The history of coworking – how did we get here?

A work trend long on the rise, coworking and the concept of office-sharing isn't as new as you might think.  

'Coworking' is on everyone's lips nowadays, but how did this revolutionary concept come about and what caused the spike of the coworking movement? We went hunting for facts and compiled them into a brief timeline depicting the history of coworking.

1995: Berlin sees the birth of C-base, one of the first hackerspaces in the world

Considered as one of the first pre-models of coworking spaces, C-base is where the history of coworking begins. A little like today's coworking spaces, C-base was a physical, community-oriented space where like-minded people with a shared interest for computers gathered and worked together under the same roof.

Along with Metalab in Vienna, C-base directly influenced the birth of hackerspaces in the United States.

Betahaus Berlin, via Creative Economy

1999: Coworking is coined, but not as we know it today

In 1999, American game designer and fun theorist – one who studies the benefits of games (yes, we are serious) – Bernard DeKoven coins the word 'coworking'. For DeKoven however, coworking is used to describe the concept of "working together as equals", as opposed to "working together, yet separate," the definition of coworking we are more familiar with today.

That same year, 42West24 break into the New York City market. A pleasant work environment with flexible desks and cancellations made possible on short notice, 42West24 is a real breakthrough, despite the lack of emphasis on the community spirit that drives coworking spaces today.

Neuhouse New York, by David Rockwell

2002: Vienna opens community centre for entrepreneurs

Two Austrian entrepreneurs partner with architects, PR consultants, freelancer and startups, and put an end to working from home. Schraubenfabrik is born but is officially defined as a community centre for entrepreneurs instead of a coworking office.

Verizon coworking space in London, via Business Insider

2005: San Francisco inaugurates world's first official coworking space

Programmer Brad Neuberg launches the first official coworking space in San Francisco. The association first offers 5 to 8 desks two days a week, free wifi and shared lunches. A year later, the coworking space closes to make way for the Hat Factory in 2006, now closed.

In 2005, Berlin opens one of the first cafés to offer free WiFi and welcome laptop users as guests, not parasites. In 2007, France follows suit and opens La Boate in Marseilles and in 2008, La Cantine and La Ruche in Paris.

La Ruche, Paris

2007: Coworking trends on Google

Since it was first seen as a trend on Google's database, the search volume for coworking' increased by a factor of 20.

Later this year, 'coworking' gets its own Wikipedia page in English. It must be official!

The Den in London, by The Collective

First impressions are the most lasting, especially in commercial real estate.

You only have seven seconds to make a great first impression –  or so you thought.

In 2014, psychologists from the university of Glasgow, Scotland and Princeton, US, showed that a simple “hello” is enough. In other words, you may only have a tenth of a second to make a strong first impression.

A tenth of a second is barely enough time to crack a smile. So exactly how do we prepare for this crucial moment? How do we introduce ourselves to the world?

We dress appropriately, we smile and we strive to look confident. In the event of a misunderstanding, we sometimes get a second chance and turn to words to make ourselves understood. But what about a building?

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How does a building make a good first impression?

If entrances, lobbies and washrooms could speak for themselves, what would they say and most importantly, how would they say it? 

I enter a building, see a room and – in the fraction of a second – have this feeling about it, Peter Zumthor.

Thinking about first impressions is particularly beneficial in commercial real estate where business is key, investments are not light and the word ‘profit’ is on everyone’s lips.  

An entrance becomes the mirror of a company, a chance to convey your brand, convince of your abilities and show that you care. Just like you want to impress your future employer in an interview, you want your office reception to impress your future client, tenant, or prospect. 

So what do you have to do to impress?

Good design and emotions go hand in hand

In his book titled Atmospheres, architect Peter Zumthor, known for his sensuous architecture and attention to materiality, says that architectural quality correlates highly with emotions.

"What do we mean when we speak of architectural quality? It is a question that I have little difficulty in answering. Quality in architecture … is to me when a building manages to move me. What on earth is it that moves me? ... One word for it is Atmosphere."

We often talk about atmosphere and quality of space in the workplace but what about those public spaces – defining spaces – we all experience on a daily basis? How and, just as importantly, why should you strive to create this atmosphere in your office reception?

Design is a powerful tool

A successful office reception should set the tone and create a positive experience for your staff but also any potential prospect: clients, suppliers, business partners should all be engaged as soon as they cross the threshold.

In order to achieve this, you can choose to make a bold statement, like Gensler did for Olswang, an international law firm with over 500 employees.

DSC05210.jpg

Olswang's headquarters in London. 

Olswang’s headquarters, located on 90 High Holborn, in London, stands out with its 6m high, backlit onyx feature wall, visible from the street. The warm, amber glow of the onyx and its expressive, organic patterns, make it a focal point of the lobby, thus an inviting entry to a firm that describes itself as pioneering, with a distinctive approach to business law and an immersive culture.

