Designing an Architect’s Collaborative Workspace
Imagine a classroom: a teacher’s desk, a whiteboard, thirty student desks and chairs, and windows that overlook the quad. It is all the same furnishings that every other classroom has, but for an architecture student at the University of Colorado, something is different.
Walker studies in one of these classrooms on the campus in the city of Boulder and explains why they don’t follow a typical classroom design. “My studio classes consist of open rooms with desks all facing the center to promote group thinking and collaboration,” Sam says. “This setup allows everyone to communicate and critique each other which results in an overall better quality of work.”
Architects shape the way we socialize and work with their revolutionary designs. You may not realize that the way a chair is designed can promote productivity through its ability to move or its influence on how you move. Chairs, like the ones we see in classrooms, are slightly uncomfortable after a long period of time which encourage you to stand up and move around before eturning. Just as architects are designing our productive and collaborative workspaces, they are indulging in their own. So what makes an architect’s workspace design collaborative?
Open Floor Plans
Like Sam’s classrooms, an open floor plan is pivotal for collaboration. Without any walls or many furnishings, the layout will provide the feeling of having more space. Less barriers mean more natural sunlight stretching out across the room from those office windows. At the renowned Renzo Piano Building Workshop, there are multiple unassigned working tables where multiple people from different departments gather and get to work. It may sound silly, but when your physical body doesn’t feel restricted to a space, neither will your mind. It’s like staying in a hostel versus a hotel: you are more likely to connect with those sleeping next to you in the same room than those sleeping next door to you in their own box with a “do not disturb” sign hanging from the door knob.
I think it goes hand in hand with open spaces that if you want to create the feel of being out in the open, you need natural light. I remember renting out study rooms located in the basements at my University. The room consisted of four walls, a door with a window that looked into the dimly lit hallway, a desk riddled in graffiti and a chair. The idea was that if you had no distractions, you would focus. It worked to an extent, but I always felt worn and broken after leaving the study dungeon. The lack of natural light played a heavy toll on my psyche and I swear that my essays, though they started out strong with enthusiasm, always ended on a dark and depressing note. With big windows and an open floor plan, natural light floods the room and promotes productivity. A study by the Heschong Mahone Group showed a 21% performance increase with students exposed to the most amount of natural light compared with those exposed to the least natural light. More natural light means less fluorescent and artificial light which scientists say disrupt our circadian rhythm.
A classroom doesn’t need much of a design influence since it is only one centrally located room. In the office, there may be all types of rooms: a place of work, a place to break, a place to cook and a place to play. Combining the break room, the kitchen and the lounge area is a great way to create a location of naturally occurring gatherings. It isn’t quite serendipitous, but people of the office will find it a place of restitute and social interaction. It should be a separate place from work, though still on the premises of the office where people can feel relaxed and playful which (hint hint) creates much more collaboration.
Many offices are including games in these nuclear areas, because why not? Less stress creates more productivity, and what is less stressful than blowing off some steam by smashing a small ping pong ball half way across the room? A little friendly competition can motivate employees until break time and give them an energetic boost thereafter. A playroom could be just the fix to ease tension and create naturally occurring gatherings.
Like Sam’s classroom, the architects of a collaborative office are in close proximity. They see each other at work, they see each other’s work and they can easily strike up a conversation. This approach can easily be mistaken as a huge distraction from getting work done or for fear of copying the other rather than being unique. Nowadays, architects and business leaders like Google, Uber and Facebook have chucked out the cubicle and opted for share tables. When there is no design hierarchy between architects, clients, students and staff, the business atmosphere becomes more approachable and less hostile.
When people feel more comfortable working together and looking over other people’s shoulders, the work becomes united. Architects feel at ease to ask for an opinion or critique. They will see other projects and find a sense of inspiration. They feel comradery within their tribe to work together and yet separately, because every artist wants to create in their own style rather than imitate.
Simplicity, Dear Watson
Now, to complete the package and bring us back to the idea of a classroom, the office needs to be clear of clutter and simply designed: Desk, chairs, whiteboard, book shelf, and tools. The simplicity in design will refrain from distraction. Scientists from Yale and Princeton have done extensive research on how clutter affects the orbitofrontal cortex causing more stress and the inability to focus. I’m sure there is a relatable scenario somewhere in your house like when the dishes are stacked up in the sink, you can’t quite focus on cooking especially when the clutter gets in the way of your flow. The same thing happens at the office: more clutter, less focus. So, rid your space of fancy lounge chairs and extra shelves that just hold more stuff. Minimalistic office life minimizes life stress.
These five architectural office designs are being seen more and more, but not just at the architect’s work place; you can even find the trendy layout at your local coffee shop. I’ve traded in the days of hunkering in the old dungeon basement of my university for the spacious and naturally lit café down the street. Now, if only they had a playroom, it’d be perfect.