The world’s happiest offices: 5 secrets for a cool office

An office is so much more than four walls and an array of desks – for many of us, it is a second home.

In honour of International Day of Happiness, we take a look at the world's happiest offices and ask ourselves – what makes a cool office? Does location matter? Is office furniture as important as the space it inhabits?  

Although it can be argued that the concept of "cool" can be very subjective, there remain several features you can incorporate into your office to make it a fun place to work in. So where do you start?

1. Vibrant colours

Bright colours have always been synonymous with fun but the key to a cool office is, of course, balance. Opt for accent walls or colourful furniture to highlight a certain area, aspect or piece of furniture of your office. From your office reception, through a metal staircase, to design furniture, a pop of colour can go a long way.

Capital One Bank office in San Francisco, by Studio O+A
colour-office-design
Colourful café space at advertising agency 22squared in Tampa, Florida. By ASD|SKY 
Prezi office with a breakout space
Prezi's office in San Francisco features a fun breakout area with stadium-like seating. By Gensler

2. Green walls

living wall inside Facebook's Tel Aviv office
Facebook offices in Tel Aviv, by Setter Architects

Being around nature is soothing. Working in an office, not always. That's why more and more offices are bringing the outside in by incorporating living walls in your office.  Businesses who embrace vertical gardens in common areas such as office receptions and breakout areas are likely to increase productivity and wellbeing. 

etsy office green wall
Etsy offices in Brooklyn, New York boasts green walls and colourful art. By Gensler. Credit: Garrett Rowland
Breakout space inside Google Budapest office
Google offices in Budapest, by Graphasel Design Studio. Photography: Attila Balázs

3. Fun furniture

What better way to convey happiness than to opt for versatile furniture that is also functional and ergonomic? Office furniture is no longer solely focused on desks and swivelling chairs – on the contrary. It is now all about innovative, modular furniture items that embrace the idea of fun and blend it with the practical.

fun furniture for laptop workers
Airbnb's office in Portland, Oregon features custom-made furniture built for laptop users. By Bora Architects. Photography: Jeremy Bittermann
cool office storage space for stools
Design slot wall for storing stools in Ekimetrics office breakout area, Paris. By Vincent & Gloria Architects
cool pods inside the Google office in Sydney
Relaxing pods in Google's office in Sydney, by Futurespace

4. (Not so) corporate art

Art in the workplace often speaks to the company's values and personality. As such, the rule is simple: if you want to be perceived as a cool, young and vibrant company, start by introducing some fun art in your office. Office murals, art installations and even a lego wall can make the difference between a dull office and one that gives off positive vibes.

office mural inside WeWork Soho
Hustle Mural by Jeremiah Britton, inside WeWork Soho's office
cool office with decorative helmets
Inside Grupo CP offices in Mexico. By Space Arquitetura

5. Games

 Work hard, play harder. The presence of a game room is increasingly becoming necessary if an office is to be qualified as cool. A pool table, a foosball table, a swing and a pouffe or two wouldn't go amiss. More than breakout areas that are more synonymous of relaxed shared workspaces and impromptu meetings, game rooms are there to boost productivity by allowing for a little moment of fun-filled reprieve. If that doesn't make a happy office, then what does?

game room at TripAdvisor's office
TripAdvisor headquarters, by Baker Design Group. Photography: Robert Benson
Game room inside Prezi San Francisco office
Game room inside Prezi's office, San Francisco. By Gensler 
Cool office with a swing in Budapest
Fun swing inside Google Budapest' s office. By Graphasel Design Studio

7 reasons why you should start a corporate art collection

There is a reason why larger businesses have a corporate art collection. From financial benefits to marketing opportunities, art in the workplace can go a long way. 

Corporate art collections are hardly a new concept. It all started with banker and philanthropist David Rockefeller, the father of modern corporate art collecting. In the late 1950s, Rockefeller decided that longtime family-associated Chase Manhattan Bank should start acquiring art. 

