Championed by American architect and furniture designer Florence Knoll (who was mentored by the renowned Mies van der Rohe), the concept became an organizational status symbol. She convinced corporate decision-makers that the Knoll clean end-of-the-day desk policy would energize staffers to begin each morning anew and productive.
Designing, furnishing, and illuminating workplaces where innovation is the driver has evolved in the interim. Overall, the objective is the encouragement of creative outcomes from staffers who ultimately influence the bottom line.
Trends in office design can fit into three categories: Updated Traditional; Controlled Free- Form; and Co-working Spaces.
Offices that wish to trace the ancestry of their current conservative contemporary style can refer back to Frank Lloyd Wright who created the Great Workroom for the SC Johnson Wax Co., which opened in 1939. He theorized that a distinctive architectural environment was an investment in employee loyalty and productivity. It was comprised of an expansive grid-like layout in a soaring 25′-high space with slender white Dendriform columns ending in a ceiling fashioned of smooth circular elements placed close together, each measuring 18.5 inches in diameter. It was the original cloud – albeit non-electronic – and attracts thousands of visitors annually.
The innovation process hasn’t been considered a fully measurable time-and-motion science. Up until very recently, the rationale for an office design that promised hard-working, productive, and satisfied employees did not qualify as a trackable, objective topic. Some academic researchers are now looking into how office environments encourage productivity, but it’s not yet as simple as an app on your phone.
Massive dark wood desks with matching bookcases and oversized executive chairs have been replaced by slimmed down, less formal furnishings. Private offices still have their place for senior management in law and financial firms.
Office furnishings manufacturer Herman Miller released the findings of its 2015 Living Office global research study, confirming that progressive organizations – and their design partners – are creating office environments to meet the growing demand for more workplaces that combine opportunities for both planned and spontaneous activity along with the need for privacy.
Private offices were reported empty 77 percent of the workday. These can be made more useful by dividing them into spaces Herman Miller calls “Haven Settings,” where anyone can work for periods of time. They can also take on new life as communal spaces with comfortable seating, complete with amenities such as coffee and snacks. Under-utilized assigned workstations were found to be unoccupied 60 percent of the time.
Reclaiming space used for large, but underutilized, conference rooms and redistributing it throughout the office to make room for smaller, more purposeful settings and connective spaces was also examined in the study.
As acknowledged in Herman Miller’s worldwide research, each of the 120 progressive work environments examined was unique. The study concludes that the office design market was undergoing far-reaching realignment: “We found that the benchmarks that were once used to help guide workplace design have been turned on their heads.”
“It’s no longer necessary to be tethered to an office or a cubicle. Companies are benefiting from spontaneous collaboration, when information is shared informally or integrated as a team,” notes Cindy Coleman, a Human-Centered Performance & Behavioral Design consultant based in mega architecture, design, planning and consulting firm Gensler’s Chicago office. She believes workplaces are shifting from endless rows of cubes to a free-address work environment that allows staff to make their own decisions to work anywhere and everywhere to get the job done.
“Free-standing cubicle walls hinder integration and collaborative thinking,” Coleman points out. Community-like relationships are formed for the individual to feel part of [the process], not segregated. “You can see and be seen by colleagues and managers. An isolated cube is replaced with an entire neighborhood,” she states. “When you have a deadline or an important report to finish, you can take yourself to an empty workstation to concentrate on the job at hand.”
Innovative workplace design is critical to recruit and keep talent. Adjustable-height desks, data-integrated personal tables, and wireless desks that adapt to employees’ needs are appearing in boutique start-ups as well as large corporations. Workplace designers are incorporating natural elements in their designs such as salvaged wood, living walls, and outdoor office extensions.
A courtyard and a rooftop garden are open to staff use at Kickstarter’s headquarters in Brooklyn, New York. Inside, an acoustic furniture pod in the middle of an open office can control the sound level and provide a convenient spot for short meetings and conversations.
Co-working is steadily changing the current working environment. Growth is fueled by increased demand for flexible space in cities that boast top-priced real estate in the conventional office market. More businesses are realizing the benefits of procuring flexible space to save money.
A current analysis by The Instant Group found that the demand for flexible workspaces in major cities worldwide has grown 18 percent in 12 months. In Australia, inquiries for flexible workspace have tripled in two years, while co-working and flexible office space has grown by up to 36 percent in five years. In New York City, the report estimated an average of 37 percent of the city’s office space now houses co-working tenants. For Los Angeles, Chicago and San Francisco, co-working grew more than 15 percent in the past year.
The average workstation rates in the U.S. were more than $900 per person, with New York commanding $1,110 compared to London at $897.
Rates in San Francisco, Chicago, and Los Angeles fall between New York and London, largely due to increased demand as large-scale projects take off. In the U.K., key expansion is occurring in cities like Manchester and Birmingham.
Company: BENJAMIN’S DESK
Designers: Benjamin’s Desk project managers
Photo: Benjamin’s Desk
BRINGING IN THE BENJAMINS
Founded by two devoted entrepreneurs, Jennifer and Anthony Maher, Benjamin’s Desk is organized to not only rent spaces to Philadelphia’s sizable establishment of developing and early-stage product and services companies, but to nurture their growth and success.
Outfitted with sleek furnishings from Steelcase and Turnstone, the lighting design combines ceiling-suspended angled tubes, exposed lamps on cone-shape bases, and accent fixtures that enliven wall areas.