A feature wall is a great way to engage visitors but there is a lot more to consider when designing an office reception. According to a 2014 Forbes magazine article, colour psychology can have a great impact on human behaviour and emotions. Choose your colour palette right and you could change the way visitors perceive the temperature of your reception area.

“Business owners can use this to their advantage by saving on heating and cooling costs. For example, if you live in a cold environment, painting an entryway a warm color may cause people to think your establishment is a few degrees warmer than actually is. This may allow you to keep the temperature at a slightly lower setting” says psychotherapist, speaker and college psychology instructor Amy Morin.

While different colours can give the illusion of a warmer or cooler entrance, they can also be used to convey a certain emotion. “Painting a common area of an office building blue is likely to satisfy the majority of people” Morin continues to say, so be sure to choose wisely if you want to maximise the potential of your reception area.

Broadgate tower's main lobby with colourful escalators

London's Broadgate Tower, main lobby. 

So colour schemes can alter your perception of the space. What about patterns? And have you thought about flooring, chosen your furniture, agreed on the lighting and decided on the temperature? Is your reception area accessible? Is it sustainable?

Although they may seem like a series of unnecessary expenses, thinking about and focusing on such elements can turn a public space into a sales point for your office building.

What if high-quality design could lead to higher returns on investment?

Good design adds value

This is not news to anyone: London is expensive. In 2014, The Economist published an article entitled ‘Bodies, bombs and bureaucracy’ and even though it may well inspire the title of a horror movie trilogy, it actually reflects on the capital’s costly construction.

Narrow, medieval streets, conservation areas, protected vistas and to top it all, unexploded bombs from WWII found on construction sites… “All this raises costs, which are passed on to business tenants.” According to The Economist, the rent of an office space in the West End was “twice as expensive as in Madison Avenue in New York" in 2014.

Knight Frank's newly released Skyscrapers Index, part of the Global Cities 2016 report, puts a number on this, with a London office rental price averaging £79 per sq. ft. per year, not including taxes or service charges – enough to make our heads spin.

At this rate, landlords and developers can’t waste an opportunity to optimise every space and make it cost-effective, even those forgotten spaces we often neglect: washrooms.

Good architecture has its price. But bad architecture – or no architecture at all – will cost you more, Ruth Reed

Let’s think about it for a second. Washrooms are the first place a client might visit when they come to your business. Along with the reception area and the lift lobby, your washroom should convey a positive image. Clean lines, durable materials, high-quality design that shows clients and staff that you care.

As expectations rise, landlords should see commercial washrooms as valuable marketing assets  in other words, an opportunity to help attract prospective tenants or buyers.

High-quality washrooms reflect you and your business

There are countless factors to take into consideration: hygiene, cleanliness, privacy, suitable lighting and ventilation are only a few of them. Details are of the utmost importance: smooth-locking mechanisms, sensor-activated taps, high-performance materials such as Corian or laminated glass, solid vanity units for a seamless, contemporary look (less joins also means less dirt-infested gaps where overtime, germs can accumulate).

Durability is key, particularly in high-traffic spaces. Designing commercial washrooms with that in mind will help reduce further costs related to maintenance. Non-corrosive metal fittings, resilient laminate panels are hygienic but also cost-effective options.

Modular, integrated-service vanity units are becoming increasingly popular too, pre-plumbed systems can help save time and money when it comes to specification and installation.

Commercial washroom in Broadgate Quarter, by Maxwood

Maxwood's washroom for Broadgate Quarter, London. Photo source

The new tenants of Broadgate Quarter in the heart of the City of London benefit from luxurious washrooms featuring innovative materials such as Swisslamex glass. Designed by Maxwood, in collaboration with fit-out specialists ISG, the washrooms also include lockers and benches for the rising number of London commuters who cycle to work; according to The Evening Standard, an average of 155,000 a day cycled to work in 2015.

In a report titled “Good design – it all adds up", Ruth Reed, British architect and former president of the RIBA, states there is a "danger that in the rush to cut costs we lose more than money from our building projects. To avoid diminishing the quality of life that good design brings, it is necessary to identify the value created by thoughtful and responsive architecture.”

What is good design and how to use it in commercial real estate?

There are countless trends for commercial interiors, from large-scale geometric patterns to collaborative, break-out spaces, but what about the bigger picture? How can we use design to optimise a reception area all the while turning it into an asset?

The recently unveiled Hiscox office in York could teach us a lesson or two about optimising while generating more revenue for the owner. Designed by MAKE, the office boasts a spacious atrium, featuring a 12-metre-long, decommissioned Soviet missile as a centrepiece and a grand staircase with balconies designed to encourage interaction.

Hiscox office building by Make architects

The Hiscox building boasts an airy, mixed-use atrium. Photo source: supplied. 

Aside from the bold statement the atrium makes, the latter also serves multiples functions, gathering a reception, a café, an informal meeting area and a break-out space for staff all in the same area.

