Effect of Building Design on Office/Working Culture
September 13, 2012 \ Creative Workspace
by David Page
It appears to us that the whilst huge efforts have gone into the fabric and floor plate efficiencies of the workspace there has been little study into whether the organisations that end up in them are well served by them.
It seems to be more of the case that these organisations make do, adapt to their circumstances. There has grown up around the standard space provision an industry of ‘office makeovers’ who with the best intentions seek to create some sort of organisational well-being. They play an important role in doing this within the constraints of standard floor plates.
In some ways the ‘make over role’ has papered over the insufficiencies of such floor plates and limited discussion and innovation of alternative floor plate arrangements.
These floor plates are more often than not the result of the distance between fire escapes, net to gross efficiencies, and maximum window to window distance relative to ceiling height in order top maximise people per square metre ratios.
The interesting question is whose organisation proudly boasts that its structure and culture is represented by anything to do with these factors.
There is a mismatch between space production and the user organisation.
School of Computing, University of Dundee
Organisations need to identify the spatial building blocks that best serve and describe how they work. At one extreme this could be a whole series of cellular offices for individual staff, to large-scale open plan accommodation. In addition, consideration needs to be given to meeting informal and formal.
Early on, the University of Dundee School of Computing identified a two-part initiative, firstly to create physical definition for what they saw as the biggest research cluster spatial enclosure. This they saw as the space for 6-8 researchers, 10-12 post-graduates or up to 16-20 under-graduates, but no bigger. Secondly, although not eliminating the possibility of the individual office, asking whether these physical cluster forms could accommodate 4-5 staff members.
The result was a creation of the circular School of Computing module with varying degrees of enclosure but capable of defining an intimate setting for research. The degree of openness of these circular clusters was explored at the interface of the circulation corridor in an attempt to support casual interaction. Closed meeting rooms adjacent further supported this as well as providing quiet space for study.
Andrew Carnegie House
The issue for the three Trusts in their new headquarters in Dunfermline was not so much about the identity of each of them, but rather how they, at the same time, could make a move towards sharing central facilities, experience and outward presentation to their own interest groups – individual identity and common focus. This seemingly intractable challenge was met by bending gently the flexible plan floor plate around break-out, meeting, library and service spaces. This subtle focus maintained the autonomy of each Trust at the building edge but directed the broader circulation through the building to the heart where the now inevitable coalescence of the movements of the different Trusts could take place.
Daylight brought in at roof level emphasises this quality. Glass-topped partitions to the cellular accommodation of each of the Trusts further accentuate the unity of the whole, but allowing for the technical efficient working of staff in their own organisation.
Loch Lomond & Trossachs National Park Headquarters
The Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park Authority Headquarters is a relatively new organisation of over 100 staff engaged in a wide variety of protection, economic and planning activity. The advantage therefore in designing the new workplace environment was that a vision of how the organisation was to function could be developed.
Setting aside the need for some secure demarcation of certain activities, personnel and legal, the workplace was conceived as one open space, but not to be perceivable as such – the challenge was to create intimacy and openness at the same time. This effect was assisted by the curve of the building concept to the roundabout and the narrow structural module determined by the possible span of timber. The result is a highly visible structured open-plan space which by virtue of the curve, does not appear to extend relentlessly into the distance, rather appearing to be fore-shortened. Within this framework, voids down into the top lit main circulation street and two double-height meeting and café spaces, act as the social focus of the organisation as a whole.