Rockefeller began a trend where art transcended decoration and became a means of communication with the public. Today, the JPMorgan Chase Art collection is one of the oldest and largest corporate art collections in the world.

JP Morgan corporate art collection
J.P Morgan Chase Art Collection. Credit: Paris Photo

The list of financial institutions with an impressive corporate art collection also includes Deutsche Bank, UBS and Bank of America.

Why are such industry giants investing in corporate art? The reasons are manifold.

1. Investment in culture

Businesses may get involved in an art program by sponsoring or commissioning art. Companies can also organise art events to engage with new target audiences and get closer to customers and the community in general.

2. Strong company image

Art increases the corporate image among the public as well as its stakeholders. It conveys vision and drive. Having art, particularly modern art, implies a forward-thinking corporation with a positive attitude.

Duchy of Lancaster corporate art collection
Duchy of Lancaster, corporate art collection. Credit: Workplace Art

3. Boosting sales

 Companies that have art in the workplace are perceived as influential, sophisticated and trustworthy. To put it differently, a corporate art collection is bound to impress customers, which in turn, will lead to an increase in sales.

4. Business competitive advantage

Business companies, especially financial institutions like Deutsche Bank, can put their art knowledge to good use and offer art 'buy and sell' consultancy services to their customers.

microsoft art collection
Katz Frey, Microsoft Art Collection. Credit: Michael Klein Arts

5. Corporate hospitality

Art in the workplace lightens the mood. It creates a nice work environment, peppered with personality and, if the genre suits the business, humour.

6. Supporting the art community

By investing in art, whether it be local or international, companies are openly supporting the community. Businesses with limited budgets can start with the works of younger, less-established artists. Conversely, bigger companies can and should start big, then choose newer artists whose work points to the future.

Wall street company with corporate art collection
Sciame office, 14 Wall Street. Corporate art collection featuring artist Derek Fordjour. Photo via Real Art Muse

7. Enhanced productivity

Happier employees tend to be more productive and an increase in productivity can soon lead to an increase in profits. Having art in the workplace increases creativity and efficiency, making for an enhanced work environment.

According to a 2013 research by the British Council for Offices, 61% of workers agree that artwork inspires them to think and work more creatively.

Opening photo: Deutsche Bank, "Art Works"

How can beacons help you manage a smarter office?

 

Improved experiences and innovative navigation systems – the smarter office is underway thanks to tiny devices called beacons.

This post is the first of a three-part series on workplace innovations.

Beacons have already percolated into high-traffic spaces like airports, museums, stadiums and even retail stores. In recent years, this Bluetooth smart technology has also expanded to the workplace with many companies jumping on the bandwagon.

What are beacons?

Beacons are small, low-cost, low-powered devices that can be used to deliver location-aware, context-aware messages. They can be likened to small computers which broadcast radio signal. Those signal are, in turn, picked up and interpreted by your phone. Personalized content is then displayed as a notification on your screen. Nearby screens can also be used to display relevant information.

There are several major beacon hardware on the market: Estimote, Gimbal, Gelo, Glimworm, BlueSense, and Kontakt. Among these, Estimote is one of the most well-known manufacturers.

location beacons for a smart office

How can beacons help you manage a smarter office?

Navigation

Larger office spaces are trickier to navigate and beacons can remedy to that by guiding new guests or prospects to a particular room, thus cutting a lot of wasted time.

Footfall

Beacons can help identify high and low-traffic areas in your office. In large offices, in particular, gathering location data of all employees can help you determine which areas are more used than others. This information can be shared with, say, the lighting department to help you run a greener office.

proximity beacons estimote

Office layout

Based on the location data of employees, you could design a smarter office, tweak desk layouts based on where staff actually moves around at work.

Office management

Beacons can facilitate booking conference rooms in busy offices. For this application, beacons must be installed at the entrance of every conference room and employees need to install an app on their phones. Based on information from the beacons, employees can check if the room is free, and book accordingly, or, if already occupied, find out when the meeting will be over.

estimote beacon

Check out the next post on Workplace Innovations, featuring high-tech Ketra lighting.