Flexible spaces help landlords enhance their revenue

The 2016 Gensler Design Forecast report states the importance of mixed-use commercial office buildings. “As workers gravitate toward social settings, apart from home and work, new and repositioned “office buildings” will make room for them. Openness and connection to adjoining buildings and districts will gain importance. As mobile workers switch between office space and “third place” alternatives, owners and developers that focus on transit-served, mixed-use districts may have an edge in attracting them.”

Taking cue from residential properties and hospitality, office buildings with mixed-use lobbies could generate more revenue for owners by integrating settings that will draw traffic, even outside of work hours. Coffee shops, restaurants, conference halls, retail and even concierge services will raise the destination value.

Sustainability is a front-and-centre issue

For tenants looking for a new office space, sustainability is also a much sought-after factor and developers should see this as another resource to further drive innovation and efficiency.

A ‘green’ office reception can convey the right image and set the tone. Where possible, entrances should be bathed in natural light. Not only does this reduce the need for artificial lighting, it also creates an inviting entrance and positive atmosphere.

“Going green is good business” says Johan Karlström, president and CEO of world-leading development and construction company Skanska in the 2013 Business Case For Green Building report. The latter also states that “as investors and occupants become more knowledgeable about and concerned with the environmental and social impacts of the built environment, buildings with better sustainability credentials enjoy increased marketability.”

Green office buildings attract tenants easier and this philosophy needs to be clear from the onset. Not only will this command higher rent, it will also increase marketability.

Reception desk in the Ampersand Building by Darling Associates

The timber reception desk and wall graphics create a striking first impression. Photo source

The Ampersand building, completed in 2015, boasts a sustainable, light-filled reception intended to draw passers-by into the reception area, made accessible to the public. Designed by Darling Associates for developer Resolution, the office and residential building embraces sustainability through the use of passive design and energy efficient materials. As for the reception area, it doubles as an art installation – proof that furniture can make or break a space.

So how important are first impressions in commercial real estate?

Landlords who understand that good design adds value, also understand the importance of high-quality reception areas and washrooms. If an office reception imparts a positive feeling, if a washroom tells a story of quality, then the rest of the space is bound to follow the same principles.  

Ergonomic furniture, exquisite materials, eye-catching details, all join forces to ensure those public spaces make a good first impression. Such functional, optimised areas will increase the office marketability, particularly if sustainability is taken into consideration.

Reception areas that integrate amenities such as coffee shops and retail will also generate more revenue for owners, thus making mixed-use spaces particularly profitable.  

In the words of Oscar Wilde, “you never get a second chance to make a first impression”, especially in commercial real estate, where valuable customers like being identified as such. So if your business relies on a fraction of a second, how will you make it count?

The sound of silence: pitch-perfect acoustics in the workplace

Bad acoustics are a by-product of busy open-plan offices that continue to thrive. Is it time for a change? 

Fine-tuning the open-plan office

Offices are inherently loud, open plan offices even more so. Loud conversations, phones ringing, keyboards clicking... Energy becomes dissonance and poor acoustics end up hurting wellbeing and productivity in the workplace.

By its virtue, sound reverberates with every surface. Picture an office with a polished concrete floor, an exposed concrete structure and a glazed facade - every ringtone and phone conversation bounce from one hard surface to the next until finally, it is absorbed by nothing other than the ears of the workers. Before long, employees lose focus and the workplace turns into chaos buzzing with distractions.

EchoPanel ® office partitions by Kirei

1. Sound absorption

Using sound absorbing materials can provide some acoustic relief and restore much-needed levels of peace and quiet in virtually every area of your office. Think reception areas, conference rooms, breakout spaces and open plan offices with activities ranging from phone intensive to focus work.

Where can you use sound absorption? 

Acoustical ceilings

The American Ag Credit Union headquarters in Santa Rosa, US boast a smooth visual ceiling with total acoustic performance, by Armstrong Ceiling Solutions

To absorb a significant amount of noise in your office, you can use high performing acoustical ceiling tile with an NRC rating (Noise Reduction Coefficient) of .75 or higher. The NRC rating indicates how absorptive a material is. Ratings of .50 (50 percent) are typical of an average acoustical ceiling tile while some of the best acoustical panels boast a rating of 1 (100 percent.)

Although not a favourite in terms of aesthetics, acoustical ceiling tiles are easy to drop into your standard ceiling grid, thus making for a quick fix to bad acoustics at the office.

Sound absorbing panels

Felt acoustic wall panels, Cleveland House, London. Designer: Anne Kyyro Quinn

If an acoustical ceiling is not the right design approach for your office, you might want to consider baffles or decorative acoustic panels, both available in ceiling and wall-mounted versions and in every shape or form imaginable.

