Green is the new Black

Green is the new Black

You’d be hard pressed to go a day in design circles without coming across numerous references to biophilic design. As globalisation fuelled dramatic urban growth over recent decades, changing how we live and work, we were for a time kidded into thinking we must make a choice between our modern built environment and nature. We’ve since had a green awakening.

In our cities and workplaces the removal of trees and greenery ‘in the name of progress’ produces a negative effect on how we feel, reducing our sense of wellbeing and ultimately our performance. Inhabiting cities without trees and workplaces devoid of plants or natural light is not a pleasant thought. Perhaps we needed to be reminded of a simple fact we had forgotten: Nature makes us feel good.

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Highline, New York

Now that the penny has dropped, the race is on to correct our mistakes with the mass introduction of biophilic design and green architecture. And there have been notable successes. New York’s Highline is a case in point with visitor numbers off the charts. Notably, this project is 98% funded by community group ‘Friends of the Highline’ and has had a huge positive impact on surrounding areas.

Singapore’s Gardens by the Bay (below) sprawls over 250 acres and confirms the city’s place at the head of the Biophilic table. Featuring metal clad solar powered ‘trees’ covered with tropical flowers and with raised interconnecting walkways, the park comes alive at night with a light and sound show.

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Thomas Heatherwick Studio received both acclaim and criticism for their New York and London schemes. Both are now set to go ahead, with London’s Garden Bridge (main image above) heckled along the way. With the proven successes of New York and Singapore, I fail to see how such a positive green addition can be anything other than a huge benefit to a large modern city.

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Heather wick’s Pier 55, NYC – 

Many of us lucky enough to attend Saloni Milano will have noticed Stefano Boeri’s Vertical Forest, combining high density living with as many trees as a hectare of forest. These modern buildings challenge the perception that urban green spaces should be either horizontal or disruptive to the financial yield. The integration of greenery into the very fabric of our buildings has become a sought after addition to our living and working spaces.

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Vertical Forest, Milan

 

Vertical greenery also translates to interior environments. A leading trend at last year’s Orgatec saw industrial open modular shelving units providing a home to lush greenery in the workplace, acting as a calming visual barrier whilst improving air quality. Combine this with natural materials and natural light and its no surprise that the ’employee experience’ is much more positive and productive.

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Etsy, Brooklyn NY. Image credit: Garret Rowland

Recent years have also seen a rapid growth in the use of living walls in the workplace. Based on the same principles, this approach can add much needed greenery to an expensive floorplate with maximum efficiency. If you look carefully you might even find David Bellamy and a couple of squirrel monkeys in there somewhere.

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In a recent interview Danish starchitect Bjarke Ingels commented “All humans inhabit the same amount of real estate: Earth. We have the power to adapt our physical surroundings to life – imagine what we can do… Once you’ve accepted that there’s no way we (humans) can be here without having a very significant influence on our planet, we should take it as a positive. Instead of having unanticipated negative social and environmental side effects, we should design our world so we have positive social and environmental side effects.”

If we apply this theory not just in terms of the wider built environment, but also in terms of our immediate interiors and the micro-architecture with which we come into contact on a daily basis, it is also very valid indeed.

The idea of ‘shared space’ (or real estate) as a communal facility is more relevant today than ever with sprawling tech work ‘campuses’ being built and the rise of transitional spaces currently used for coworking. These interior environments and our performance within them is a science. If we make a list of what humans need to survive it begins with oxygen, water, food, shelter and sleep. As we work down the list beyond healthcare and clothing etc, the points become less ‘obligatory’ and more ‘optional’ – but important to our performance nonetheless. Where would you put wifi, good coffee and friendly colleagues on the list for example?

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Mankind adapts to its modern environment

In a micro but measurable way, the conditions in our immediate surroundings influence our productivity, well-being and performance. Just because we have MacBooks and Ugg boots doesn’t mean we can ignore our basic needs. Each tick in the box results in an improvement. And some score more points than others. Adjustable lighting: tick. Ergonomics: tick. Acoustic screen between you and shouty loud bloke: tick.

As interiors people we aim to positively influence and improve these environments. We should all be encouraging our clients to integrate plants, natural materials as well as spaces to walk, sit and relax among them into interior schemes. Let’s make micro-parks within our offices, gardens in our public libraries and small forests in our lobbies. Let’s put nature back into our cities, workplaces and lives.

What could possibly go wrong…?

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Destination: workplace 2030.

Destination: workplace 2030.

Everyone wants to know the future. We accept change is constant. The goal is anticipating change before it arrives. Putting your shades on before the sun appears. Putting your brolly up before the first raindrops land on your freshly coiffured bonce (or beard). Success in design, business and life relies on intuition.