“We sit at the intersection of people, workspace, and technology,” says Anthony Maher. “Our mission is to spark innovation and improve the ultimate chances of success of individual business plans.”
Members of Benjamin’s Desk have access to administrative support, printing and copying services, a break-out room, phone rooms, and a stocked kitchen. A professional Leadership Team serves as a business concierge and helps to plan events.
Location: San Francisco
Design Firm: Huntsman Architectural Group
Photo: David Wakely
AVALON BALLROOM REDUX
As an innovative advertising agency, Argonaut’s creativity is a driving force and its new headquarters needed to embody that characteristic. Space was found in the historic Avalon Ballroom – a former 31,000-sq.-ft. venue that once hosted such legendary music performers as The Grateful Dead, The Doors, and Janis Joplin – which was reborn to support the firm’s collaborative work style.
In the main work space, a custom-designed continuous desking system constructed of welded hot rolled steel plates extends from a raised platform stage. Radiating around it are more intimate, flexible, idea-generating spaces. Adjacent to the ballroom is a large open break space with an 18-ft. island considered to be the social hub.
Mezzanine balconies overlook the activity below. On this level are the board room and meeting rooms. At street level are production facilities, social and meeting spaces, plus an art gallery..
Location: Bangkok, Thailand
Design Firm: Supermachine Studio
Photo: Wison Tungthunya
For its third site, co-working space operator Hubba chose Habito, a new mall in the center of a major Bangkok residential district. Within its 10,700-sq.-ft. area are shared office space plus room for pottery, woodworking, photography, a screening room, art studios, plus lecture and seminar halls.
With the population of Bangkok reaching 10 million, the city has spawned a thriving tech industry, appealing to an international market. The large open kitchen forms the center of Hubba’s social activities.
Supermachine Studio utilizes the project’s vivid turquoise painted mechanical and electrical piping as a design and wayfinding element. From the piping are hung stem fixtures with circular
canisters painted in a matching color.
Location: Bristol, Pa.
Design Firm: KSS Architects
Photo: Courtesy, KSS Architects;
Halkin Mason Photography
MODERN MEETS HISTORY
BioVid, a pharmaceutical marketing firm, traded a box-like space in an office park in Princeton, N.J. for a former 19th Century Canal Works mill in Bristol, Pennsylvania. The design brief to KSS Architects emphasized two objectives: honor the heritage of the building’s historical past; and allow room for solitude amidst all the staff’s collaborative energy.
Occupying 9,000 square feet on one level, the open seating plan offers private meeting rooms as well as flexible areas where bleachers can be set up for town halls and training.
The “Quiet Car” is a no-phone zone that morphs into a yoga exercise space or a setting for individual massage therapy sessions, depending on the need. In the break room is a vintage 1940 handmade shuffleboard table hosting lunchtime tournaments. Kitchen equipment is supplied for scheduled cooking classes.
KSS Architects specified crisp, functional furnishings and workstations to blend with the building’s original finishes and materials: exposed existing brick, stone, wood, plaster, areas of existing paint, and carvings. Lighting fixtures were selected by the architects with recommendations by the BioVid team and owner and contractor Bernard Mazzochi III, who chose an OCL loop pendant for the playroom/break room, a tri-lobe fixture by XAL for the conference room, an XLA pendant fixture for the “think tank” space, and general downlighting (attached to conduit) by MP Lighting.
Design Firm: East West Systems
To compete for suitable office space in Philadelphia’s actively expanding tech marketplace, smaller firms had the need – but often limited revenue – to secure a lease in the city’s prime Central Business District. Joynture recognized the potential for a value-priced, coworking space and opened its facility in the Queen Village neighborhood, which is slightly removed from the CBD but still considered downtown.
The vintage space underwent a full rebuilding and upgrade, showing off a re-imagined interior that is casually sophisticated.
“We believe Joynture delivers high-quality space with amenities to the tenants at an affordable price,” says Shahzad Latif, East West Systems’ Chief Information Officer.
Included in the rental are access to in-house technical consultants, private conference rooms, a café, and discounts on numerous services such as Lyft and UPS.
Company: STAT Search Analytics
Location: Vancouver, B.C., Canada
Design Firm: Dialog design team
MODERN MEETS HISTORY
Competition comes in two guises for STAT Search Analytics. There is the on-going objective of gaining market share in its field of daily Internet search data collection; the second is to entice and retain top tech talent in a geographical region that is home to Google, Microsoft, and Hootsuite.
STAT’s strategy, as expressed by CEO Rob Bucci, was to revitalize a 10,000-sq.-ft. warehouse by commissioning the design firm Dialog to capture its essence as a young, energetic, and non-corporate tech company. Dialog took advantage of the industrial double-height space and used clear-finished plywood as an organizing visual theme. Employees carry out their assignments individually in quiet spaces or can collaborate in work sessions.
On the 2,000-sq.-ft. mezzanine is the communal social space and eatery, outfitted with beer and wine taps, flexible furniture, and technology screens.
Daylighting from clerestory windows introduces natural daylight throughout the facility. Exposed ceiling-hung LED tubes plus track and recessed fixtures provide illumination to the inside zones of the working areas. A multi-arm ceiling fixture with black shades highlights the dining island on the upper level.