How do you choose between baffles and ceiling panels? The main difference lies in the mounting. While panels are fixed horizontally, baffles are mounted vertically – the former allows for optimal sound absorption while the latter is perfect for busy ceilings or in offices with skylights that wouldn't be blocked.

Acoustic panels come in varying forms and sizes, from large discs to leaf-shaped panels and by placing them in strategic, loud places in the office, the noise levels can be significantly reduced. 

Cork board tiles

Composite cork tile. Lars Beller Fjetland for Spinneybeck

This is your ticket to blissful acoustics with added aesthetic value. Expanded cork wall sheets offer a perfect vibroisolation, thermal insulation and acoustic isolation. Cork panels can be left to shine or finished with paint, lacquer or wood stain.

Use warmly textured cork panels to lend character to your office and, depending on location, transform parts of it into a decorative yet functional tackboard for ideas to be pinned down. 

Acoustic office furniture

Soft Seating Collection for common areas, by Boss Design

Sound absorbing furniture is yet another creative way to manage poor acoustics in the workplace. From high-back acoustic sofas and privacy lamp shades to sound absorbing dividers and work bays, there is a plethora of innovative acoustic furniture designs on the market.

Perhaps best suited to intimate meeting spaces and waiting areas that are part of open plan office, wrap-around furniture offers a cocoon of silence that fosters privacy.

There is plenty of research that shows that the most destructive sound of all is other people’s conversations.

Julian Treasure

2. Sound masking

Interestingly, sound masking is the physical opposite of sound absorption – instead of removing sound, it adds it. It isn't about making the space noisier though, but rather about distracting the ear from other noise.

Small speakers placed in the ceiling or mounted to posts emit pre-programmed, frequency-appropriate white noise designed to mask conversations. The soft, uniform background noise elevates the ambient noise level so that conversations at a distance becomes unintelligible.

This technique is ideal in offices where quiet is too quiet, where the sound of a pen dropping or a bag of crisps being cracked open echoes throughout the space, making for an uncomfortably eerie environment.

A well-tuned sound masking system will deliver uniform sound at the right volume and within the right spectrum, halving the radius of distraction from an average of 13 meters to 6.

Cost-effective and easy to install, a sound masking system will not affect the aesthetics of your office; it will however highly improve its acoustics.

The Bridgespan Group office with integrated QtPro™ Sound Masking System by Cambridge Sound

Which acoustic solution is best for me?

Many variables come into play when deciding which solution is best for your office but the likely answer will often be: a little bit of both. Most open plan offices often sway between loud and dead quiet several times a day. In such instances, absorption would help subdue the loudness while masking would ensure the right levels of privacy between desks with the help of a quiet hum.

Fine-tuning your office may be hard but it is not impossible. With a little help from a professional, your office can quickly become an acoustic feast for all five senses.

We experience every space in five senses so it's strange that architects design just for the eyes

Julian Treasure
Opening photo: Architecture Research Office Collection - wool felt modular panels by FilzFelt

The Soft Office Collection: breakout furniture with a twist

Functional breakout furniture with the comfort of a sofa.

Designed by leading UK designer and manufacturer Boss Design, The Soft Office Collection consists of Cocoon, Cega and Shuffle - three design seating solutions that work together to create flexible spaces in the modern office, where breakout furniture can make or break a space. 

Created to highlight the importance of touchdown areas, The Soft Office Collection also makes a strong case for acoustics in the workplace.

Cocoon - for the collaborative work

Perfect for team meetings and collaborative tasks, Cocoon blends the function of a traditional desk with the comfort of breakout furniture, with the added benefit of total privacy. The high sides, back and roof form a cocoon that isolates the user from their surrounding environment. Set on wheels, Cocoon can easily be reconfigured and used individually or back-to-back to create private, booth-like meeting spaces. 

Cega - for the private reflections

Cega is a standalone high-back seating solution designed to foster privacy. Its contoured design has been intentionally developed to reduce peripheral vision and external noise while the open top lets ambient light through for optimal use. Clever, innovative and highly functional, Cega's 360-degree swivel allows for enhanced privacy.

Shuffle - for the flexible spaces

Based on one simple unit that can be specified with a high or low back, Shuffle is a modular seating system that lends itself to both private and meeting spaces. Depending on your daily requirements and the task at hand, Shuffle allows you to change your office layout when needed, keeping your options open between casual breakout furniture and a more formal set-up. 

A roundup of London’s best coworking spaces

Premium location, designer furniture, hip eateries... London's coworking scene has set the bar high.

Makerversityat Somerset House London - coworking spaces for professional makers

As the concept of office-sharing continues to thrive, coworking spaces in London are becoming ubiquitous. Stiff competition often leads to innovation with offices striving to stand out from a busy crowd by offering a panoply of facilities and cool features.

Open memberships, members-only clubs, hot desking for freelancers, you name it, there will most likely be a coworking space to provide for it. With facilities ranging from cleaning services, through printing to infinite streams of roasted coffee and hip eateries, London's coworking spaces have set the bar high and they must keep it high if they want to succeed.

