Applying Placemaking Principles to the Design of a Collaborative Workplace

While placemaking principles are commonly referenced when developing complex mixed-use projects or revisioning the public realm, they are also surprisingly relevant for designing today’s office work environments. Underlying tenets that promote social interaction and collaboration can truly define the culture of the workplace and have a dramatic impact on productivity. But beyond productivity, a work environment should be an engaging place to be – both stimulating and educational. This is shaped, not only by the physical surroundings but, by programming and, ultimately, the diversity of its users.

Purposeful Planning – For certain businesses - like architectural firms - the open office environment remains a primary catalyst for meaningful collaboration. An open landscape facilitates communication on many levels and, whether direct or indirect, helps underline a company’s values and desired processes. The purposeful juxtaposition of younger staff and senior leadership establishes a culture of trust and is one of the most important components of mentoring. Whether overhearing in-house discussions regarding design process or listening to a phone conversation between a partner and a client, this exposure to navigating a range of diverse interactions is invaluable for employees of all ages and experience levels.

 
 The new open office landscape at Form + Place, an architectural firm in Newton Highlands

The new open office landscape at Form + Place, an architectural firm in Newton Highlands

 

Clearly Defined Gathering Spaces – Beyond open studio space, a well-rounded workplace should offer a variety of gathering spaces that can be programmed for a range of activities, whether work-related or purely for social interaction. A cohesive office environment is one that promotes community-building, and flexible gathering space that can accommodate active and passive uses is ideal. In larger work environments, some of these spaces can migrate to the ground floor lobby of an office building. Today’s office lobbies can offer opportunities for interaction with other tenants or a collection of local vendors and, thus, connectivity to the larger community. Subtle design decisions that shape a company’s immediate work environment can include integrating public “pin-up” space for collaborative project discussions or providing rotating gallery space for employee or client artwork. Again, if these forums are integrated into the open office environment, they speak to a company’s process and culture.

 
 Integrating gallery space into an office landscape

Integrating gallery space into an office landscape

 

Quality of Space – A thoughtfully designed work environment not only makes a lasting impression on your clients, it fosters a positive outlook, camaraderie and loyalty among employees. While ergonomics often point to the quality of the workstation as a key to efficiency, one could easily argue that very simple desk space has merits if it is placed in an environment filled with light, warm finishes and the buzz of conversation.

Connectivity to Larger Community – Similar to the relationship between buildings and the public spaces on which they front, desirable work environments are even more engaging when they are connected to a vibrant community context. A quality office location in a walkable neighborhood complete with restaurants, public amenities and connectivity to public transportation will attract a more diverse staff, especially a younger demographic that has a less auto-centric lifestyle.

 
 Newton Highlands - a walkable neighborhood

Newton Highlands - a walkable neighborhood

 

Requires a vision – In order to accurately reflect the culture of a company, placemaking in the work environment must represent the values of the entire “community,” not just one person.

Placemaking is an ongoing process – Perhaps most importantly, the work environment should be an evolving landscape. Like a master-plan for a community, it must be reevaluated constantly and there must be a willingness to reconceive it periodically to reflect a company’s desired culture, process and goals.

 
IMG_4417.JPG
 

“When we started looking for new office space, we knew we needed to find three things: a location that simplified how employees got to work every day, a neighborhood that engages us on a daily basis, and an office space that supports the way we work every day.”

John Rufo – Principal, Form + Place