02 May, 2009

What makes a good office?

Posted by: admin In: Tate

Fiona Sibley snoops around offices that pave the way for better working practices

Office life gave us one of the best comedy TV series in recent memory. Inside Ricky Gervais’ tragicomic world of heavy-duty carpets, cluttered desks and claustrophobic meeting rooms, trapped on a miserable trading estate in Slough, were elements we probably all recognised: the office as a dead, grey, thoroughly uninspiring environment.

But there’s a whole other story, and offices also exist as shining exemplars of good design. People lucky to work in a well designed office can definitely say they reap the rewards. Calmer environments, better lighting and ventilation, ergonomically designed chairs and space planning that facilitates communication – all elements of good design – can help to make employees to feel happier and achieve more. And with the longest working hours in Europe, don’t we deserve that?

The work of interior designers specialising in offices, like Linda Morey Smith and BDG Workfutures, certainly suggests this is the case. Projects in their care are benefiting from innovative, sustainable design thinking which makes the most of the actual building’s merits, whether it is a vast former high street bank, or a purpose-built eco office in the rolling countryside.

Instead of a monotony of standard issue office furniture, offices now incorporate areas of softer elements, with design elements and furnishings you’d expect to find in restaurants and hotels. The National Trust’s HQ in Wiltshire is a paragon of elegant, calm design, with vast walls designed in textiles, which has scooped awards for its architects, Fielden Clegg Bradley.

Now that designers are so focused on employee wellbeing, feeding natural light into offices is a popular design strategy. Offices often accommodate many people, and like it or not, not everyone can sit by the window. Instead, in offices like the Blue Fin building, designed by Allies and Morrison and home to IPC Media, transparent glass is used for all the internal walls, so that daylight can filter through to even the most internally located departments. And if that’s not clever enough, the exterior is clad in 2,000 blue aluminium ‘fins’ that not only help the building to stay cool, but give it a unique appearance on London’s riverbank.

Then there is the matter of encouraging teamwork and collaboration. In the digital age, helping staff to flit easily between concentrated computer work and communicating with colleagues can be a challenge.

To help this, Linda Morey Smith creates many different types of space within her sophisticated schemes, employing different textures and atmospheres. Her offices for the Nokia design team’s move to new premises in London’s Soho give a clue to why these designers remain creatively ahead in their industry. Project rooms with flexible furniture and controlled lighting provide space for Nokia’s designers to collaborate away from their desks. Vast reclaimed timber doors separate these areas off, but as a useful flourish, they can be rolled right back to present the results to the main office. Glazed off quiet rooms have rugs, soft seating and feature lighting, and there is also a big space for presenting to visiting colleagues, screened off by two giant pivoting panels. Ultimately, this is not an office where employees sit at their own desks from morning until night, but create their work through teamwork.

At Bloomberg’s London HQ, designed by Powell Tuck Associates, the effort spent making the office feel alive as a way of inspiring its staff is palpable. From the exterior lighting that transforms the office into a beacon in the streetscape to its dramatic atrium entranceway that you enter on an escalator, to the areas set aside for displays of art, the whole office resonates with the buzz of conversation and culture.

It’s doubtful whether Ricky Gervais would recognise these forms of office life, but they are definitely on the up. Good design helps companies to attract the best staff and project a good image, so more employers are creating spaces that make their employees feel lucky to step through the front door each day.

Some of Tate’s employees will be moving into new office spaces in the new building, and the office can be designed from scratch. What would you recommend? I would suggest a series of different, inspiring meeting spaces, set within a flexible layout that allows plenty of collaboration between different departments. Just add music, fresh air and fresh coffee being piped gently to each employee and that would be just about perfect.

Read the original post on The Great Tate Mod Blog

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