Here is a roundup of those spaces to quench your curiosity, spark your imagination and inspire you to make your coworking space more profitable.

Central Working Farringdon

Central Working Farringdon

Bathed in natural light, beautifully furnished and conveniently located, Central Working Farringdon offers stylish coworking spaces as well as a luxurious private office for up to 18 people. A membership-based club for start-ups, Central Working offers five locations across London.

Walthamstow Central Parade

Coworking space and bakery cafe by Gort Scott, London. Photography is by Dirk Lindner.

What used to be a rundown office block has become a hub for local creatives in London's Walthamstow. Renovated by London studio Gort Scott, the mixed-use building now features stylish coworking spaces with varied facilities, maker studios and a bakery cafe.

Google Campus

Campus London

The Google Campus might not have a slide like many Google offices do, but it offers coworking spaces particularly well-suited to tech startups. Designed by Jump Studios, the Google Campus boasts a Lego-clad reception desk, an ‘inspiration wall’, and is the perfect coworking space for those looking to network and meet like-minded people.

Ace Hotel Shoreditch

Ace Hotel London Shoreditch, by Universal Design Studio

More of a communal space than a coworking space per se, the Ace Hotel deserves a spot on this list nonetheless. Comfy sofas, a large communal table, cool furniture designed by local artists, a British eatery and, of course, great coffee, all conspire to make it a worthy contender.

The Office Group at The Shard

The Office Group at the Shard, by Archer Humphreys Architects

Considered to be the pioneer of shared workspaces in the UK, The Office Group prides itself on 27 locations in London alone. Although members can use any site, the coworking spaces on the 24th and 25th floor of The Shard and the panoramic views they offer might be hard to resist. The 33,600 sq ft space offers a mix of private offices, drop-in working areas, lounges and conference rooms available to any business.

WeWork Southbank

WeWork South Bank

Complete with a terrace, bike storage, a game lounge, showers and a communal penthouse space overlooking the Thames, WeWork South Bank is spread over five floors within the iconic Sea Containers House complex. A pet-friendly policy and praised location (WeWork South Bank sits among some of the city’s finest bars and eateries) contribute to a hip, design-led environment open to a vibrant, eclectic community.

Wallpaper Games – transform the common areas of your office

Have you ever sat in a room, trying to fight boredom? Your clients probably have too. 

Design can fix boredom. This is the premise behind Wallpaper Games – an ingenious concept that promises to change the way we see the wallpaper.

Forget aesthetics, geometric patterns and colour combinations. Instead, choose a partner and play a game of tic-tac-toe on the wall of your reception area or waiting room. Take your pen on a journey across thousand-and-one pathways and try to exit the labyrinth covering the walls of your washroom office. Spend some time searching for words among a grid of jumbled letters in your office breakout area.

Aptly named, Wallpaper Games provides an ever-changing playground where interaction fights the stillness of your average wall-covering surface. The interactive range of wallpapers was designed by Paris-based 5.5 Design Studio for spaces where boredom may strike (think washrooms) but we think Wallpaper Games would also be welcomed in collaborative spaces such as office breakout areas and informal meeting rooms.

Far more than a wall covering surface, Wallpaper Games acts as a bridge between design and its users, encouraging people to interact with each other as well as with their surroundings. It is less about choosing a pattern and more about creating your own. 

Wallpaper Games is available in three designs – tic tac toe, maze and word search – all three of which are to be purchased blank, and it is only with time and several contributions that various patterns start taking shape. It is no doubt that such creative design solution would set you up as a progressive business.

Photo credits: 5.5 Design Studio

Acoustic panels for the office – a selection to inspire

How can you soundproof your office in style? 

With the proliferation of open plan offices, acoustic management is quickly becoming an absolute necessity for offices, and a sweet opportunity to shine for the acoustics market. In the field of sound absorption, the workplace industry is spoilt for choice with acoustic solutions, be it panels, tiles, baffles or dual-purpose acoustic dividers.

As for materials, acoustic specialists keep outperforming one another, revolutionising the business with eco-friendly options that include wool, natural wood fibres, cement and recyclable felt made from upholstery waste, all the while without impeding on aesthetics.

Beyond functionality, many decorative acoustic panels are designed with flexibility in mind: modular units, wall tiles in varying colours, shapes and sizes, and if the walls in your office are too busy, you can always opt for a freestanding unit or ceiling-mounted baffles.

Don't know where to start? Here's a selection of decorative acoustic panels to give you an idea of what's out there.

BAUX acoustic plank for UK law firm

Architect: Keppie Design. Architect/Designer: Gordon Yeaman

BAUX hexagon acoustic panels

Combining functionality with aesthetics has never been easier with the diverse range of BAUX acoustic panels. Vibrant colours and warm materials can transform virtually any wall into a functional work of art that also happens to reduce unwanted sound. Neat. 