‘The 24 hour garage is dead’

I read an article this week on the death of parking, discussing driverless cars and their knock-on effects. Driverless cars are shared, vastly reducing traffic whilst optimising usage and efficiency. No time wasted searching for a parking space and less traffic means less time commuting. Obsolete car parks are demolished, freeing up valuable urban land for redevelopment. With parking spaces now redundant, the masterplans of urban sprawls across the globe change forever. Bus, truck and taxi drivers are out of a job (cue Union outcry). Where we go for bad coffee and a Rustlers burger at 3am is beyond me – the 24 hour garage is dead.

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No Parking: literally

I digress. You get the picture.

Apply this thinking to the office. By 2030, what office features become obsolete? What voids or opportunities are created by their absence and how does the office change? Consider these five themes; all currently trending in workplace design:

  1. Wellbeing 
  2. The Internet of Things (IOT)
  3. Automation, AI & Smart Technology
  4. Biophillic design 
  5. Collaboration, co-working, remote working

Now put your future goggles on and get in the driverless car. Destination: workplace 2030 (but where we’re going, we still need roads)

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Your driverless Merc collects you at 7.42am and logs you in to your virtual office. As you’re not driving, this is the new third space: a place to work. Your messages are displayed along with your meeting calendar as you are chauffeured to your office door, arriving promptly at 8.00am (no you can’t stop for a McDonald’s breakfast). You enter the office fresh, prepared and focused.

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This is where the Internet of Things (IOT) comes in. IOT refers to sensors and technology embedded in practically everything. Your office chair self-adjusts to your weight, size and height, then makes regular minor adjustments as you sit to ensure constant muscle movement and circulation. Your i-desk whirs into life and rises to standing height when it senses you’ve been sitting too long. The furniture is communicating with your wearable tech, which in turn gathers health metrics. The 2030 employer understands that good health optimises the workforce and in turn reduces sick days. It’s win-win.

The traditional desk is dead: replaced by the intelligent table.

In 2030 you have no monitor, keyboard or mouse. The latter were superseded by technology responding to speech recognition, as well as hand and eye movement. Your monitor was replaced by Apple idesk with touch screen adjustable height worktop. There are no wires or chargers required. The traditional desk is dead: replaced by the intelligent table.

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Vitra future office: interior walls shift to accommodate meetings

Office furniture in 2030 will be flexible and easy to reconfigure. And with cable management no longer necessary, it’s easier than ever. Suspended lightweight acoustic interior partitions shift and tilt; opening and closing to suit various layouts at the wave of a hand (or verbal command). The office is designed using a simple grid-like modular format creating interchangeable spaces. The virtual conference layout repositions walls to create a large meeting space, as 3D visual equipment connects remote workers in other locations. Ideas are shared and developed. As the meeting draws to a close, another wave of the hand and private focus spaces are created. Smart furniture responds accordingly and multiple needs are met.

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‘This office is about collaboration, free movement and flexibility.’

Office lighting, acoustic performance and temperature is optimised throughout the day. After the midday exercise class has finished and the team have taken time for lunch, task lighting gently fades in and the temperature adjusts, eliminating that early afternoon drowsy period. The air circulation is so good you don’t even smell the kippers Colin in Accounts had earlier. At 3.12pm, Sensing you are losing concentration, your smart-wristband prompts you to stretch your legs and grab a drink to rehydrate. Sitting still is for old geezers. 

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The IT server room is long gone. Instead there is an expanded comfortable business lounge with an abundance of plants and trees creating a healthy feel-good environment. Acoustic panels adjust their angle slightly to absorb noise during busy periods. The office lives and breathes.

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Employers in 2030 understand that working staff more than 8 hours a day leads to stress, decreased productivity – and risk of illness. They know their workforce struggle to resist the temptation of checking emails 24/7 so they take responsibility by limiting access to the company cloud to 40 hours per week per user.

It’s 5.30pm and your (driverless) Merc awaits. No remote working this time – you’ve been logged out. You’ve maxed out on hours today, so it’s off to the bar for a download with your mates. The car asks you if you’d like to order your usual. You’ll be there in 4 minutes…

Big brother’s efficient workplace

Big brother’s efficient workplace

by Ben Capper

I am fascinated by the developing story featured in the Independent concerning desk monitoring at The Telegraph Newspaper ( Union criticises Telegraph for monitoring journalists and Telegraph to withdraw monitoring devices ).  At the same time I can’t say I’m surprised at the events unfolding.

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The story broke via Buzzfeed.com and gathered momentum with national press, fellow journo pals and The National Union of Journalists following suit.

In brief, Telegraph bosses claimed to be gathering efficiency information in order to measure desk usage throughout their facilities, using a little sensor box produced by a clever company called ‘OccupEye’, which is fitted on the underside of each desk.

