Creativity and community collaboration have always been in the forefront for Otis D. Gibson and Heather Knapp. “Five years ago, GERTRUDE relocated its headquarters to Pilsen to better align the agency’s foundation in fostering a culture of creativity, global innovation and brand development with what we view as one of Chicago’s most dynamic, creative and inspiring communities vital for the city’s creative future,” says Gibson, GERTRUDE founder and chief creative officer, who, together with Knapp, the company’s president, leads its design and digital-branding division, OZ MFG. and branded architecture and environmental design component, RAYE. With a clientele that includes companies such as Absolut vodka, Adidas, Coca-Cola, Diageo, Disney and Google, and a global presence—the company has offices in London and New York, too—GERTRUDE was off to the next mission: to find a way to better serve the city’s creative and entrepreneurial community. Enter BRNDHAUS PL-ZEN.
With a name inspired by the highly influential Bauhaus movement and German art school known for combining crafts and the fine arts, the newly renovated 35,000-square-foot, seven-city-lot property turned into a hub dedicated to the development, consumer co-creation, incubation and activation of brands. Or as Gibson describes it: an innovation brand factory. “The two-year-long development is a transformational one that brings a new façade, energy and opportunity to the twenty-year-vacant property located at 1727 West 21st Street; the heart of Chicago’s dynamic Pilsen neighborhood,” he says.
There, creative leaders, thinkers and doers come together. Operating under the GERTRUDE creative umbrella and with the company’s year-long expertise in the marketing realm, BRNDHAUS PL-ZEN is a one-stop destination for bringing a brand to life—from planning and strategy, to consumer testing and co-creation, to branding, to communications, to creating and activating brand experiences. But that’s not all. The mid-century-modern-inspired space features rental opportunities for creative business professionals—arts, advertising, architecture and design, fashion, film and photography, media—with private offices, remote workspace memberships, pop-ups, showrooms, film and photo production studios (“Chicago P.D.” filmed there last year), customizable brand rooms, gallery and event spaces, even a garden. Served throughout the BRNDHAUS PL-ZEN cafés and bars? Their signature coffee (HAUSBLEND Kaffee), beer (HAUSBREW Pilsner) and cocktails (HAUSMIX Cocktails).
“GERTRUDE is creating a concept with the agency’s own mark of design craftsmanship, imagination and branding that will see closer collaboration between our clients, consumers, and a wide array of disciplines across the Chicago creative community within a modern, premium, mercurial working environment that perfectly aligns with Pilsen’s reputation as a forward-looking hub for the city’s creativity and culture,” says Gibson.
Gibson remains mindful of today’s ever-shifting business realities. First order of business: to create a socially distanced, globally connected space, as he calls it. Think social distancing, sanitation stations, mandatory face coverings, as well as a live social media broadcasting service for virtual-cast meetings and events. Then he can focus on what he does best: guiding, shaping and activating brands to their potential.
“As innovators and entrepreneurs we have an ability to see the positive side of big changes—even difficult changes,” says Gibson, who had to adapt and evolve, following the measures enforced by the pandemic. “The idea for the BRNDHAUS PL-ZEN came about at an opportune time when we were ready to push GERTRUDE forward to the next level. After two very intense years of realizing the vision, we have a brand-new curve ball in navigating a whole new set of challenges with COVID-19. But with that, again, we see opportunity—to adapt, to lead new thinking in the way brands and people work, interact and engage with each other.” When asked about what’s coming up, Gibson is sure about one thing: “The future is equally scary, uncertain, unpredictable and extremely exciting.”
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