Psychology of colour – what’s the best colour scheme for your office?

Colours are powerful marketing tools, they affect mood, and boost productivity. But which colour scheme is right for you and how do you choose? 

Each colour affects us differently. Red affects the body, blue stimulates the mind, yellow influences emotions and self-confidence, and green ties it all together by nurturing a balance between mind, body and emotions.

Intensity matters too. Bolder, brighter colours will stimulate, while colour with low saturation will soothe.

So which colour scheme should you go for? What is the perfect shade for corporate or creative businesses? Well, don't hate us, but... it depends.

Productive blue

meeting area with blue colour scheme
Russian social media network V Kontakte’s St. Petersburg Office, by Finnish design firm Gullstén-Inkinen

Widely recognised as the colour of productivity, blue helps employees focus on the task at hand. Most often used in offices where mind work prevails, blue is an excellent base to begin with, as long as you spice it up with warmer, accent tones in strategic places.

Positive yellow

open-plan office with yellow accents
Marketing agencies EMO and The Real Adventure's shared office space in Bristol. By The Interiors Group

Yellow is the most optimistic colour. It helps stimulate creativity and can often be found in a designer's office. Because of its bright tones, however, it tends to strain the eyes and cause fatigue and frustration if used throughout your office. For this reason, it is preferable to use yellow and orange as accent colours on walls.

Stimulating red

office reception area with red feature wall
Digital agency Station Four's office reception in Jacksonville, Florida. 

If you are in the building industry, or any industry that involves physical activities, red is your colour because it stimulates physical strength. Incidentally, red is also known to encourages appetite so why not integrate it in the breakout and kitchen area of your office?

Just like yellow tones, red is best used with moderation because it can over-stimulate employees, increase brain wave activities and heart rate, as suggested in a study by The University of Texas.

Calming green

workspace with green wall
Skyscanner's Budapest office, by Hungarian design studio Madilancos Studio

Where other colour associations can often be dependent on personal experiences, cultural differences, upbringing, etc., green as a synonym of nature seems to result in unanimity.

According to a study by The University of British Columbia, blues and greens have a soothing effect that helps reduce eye strain for employees who use computers. Green is therefore great for those who work long hours and, if you're feeling forward-thinking and adventurous, you can also take it one step further by going green and installing living walls in the workplace.

Neutral colours

Book publisher CPI Books' office in Melksham, by Interaction

Whites, greys and blacks can act as buffers to help tone down or liven up certain areas of your workplace. As usual, the key is balance. Embrace those contrasts and use accent walls to highlight a semi-private meeting area or transition from the reception area to the desk area.

As it turns out, the perfect colour scheme is a combination of colours.

Opening image: Masquespacio's Valencia office, Spain. Photography by Bruno Almela via Masquespacio

How does an office fit out affect workplace performance?

What is the secret to good office design? What are the benefits of a commercial office fit out and how does it affect workplace performance?

Fitting out a new office might be the biggest, most expensive project your company will take on so it is important to be prepared and know your strategy and end goal. From function to aesthetics, your new office should reflect your values and take the business forward, focusing on your future needs without neglecting the current ones.

 

Ansarada Sydney offices by Those Architects and End Of Work. Photography: Brett Boardman 

Office fit outs are no easy task, that is why we have created a detailed overview to help you plan and prepare for the big change.

Start with the 'why' behind your office fit out

Do your research early on; what works in your space and what doesn't? What are the biggest obstacles and why are they hindering your growth? How will your business profit from a complete refurbishment?

The more questions you can answer, the more effective your fit out will be. Here are some to get you started:

  • Why the need for refurbishment? Are you looking to expand or are you making concessions?
  • What kind of fit out do you need? Are you refurbishing a new space or your existing office? Are you carrying out a CAT B fit out or going back to basics with a CAT A and CAT B installation?
  • How is your business going to change in the next few years?
  • Are you looking to boost morale and office performance?
  • Is your office outdated and no longer reflects your business?
  • Do you want to boost your environmental rating and promote sustainability to employees, clients and prospects?