BAUX wool wood acoustic panels

Architect Jerilyn Wright & Associates. Architect designer: Caleb Solomons. Calgary, Canada
Designer: Tatjana Fairhurst at design agency I-AM

If your office walls are too busy, you can opt for acoustic panels disguised as clever dividers. Whether it be standalone, hanging from the ceiling, this solution is perfect for open plan offices in need of both acoustic insulation and increased privacy.

Notes sound panel by Luca Nichetto for Offecct

Scale: super-modular standalone acoustic panel by Layer

Opening image: meeting room featuring BAUX acoustic wood wool panels

The secret acoustic benefits of plants at the office

Acoustic insulation in the form of lush green walls is a sound approach every landlord should consider. 

Phone chatter, obnoxiously loud conversations in adjacent cubicles (we've all been there,) printers, photocopiers, HVAC systems... all distract and make employees less efficient. There are several ways to remedy noise levels in the workplace - sound absorption and sound masking are increasingly popular strategies, but what about living plants?

In 2015,  an agricultural engineer of the University of the Basque Country conducted a research on the benefits of green walls as passive acoustic insulation for buildings. Zaloa Azkorra concluded that “the green wall showed a similar or better acoustic absorption coefficient than other common building materials, and its effects on low frequencies were of particular interest.”

Despite a rising number of studies highlighting the acoustic potential of plants, biophilic design is a resource yet to be explored by acousticians, particularly in sectors like the workplace, still in dire need of fine tuning.

NB: Biophilia refers to the innate love for the natural world, in other words, for nature and the outdoors.

Segment's office reception

How do plants regulate noise in the workplace?

To understand this, we must first brave the acoustic jargon and grasp the meaning of reverberation time.

Let's get technical for just a sentence. Reverberation time refers to the time it takes for a sound wave to die away to a level 60 decibels below its original level. And now, in English: when a source creates a sound wave in a room, what you hear is not only the sound wave spreading directly from the source, but also the sound reflecting from various surfaces around you.

Let's put this in context. The average reverberation time (now that you're an expert, we can call it RT) in an open plan office should be less than 1 second. In an enclosed office, the recommended  RT is less than 0.6 seconds. In a meeting room, 0.6-0.8 seconds. What does this mean? Simply that an open plan office sporting an RT of 0.6 seconds will be significantly quieter than one with an RT of 0.9 seconds.

But how exactly can plants help reduce reverberation time, and therefore noise levels, in your office?

Partitions with integrated living walls. Climate Office Mobile Wasserwand. Manufacturer: C+P Möbelsysteme

Sound deflection

When sound hits a masonry wall, it bounces off the rigid surface and back to its source, like a solitary tennis ball between a racket and the wall. In contrast, when a sound wave hits a plant, the flexible surface will vibrate and transform sound waves into other kinds of energy. This is the same principle behind acoustic panels that absorb sound by converting sound energy into heatwaves.

Partitions with integrated living walls. Climate Office Mobile Wasserwand. Manufacturer: C+P Möbelsysteme

Sound diffusion

There is a clear correlation between the way sound behaves and the surfaces around it. Think of a home with a carpet versus a home with solid floors. Usually, a carpeted room will prevent the sound from bouncing all over and creating echoes. Much like a carpet, plants and shrubbery are naturally uneven - covering surface areas with greenery will help accomplish the same feat. Think vines on walls, lawns, green walls, moss walls, etc.

Moss Wall by Dutch designers Oasegroen

How to use plants to reduce noise?

Genzyme Center, Massachussets, USA. Architect: Behnisch Architekten, Los Angeles

Rough bark and leafy plants are particularly effective but for maximum acoustic potential, you should also consider number of plants, location, size and surface area.

Large planters

Larger planters contain more compost and provide more space for greenery. Combined, these two have a significant impact on noise reduction. As a result, your office benefits from better acoustics, and cleaner air. It's a win-win.

Tip:  For better acoustics, arrange your planters throughout the space as opposed to clustering them. It's all about that surface area - the more spread out your plants are, the more opportunites there are for sound diffusion.

Focus on corners, edges and walls

Along the same principle, plants placed in the periphery of your office - corners, edges, walls - are more likely to reflect sound than plants placed in the middle.

Woods Bagot Melbourne studio

Replace partitions with plant screens

Offices are inherently loud - open plan offices even more so. Oftentimes, this means partitions or rows of filing cabinets. What if you could use plants instead? Effective in reducing noise, and more attractive than your average office partition, plant screens are a great alternative.

If your tenants are reluctant to lose the filing cabinets, these and other surfaces can also be used to place small bushy plants in narrow containers.

Joost Bakker’s Schiavello Vertical Gardens

Biophilic design guidelines for good acoustics

If utilised strategically, biophilic design can drastically improve acoustics in the office and its common areas.

