3form takes the Office to new Places

What do you do with an entirely new material — one that works indoors or outdoors, is structurally sound and visually beautiful, can be shaped in almost any way imaginable and can be used to sandwich just about any material or metal?

Naturally, you hand it over to some of the most creative people in the world — architects and designers — and let their imaginations run wild. In its simplest form, that is driving the success of 3form, the Salt Lake City firm that is using eco-resin to literally reshape the built world.

And what a run it has been for Chief Executive Officer Talley Goodson and 3form. The company he bought from his father, Roy Goodson, in 2002 that had $2 million in sales now has 550 employees in plants in Salt Lake City and Seattle and more than $100 million in sales. Not bad for a company that was formed as Simtech in 1991 by Roy Goodson, a former Dow Chemical executive and inventor. Roy Goodson had experience with injection polystyrene packaging, but it was the eco-resin product called Varia that was a game changer for the company and industry.

The product is half the weight of glass and is resistant to chemicals.

Varia is a delivery system, really, that creates a pocket for just about anything imaginable — colors, metals, natural materials — and seals it to create an attractive solid surface. “My father pioneered decorative materials in a translucent resin,” said Talley Goodson, who worked at management consulting firm McKinsey & Company after graduating from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

Talley Goodson returned to Salt Lake City and bought Simtech from his father in 2002 and rebranded it as 3form. “There was nothing quite like it at the time,” he said. “It was a very customizable platform. I remember bringing designers samples and they were quite excited to be able to work with it, with the basic elements of texture, form and light. You can change out the inner layer or add color. To me, it was exciting to work with a nascent material where customization is inherent. Designers reacted strongly as well.”

The product is half the weight of glass and is resistant to chemicals. It does things other materials simply can’t do. Creating an all-new material is a definite advantage for a company, but it also has some challenges. How do designers begin using a product they’ve never seen or experienced? What are the limitations? Talley Goodson began addressing these challenges by creating a set of samples to give designers — a few discrete choices that they could use and build from there. They were given some basic rules to follow, such as what hardware can be used.

Beside the basics, designers were given nearly limitless options in how it could be used. The product is visually appealing and it was easy for 3form to build excitement and momentum. The product took off.

One of the company’s earliest projects was to create some large, sculptural elements for Federated Department Stories (later to become Macy’s). 3form has since taken on some of the most interesting and iconic projects is recent years. It was instrumental in the creation of the Star Spangled Banner exhibition at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History.

3form also played a key role in the refurbishment of Alice Tully Hall, as part of an overhaul of Lincoln Center designed by Diller Scofidio & Renfro. The architects tapped 3form to clad the walls in a superthin veneer of moabi, a rich African hardwood. The New York Times praised the work, noting that “Diller Scofidio & Renfro has embedded LED lights behind the wood that can be subtly adjusted so patches of the wood’s surface begin to glow, shifting from pale orange to smoldering red. (Elizabeth Diller, a firm founder, said she wanted to make the room ‘blush.’) It is a wonderful sight, adding warmth to what is otherwise a modest, understated room.”

3form’s Advanced Technology Group (ATG) worked with Lundberg Design to create San Francisco’s transit shelter canopies laminated with photovoltaic cells. The transit shelters, covered with a red, undulating canopy that mimics the hills of the city, have become symbols of the city. “3form was great on this project,” said Olle Lundberg of Lundberg Design. “Without 3form, the end result would have never lived up to the concept. The roof was by far the biggest technical challenge and 3form made it happen.”

Talley Goodson said he is surprised every day that he walks out into the factory by the creativity of the designers working with the company as he sees the inner layers and colors coming together. They do amazing combinations and designs that he’s never considered. And they are always challenging the company to do more, asking them questions like: “Can I make a big exterior sculpture out of this? Can I wrap a column in this?” Almost always, 3form answers “yes.”

“By now, there are very few applications we haven’t done,” Goodson said. “There’s always some interesting geometry and light in these projects. It might be a wall feature for a performing arts center. We’ve been doing a lot of landscape architecture as well.”

New product introductions are generally led by the company. This year, 3form launched Metallics, Full Circle Metallics, Woods and new wall systems. It is constantly innovating from a materials and applications standpoint. It works in every segment of the market, from office to hospitality, to education and healthcare. “3form wants to make sure we have products that are inspiring, but that are practical and useful as they work to help clients create inspiring spaces,” said Talley Goodson.

The company has a simple design philosophy: To create inspiring products that create amazing spaces that can’t be created with other materials. Behind everything 3form does is an unwavering commitment to the environment and to people. Its social responsibility and environmental impact are considered as part of every decision the company makes.

For example, 3form has created strong connections with the artisan communities around the work that help it create its amazing interlayers — the materials that are sandwiched inside the eco-resin. 3form raised a significant amount of money to help the 200 artisans in Nepal that work with the company whose homes were destroyed in the recent earthquake.

Through it all, 3form is changing what’s possible in interior (and exterior) design.