 Key benefits of a good office fit out

Design must reflect the practical and aesthetic in business but above all... good design must primarily serve people

Thomas J. Watson
Health sciences company DSM offices by  Studio Niels and BroekBakema architects.

IBM founder Thomas J. Watson knew what he was talking about and Gensler proved it by surveying a panel-based sample of 1,200 UK office workers at all job levels across 11 industries.

Their UK workplace Survey 2016 results reported that over 8 million UK employees are negatively affected by poorly designed open-plan spaces. The key reason behind this dissatisfaction appeared to be the lack of alternative settings and more enclosed spaces for both individual and group work.

Another factor worth noting is that, despite being in a period of economic recovery, the latest figures from the Office of National Statistics show that UK GDP per worker is lower than all other G7 nations barring Japan, thus making it critical for offices to perform at maximum effectiveness.

How can an office fit out help you perform best? What are some benefits you can expect?

Keynsham Civic Centre, by AHR

1. Morale and productivity

Good design affects mood, productivity and wellbeing. A well-thought-out office, complete with a diverse range of working spaces and break-out areas, is bound to increase performance. Simply put, good design makes people happier, thus more productive.

2. Business performance and growth

Design and emotions go hand in hand. A poorly designed office space will likely speak to a poorly-run business, while an office fit out will help retain top employees and attract new prospects.

3. Brand identity and culture

Your office should reflect your motto, values, culture and convey the personality of the brand. It should also be an advertising tool, an extension of your marketing strategy – in other words, a clever physical representation of your website.

Google offices in Milan, by AMA - Albera Monti & Associati

4. Space optimisation

Recent mergers or acquisitions, just like downsizing, often require space reorganisation. An office refurbishment will allow you to upgrade or introduce new facilities and create a balanced working environment.

Your office layout should take into consideration the different departments and their respective needs. The sales department needs privacy (and soundproofed walls for those phone calls) while the creative department may require more collaborative spaces to brainstorm ideas.

5. New or upgraded facilities

Are your conference rooms looking dated? Is your office lacking a breakout space where your workers can relax and exchange ideas in a more informal environment? What about your IT? And how would you rate the quality of your office lighting? Are you getting enough natural light?

We're counting at least five ways you can profit from an office refurbishment and of course, with great benefits comes great responsibility. So how do you tackle a big office fit out?

Photo by Crew on Unsplash

Your office fit out checklist: things to consider

 1. First impressions are key

First impressions are the most lasting, especially if you are a client-facing business. A good office fit out can ensure that your office sells your business as much as your staff do. Common areas are particularly influential and a great way to make a statement while also providing comfort. Some ideas:

  • An engaging reception with striking reception desk and comfortable waiting areas.
  • Architectural and design features like multipurpose staircases, living walls, design lighting, etc.
  • Coffee shop and/or communal spaces open to the public.
  • Atriums, public thoroughfares and amenities that encourage people to walk through your workplace (and notice it).
  • Artwork, commissioned office murals by local artists, sculptural lighting, etc
Trelleborg office reception, Bangalore, by Zyeta Studios

2. Budget counts

Knowing how much you can spend will save you many a headache and hunting for quotes is that much easier when you are in control of your finances. Here are a few factors to consider when calculating your budget:

  • Costs associated with a potential relocation.
  • Duration and costs of equipment and furnishings storage.
  • The fit out itself (including a brief, technical plans, delivery of materials, building assessment and project management)
  • New furniture and equipment.
  • IT and telecommunications infrastructure.

3. Design should be in sync with your brand identity

Everything in your office, from inviting common areas to pristine washrooms, should reflect your company's values. Consider glass manifestation, colour schemes, etc. to highlight brand identity.

Decca Records Project offices by Kim Walter

4. Office trends trend for a reason

What are the latest offices trends? Don't follow the masses blindly but, by all means, draw inspiration from what works and what doesn't, what your target audience is looking for and how you can best provide for it.