There are few studies on the relationship between plants, architecture and acoustics. In a study performed by P. Costa of the South Bank University in London (1995,) Costa tested several single potted plants and combinations of plants in various areas in a room. His conclusions amount to a certain number of guidelines covered above.

If you accidentally skipped to this last paragraph, here's a summary:

  • Plants need to be large and healthy
  • Plants should preferably be leafy
  • Arrangements with a minimum of three plants seem more efficient than single plants
  • Spread out arrangements are better than a concentrated few plants.
  • Placing plants alongside walls has a greater impact on acoustics than if they're placed in the middle of a room
Opening image: Slack office, Melbourne. Breathe Architecture

Can hotel lobbies inspire better office receptions?

Office reception desk by Ron Arad

What happens when you walk into a hotel lobby, an office reception, or any space for the first time?

We’ve all been taught never to judge a book by its cover. But let’s face it, we can’t help but jump to conclusions. Try as we may to rationalise and give someone the benefit of the doubt, if our first impression has been tainted, it is often hard to shake that feeling off.

Thankfully for us (and for them), fine hotels have come to understand the amplitude of this arrival experience. Gone are the days when hotel lobbies were nothing but a dull, uninspiring space for customers to dash through on their way to their room.

Today, hotel lobbies are designed to set the bar high. They are designed to welcome, make a striking first impression, and let us not forget, make profit. So what can commercial real estate landlords learn from the hospitality industry? How can hotel lobbies inspire better office receptions?

Let’s go around the world to find out.

1. Make a statement, show your personality

Green wall inside Icon hotel in Hong Kong
Hotel Icon in Hong Kong houses Asia’s largest indoor vertical garden in its lobby. Credit: Patrick Blanc.

The rule is simple. If you want to stand out, you have to be different. And hospitality developers often bank on this element of surprise to attract more guests and consequently, more profit. Inspiring hotel lobbies often boast a particular style, they set the scene, they feature thought-provoking art, high-end lighting fixtures and an inviting space to unwind or hold informal meetings.

2. Integrate revenue streams

CitizenM hotel canteen
A canteen lies at the heart of CitizenM Hotel's lobby in London. The bar is surrounded by various relaxing eating, and working spaces.

A coffee and a croissant can go a long way. Integrating amenities and services such as coffee shops, bars, restaurants and even retail is a sure fire way to enhance your revenues. When guests are short on time, there is nothing more convenient than in-house offerings and exciting retail experiences at your doorstep. Mixed-use office receptions can hope for the same results: it’s all about drawing more traffic.

3. If you want to be the best, hire the best

Office reception desk by Ron Arad
Ron Arad designed Milan's DuoMo Hotel striking reception desk, a stainless steel loop, reminiscent of a futuristic flying saucer. Photo by Simon Tegala

World renowned, French botanist Patrick Blanc designed the living wall in Hong Kong’s Hotel Icon. Similarly, the DuoMo hotel in Milan hired Ron Arad, one of the most influential designers of our time to design a slick reception desk for their striking hotel lobby. If you want that unique first impression, you have to be ready to invest in the best. Ceilings, walls, floors, lighting, furniture can all compete to become the feature of the space.  

Yes, we do tend to judge a book by its cover but in the hospitality industry, as much as in commercial real estate, prejudgements are are the good kind of bad. They inspire landlords to realise the potential of those key public spaces and put an emphasis on them.

Republic interviews Anna Rewinska from A:R

Anna Rewinska is a London based creative whose work is an interpretation of the energy and texture enclosed in music.

Since a very young age, Anna Rewinska has been interested in painting and drawing. She pursued this passion independently and through artistic education in both Poland and the UK at the London College of Communication. She also earned a BA (Hons) in Interior Architecture from the University of Brighton. 

The main focus of Anna’s artistic practice is visualizing music frequencies and the energy enclosed in the sound. She creates visual narratives that correspond to the atmosphere of electronic music vibrations. The mesmerizing impressions of music are the foundation for the development of quirky concepts which are transformed into large-scale murals.

Anna Rewinska currently lives and works in London as a Creative Director at Blue Drop Studio, a digital creative agency that she co-founded in 2015, and also continues her independent artistic ventures internationally.

R(love)ution limited edition giclee print by Anna Rewinska
R(love)ution, Limited edition of 30, giclee print, 41cm x 34cm.

Republic: Tell us a little bit about what inspires your work as an illustrator & street artist?

A:R: My biggest inspiration is music - the stories encapsulated in the sets. Music carries energy. It is a language understood by the soul, it creates a bond between people where no words are needed. Music also stimulates the brain more than any other form of art. It simply whispers to me countless ideas which then emerge as visual concepts.Aside from music, I draw inspiration from the world around me. Everything I see can trigger the creative process: colours, patterns, people, other amazing artists…

soundT/Wrap spray paint and acrylic on canvas
SoundT/Wrap, 2015, spray paint & acrylic on canvas, 90cm x 90cm. 