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Journalists at the Telegraph were informed that monitoring  equipment had been installed underneath their workstations, the purpose of which was to monitor desk occupancy. Information is gathered to be viewed and discussed by facilities management and the workplace consultancy team in the battle to improve efficiency and maximise space. Are you with me so far?

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Workplace storm in a Telegraph tea-cup?

Having attended multiple lectures on this subject and discussed this with many clients, I see both sides. In my view this represents a battle between positive workplace design strategy Vs negative workplace scaremongers. This weeks’ events have no doubt badly damaged the Telegraph’s relationship with its staff, generated negative PR and got the privacy law rabble rousers into full swing.

The Journalists are up in arms as they feel their privacy has been invaded (ooh the irony). I feel it is my duty to explain the story from a workplace planning perspective…

In today’s ever changing workplace, efficiency (cost) is king. Sensors automatically turn off lights in unoccupied areas, whilst modern technology and building materials allow huge savings on running costs. But for large companies operating in expensive cities like London or New York, big buildings are bloody expensive, so where to next for the FD eager to demonstrate efficiency savings to his dividend-hungry board?

“Workplaces aren’t what they were a decade ago…”

Enter your local workplace interiors team. They stroll through the office in their tweed jackets and pocket squares with the FD, pointing out empty desks, making the (valid) point that in today’s workplace many desks are unoccupied for large parts of each day. People are at meetings, off sick, on holiday (are you at your desk now whilst you read this?). The point is we don’t need desks all the time, so why have one sitting there like a malnourished pet that we’ve forgotten about? Workplaces aren’t what they were a decade ago – they are important but we don’t need them as often as we did. In addition, many employers and new generation companies understand you don’t have to be at your desk (or even in your office) to work. iPads, MacBooks, Starbucks and Google changed all that. Just because you’re lounging on a sofa in a trendy cafe with a client sipping nonfat caramel macchiatos whilst discussing a project, does that mean you’re not working? Of course not. Staff want offices that are comfortable, trendy and cool – not boring beech L shaped desks and stuffy meeting rooms.

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working or skiving?

Many offices have moved forwards – begrudgingly. They’ve chucked out the L shaped desks and gone to open plan offices with bench desks. Great. Bit noisier though. So for meetings or for peace and quiet whilst cramming for that deadline, some staff nip down the road to the Organic Squirrel Frozen Yoghurt Co.

Company management can no longer easily see the working patterns of their teams. Yes they see the headlines and quarterly results, but I’m talking day to day movement. If you don’t know where your staff are spending their time, but you notice empty desks, how can you re-plan and improve their place of work? How can you, Mr Financial Director – pin striped king of the urban jungle – reduce costs, whilst improving feel good factor, morale and profitability? You need to get amongst your targets like David Attenborough in the wild. Tranquilize and tag your staff like an endangered species. Then study them whilst they go about their daily business.

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Ok. Maybe I’m going overboard slightly.

My (serious) point is that if you as an employer are not 100% familiar with your team’s working habits – and you are planning a refurbishment of some sort – you need to get to know how they work and what they need before you set out on this journey. In these situations, experiments such as this can be crucial for workplace consultants to gain an accurate understanding of what makes the office tick. The flip side is that they bring the whole ‘privacy’ debate into the fray and there may be some less scrupulous employers out there that would use information gathered in these workplace experiments for the dark side of the force.

I have noticed a number of what I would call ‘typical negative employee reactions’ throughout the Telegraph newsroom saga that will be all too familiar to workplace designers and consultants:

  1. Suspicion of people (or in this case boxes) studying their working habits, which quickly turns into concerns about being penalised by management for excessive toilet breaks or long lunches with Janice from Marketing- ultimately culminating with the perceived threat of redundancies.
  2. Common negative focus on ‘workplace efficiency’ and ‘reducing office size’ by scaremongers – ultimately culminating with perceived threat of redundancies.

If information about working habits can be harvested accurately, offices can be redesigned to be smaller and more efficient, yet still feel more spacious, relaxed and luxurious – ultimately places you would want to spend time in.

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Smaller can be beautiful (er). And reducing office size doesn’t mean staff cuts. In fact, if it reduces costs and improves health and wellbeing (and in turn performance) of staff, it could actually be a form of workforce preservation.

Maybe the culture in the Telegraph newsroom is all wrong and they all need to go on a nice team building weekend to Abersoch.

Thanks for reading. It’s 13.07 now and I’m leaving my desk to get a soy mocha chocca latte (but I’ll still be working).

As this is my brand new blog, I welcome any shares, retweets or forwards. Look out for my next blog edition.