Can standing desks or desks on wheels encourage flexibility and productivity? Are natural materials gaining in popularity? Are multipurpose spaces key to efficient offices?

5. Cloud technologies offer flexibility

An increase in cloud-based technologies allows companies to get rid of outdated infrastructure and make room for, say a second conference room. Cloud computing also offers more flexibility as enables some staff to work from home, thus contributing to the overall office performance.

How would cloud-based technologies affect the size or your server or communications room? Could they allow for better document control and contribute to the image of a forward-looking business?

An office fit out should cater to these electronic needs with frequent, well-located powerpoints.

IT consultancy Thoughtworks offices in Soho, London by Morgan Lovell

6. Efficient system designs make life easier

Depending on your future office needs, basic systems like lighting and temperature control can be made smarter and more efficient. To consider:

  • Lighting: From pendant lights to desk lamps and sconces, you're spoilt for choice, but which lighting scheme is best for you? Consider bespoke lighting to set yourself apart.
  • Windows and louvres: Should they be operated manually or remotely?
  • Air conditioners: How will they be controlled and what is the most efficient schedule? Where will they be placed for optimised temperature?
  • Electrical sockets: Are there enough and are they placed according to your staff's needs?
  • Thermostats: Who controls the temperature and from where?

7. Going green saves more than trees

From going paperless to making use of available daylight, adopting a sustainable approach can be very beneficial to your business. Here are some ways you can reduce your carbon footprint while improving your office performance:

  • Investing in solar technology will help slash those electricity bills by powering your lights and heating your water.
  • Taking full advantage of sunlight will improve staff morale and reduce the need for overhead and desk lighting.
  • Going paperless will help you save money on printers and resources and, since less filing cabinets will be required, free up office space. It will help reduce energy usage in the paper industry, reduce fuel consumption and of course, save trees.
Cuningham Group offices in California, United States, by Cuningham Group

 A commercial office fit out should promote a cultured image and a flexible, well thought-out working environment.  It is an excellent opportunity for businesses to rearrange and update certain aspects of the company in an organised, cohesive way.

The result should make for an attractive, efficient workplace that is in tune with the company's needs and plans for the future, not only the present.

Opening photo by Diego Aguilar on Unsplash

Green leases: the benefits of going green

Rising in popularity among corporate tenants, green leases are a true real-estate opportunity for landlords, and a promise to the environment.

You might have heard of green leases and wondered if you should consider signing one. The answer is yes and the reasons why might surprise you.

What is a green lease? First introduced in the UK and Australia in 2006, green leases are an opportunity to fight climate change while also making profit. It is an energy and cost saving approach that aims to improve the environmental performance of your leased office space, thus increasing its appeal to corporate tenants.

Brent Civic Centre in London - 'outstanding' BREEAM rating. Architect: Hopkins Architects. Main contractor: Skanska.

At the start of this year, the UK commercial property market saw a record activity in the London real estate market with a total of £4.9bn worth of transactions between January and March 2017. By retrofitting your commercial property, you will not only distinguish yourself from the competition, you will also show commitment to the future and set yourself apart as a forward-thinking commercial real-estate leader.

UBM’s 240 Blackfriars office in London - ‘excellent’ BREEAM rating. Architect: Allford Hall Monaghan Morris. Developer: Great Portland Estates

Having environmentally sustainable features is seen as a competitive advantage.

Michael De Jong-Douglas

So how can a green lease benefit you and your tenants? What are the incentives of designing, constructing and managing sustainable commercial buildings?

  • Your core asset is maintained in compliance with its sustainable design
  • As a result, the building achieves maximum rental returns and occupancy rates
  • Maintenance and operating costs are minimized and utility consumption is reduced
  • Your public image is enhanced and your asset scores better on green rankings
  • Waste stream diversions lead to extra savings
  • Landlord-tenant relationship is strengthened: green leases help provide financially beneficial incentives for both parties. 
  • Show leadership in energy and environmental design by getting BREEAM certified: in accordance with the European Union’s Energy Efficiency Directive, the UK has a national energy efficiency target to reduce energy consumption by 18% in 2020. Contributing to the national target shows ambition and civic leadership.
PWC's office fitted-out by Overbury and Morgan Lovell - 'outstanding' BREEAM rating.  

