a modern manner. Local history is an architectural theme conveyed through the decorative elements such as the two-and-a-half story ornamental iron gate cartouches, medallions, marble work, and vintage hand-painted ceilings. The mezzanine is now complete with a beautiful mural of William Penn (I think the Sons of America would be proud). The building housed one of the first commercial institutions in Philadelphia and is located in one of the oldest residential neighborhoods, also communicating a sense of historical continuity.

Our Philly Think Space, Outside & In

Our Philly Think Space, Outside & In

Just as Think Brownstone does today, the Harry family and Ritter & Shay exceeded all expectations, pushing the boundaries to make things better. Our studios reflect our values: high quality, smart simplicity, and enduring beauty. Come check us out and feel at home, just like I did. You won’t regret it!

Today is my last official day at Think Brownstone—and although I’m sad to go, I’ll never forget what a workplace should ‘feel’ like.  Thank you TBI, it’s been amazing!