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One Size Fits All?

September 16, 2009 \ Workplace & Health
by Karen Pickering
One Size Fits All?

Karen Pickering kicked off the third Page Park seminar with a rapid-fire photographic history of the modern workplace. From the application of massproduction to clerical tasks in the 19th century halls, to the sea of cubicles synonymous with ‘micro-serf’ culture. This included Frank Lloyd Wright’s Larkin and Johnson Wax buildings, Mies van der Rohe’s Seagram building that heralded the slick corporate image that still resonates today, and the burolandshaft movement in the 60s and 70s culminating in Hertzberger’s workers village for the Central Beheer Insurance company.

The Page Park case study projects chosen illustrate a challenge to the core efficiency driving speculative offices in our current workplace design. So what have we learned from this shared experience of ways of working? The importance of a connection to the outside, flexible spaces that can adapt to changing work modes. The significance of how people feel working in a space and how others perceive it looking from the outside in.

Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park Authority : The Client’s Experience

Carron Tobin gave an insight into the publicly procured headquarters for the Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park Authority. Following its creation in 2002, the new Park Authority moved into temporary accommodation while they started the arduous task of making their permanent home. They took time developing the brief and thinking about the way they wanted to work once freed from the confines of their portacabins. The resulting diagram of public meeting spaces, open plan office and organising street are clearly present in the final building completed in 2008. Sustainability was a key driver and the green Douglas fir timber frame is the largest in the UK helping the building achieve its BREEAM excellent design rating.

Carron described what it’s like to work there ”a complete contrast from a very enclosed structure to a more open plan environment, there’s a lot more interaction, a sense of ‘we’re all in this together’.” Departmental barriers have been eroded and there is a greater understanding of what others do. They can now host the National Park Board meetings allowing staff to get more involved in policy decisions. But perhaps more importantly, the new building has allowed the local community to get involved in the future of the park, with Friends of Loch Lomond among other community groups now using the space.

Andrew Carnegie House

Nora Rundell, CEO of the Carnegie Trust, revealed the tough discussions and decision making required to make the new unified home for three independent Carnegie Trusts at Andrew Carnegie House in Dunfermline, a success. She revealed the key role played by Derek Walker, brought in to project manage the move and still with them 4 years on. She affectionately described him as somewhere between a nanny and a rottweiler. Helping guide the 100 year old trusts through a change in environment that would ultimately change their relationships with each other.

Nora chose the word ‘surprise’ to sum up how they felt compared to their starting position in 2005. In contrast to the Park Authority, she revealed the Trusts had no business plan or big idea guiding their journey, rather the decision to make one single home for the currently separate three trusts wasn’t unanimously supported at the outset. Nora emphasised “the cultural change the building has brought about.” The lessons Nora highlighted included the need to take enough time to get the process right, listen and involve others and never assume everyone understands the drawings. However everyone was in agreement on one thing – that the building should be full of natural light. Nora attested to the building’s success here with the office space able to operate without artificial lights on many days.

An evolving process, and not all smooth passage, but one that now sees Trustees communicating across boards, and has led to thinking about the Carnegie ‘brand’ in a new way. Working practice has been transformed with some sharing of staff between Trusts. The process continues to look at matters of ownership and responsibility for the shared operation of the building.

School of Computing, University of Dundee

Professor Peter Gregor illuminated us with a personal account of the move to the new home for the department of applied computing on the campus at Dundee. His opening slide helped to locate the new building, 100 yards from the end of a rainbow framing the city. The department was squeezed into two old buildings when Page Park started the design process with them. Peter described a pivotal moment when David Page asked, “what kind of building do you want?”, illiciting a broad range of architectural tastes and aspirations, but with a common desire to challenge the public perception of geeky computer programmers with a social building that now draws students to its sunny south-facing lawns.

The building is a series of research pods flanking an internal street. A cyber café at its entrance provides a space for elderly research participants to meet students in a social environment and test the latest prototypes from the department’s work. Peter described how the pods aren’t laid out in rows but clusters that encourage the students to speak to each other, and making it easier to get them to work in groups. The theatre has become ‘a place students love’, it’s comfortable and, crucially, Prof Gregor says this intimate auditorium gets the students to pay attention, while the street space has a truly multi-functional role from exhibition to informal learning area. The subject of several case study evaluations by researchers at Strathclyde University, and a publication from SUST, an initiative developed by the Lighthouse in Glasgow to raise awareness of sustainable design. Professor Gregor summed up the building as somewhere that ‘encourages people to be playful, to let go’.

Holding up the past

June 24, 2009 \ Heritage & Conservation
by multiple authors
539One Size Fits All?