 Republic: Does your background in interior architecture influence your work as an illustrator & street artist and vice versa, has your passion for street art influenced your architectural designs?

A:R: My passion for art has definitely affected my architectural designs to some extent - in fact, my final project at university was about a perfect space for drawing & painting! Later on, my interest in spatial design definitely brought out the desire to use space as a canvas. Apart from street art, I would love to work on a vast branding project where digital illustration would be an important element to the brand and space would be considered as a canvas to bring fun and excitement!

handpainted mural at Shoreditch bar Apples and Pears
Bespoke murals executed within the space of a Shoreditch-based bar Apples & Pears, 2015. 

Republic: Urban graffiti used to have a negative connotation, often associated with vandalism, dark tunnels and subway cars. It is now more and more being recognised as a form of art that exudes personality, even indoors. What do you think changed?

A:R: This is a very good question. In fact, the last decade has brought big changes in many areas of our life - the world became an open place for free exchange of information and thoughts. Probably one of the most influential events that contributed to the transition of urban art was the 2008 Street Art Exhibition at the Tate Modern, where six internationally acclaimed artists from all over the world were invited to transform the river façade by creating breathtaking pieces, intricately linked to the urban environment

Individual_ness for Hackney Wicked
Individual_ness spray painted for Hackney Wicked, London, 2014

Republic: Can you tell us more about this transition and what graffiti and street art was like before?

A:R: Well, the Graffiti movement that flourished in the 70s was based on a territorial concept and only later evolved into a more elaborate form of art but I think it is safe to say it gave a permission to use the city as a canvas – whether it be with or without an actual permission. This concept of urban canvas is now employed in the street art movement. It is important to say that many urban artists now work on legal spots with a permission granted by the property holder.

Anna Rewinska at Emerging Music Frequencies in Mumbai, India
Filming the emerging music frequencies in Mumbai, India 

Republic: What is it, do you think, that drives urban artists to do what they do?

A:R: Urban artists are often also studio painters. They use the architectural fabric to extend their artistic reach and make art available for everyone, for free. Street art is an expression of freedom, an art form that rebels in a peaceful manner and reminds us of what is important in life or simply brings a smile on our faces. Currently, urban art is an extremely dynamic and evolving art discipline that grows within the city environment, an art discipline that consists of many mediums, from traditional freehand spray painting to paste-ups and even photography.

Apart from personal works created by artists or collectives, there is also plenty of socially-oriented projects that help communities and try to invigorate poorer neighbourhoods around the world. Those noble initiatives bring sunshine and hope to the young generation and help them believe, achieve and create.

Street art in Shoreditch, by Anna Rewinska
Street art piece in Shoreditch, Rivington Street, 2015.

Republic: So you are saying that street can have a clear impact on a social and economic level.  What about in the workplace? Do you think art can have an influence indoors?

A:R: Very much so. If the work environment is friendly and inspires everyday life, that will improve efficiency at work. It will also inspire new ideas and not exclusively within a creative environment – corporate businesses can benefit from it too.

Strawberry Mood spray paint and acrylic on canvas
Strawbery Mood, spray paint & acrylics on canvas, 50cm x 50cm, 2016. Also available as limited edition giclee print at Well Hung gallery in Hoxton, London.

Republic: Workplace and graffiti art are slowly starting to coexist. Why do you think that is and how can offices benefit from that?

A:R: That is very true. More and more companies, even industry giants are bringing this form of art indoors. I had the pleasure to work on a huge, site-specific mural for Just Eat (12m long!) in their shared leisure space. I think it definitely injects uniqueness, originality and expression of self that, in turn, might resonate with the workforce and improve not only their efficiency but also their mood.

Catcher in the Rhythm limited edition
Catcher in the Rhythm 2, 2015. Limited edition of 30, giclee print, 44cm x 83cm.

Republic: Do you believe graffiti or street art can help build a company's brand or is it purely an aesthetic feature?

A:R: As every tool, if used wisely, it can have many benefits and help connect with a younger target audience. It would be very effective for companies looking for creative ways to communicate and sometimes even interact with people throughout the city.

Personally, I think it is such a great, versatile medium that comes in so many shapes, forms and styles that it can help spread brand awareness and also bring a lot of interest. Unfortunately, opinions are divided: employing street art in a brand campaign might, in fact, clash with the philosophy behind it because it remains a free form of expression. So instead of using graffiti as a selling point, a company can benefit from associations commonly made to the movement. Not to mention, street artists create a brand of their own.

Anna Rewinska from A:R

Artists like Anna Rewinska are the reason why we love collaborating with artisans and creative minds. If you would like to incorporate one of Anna's paintings in your next Re:public project then get in touch - we'll be glad to meet over coffee.

In the meantime, you can follow Anna on FacebookInstagram and Twitter