Looking at the commercial real estate market last year, it's becoming clear that tenants value sustainability when looking to lease new office spaces. For tenants, green buildings are synonymous with efficient buildings – smart, forward-looking landlords can reap the benefits of this energy efficiency.

Opening photo: Sea Containers, BDG

Should more offices swap stairs for slides?

Playground equipment isn't just for kids.

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. In recent years, this old proverb has weaved its way into the work culture where the importance of downtime has not only been recognised but also promoted.

 

Box.net's office reception slide. Architect: Fennie+Mehl

More and more concerned with wellbeing in the workplace, companies are incorporating 'fun' in the office. Game rooms, ping pong tables and football nets are no strangers to the workplace as forward-looking offices are slowly turning into carefully balanced playgrounds. So why should the staircase not get a fun makeover too?

You might've taken notice of Google and its obsession with slides, but more and more companies around the world are now jumping on the bandwagon and installing slides in their offices. Some are sleek and minimal, others remind us of wild attraction parks but whatever the design, one ride is enough to bring back playful childhood memories – all from the comfort of the office.

Integrating playground apparatus into the workplace is rarely governed by whim. More than fun smooth chutes, slides mean business - they can give an edge to the workplace and increase job satisfaction.

To inspire you, let's look at some companies with slides in their offices. 

Google Zurich
theCHIVE Austin Texas
theCHIVE Austin Texas
Lego Denmark
Google Detroit
Ogilvy & Mather Jakarta
Opening photo: Ticketmaster London

Multi-sensory design – building for all senses

Architecture is all visual, but there is more to it than meets the eye.

Imagine you have just entered the lobby of a luxurious hotel. You gasp, in awe of its striking, eight-story high lobby, with a water feature cascading down at its centre and a soft pile carpet beneath your feet. Before you check in, you pay a visit to the washrooms and are welcomed with a clean, earthy waft of cedar wood - or is it cypress? You inhale deeply; it is comforting. Your eyes then turn to the white Corian vanity units. They look so inviting you can't resist running your fingers along the surface; it feels as smooth as silk, polished to perfection.

What you have just experienced is multi-sensory design, the kind you could never truly savour with your eyes only. The kind that engages all five of your senses. You saw the wonderful height of the lobby, you heard the waterfall, you perceived the scent of cedar wood in the washroom and you felt the polished stone caress your skin.

What about taste, you may ask? It seems implausible for architecture to stimulate our taste buds, but wasn’t it Dali who wrote of the "edible beauty" of Art Nouveau architecture after all? You might be surprised at how powerful a space can be and even more surprised at the emotions it may trigger.

Architecture can elicit a wide array of emotions

Joolz Headquarters in Amsterdam

It is true that architecture can move us. It can bring back memories and elicit strong emotions. It can be intimidating just like it can be comforting. We might feel safe amidst the books of an airy, public library just like we might feel oppressed in the fusty, sombre atmosphere of an office reception area.

Whatever the emotion conveyed, this interaction between architecture and people is never the same. So, what is it that sparks all of these emotions and why do we react differently to a space? What can architects and landlords learn from multi-sensory design and how can they use it to create commercial spaces that would be leased in a heartbeat?

Let's go back to our luxurious hotel lobby and imagine a slightly altered scenario. The eight-story high lobby is still there, in fact, the reception area is now strewn with beautiful, modern art paintings. The water feature has been replaced by an abstract anodised aluminium sculpture, reflected in the marble floor. As for the washrooms, they are still elegant but the scent is gone and the Corian has been replaced with laminate.

Architecture is the art of reconciliation between ourselves and the world, and this mediation takes place through the senses

Juhani Pallasmaa

This is retinal-experienced architecture and, at first glance, it appears to be enough. The space is well-designed, but it lacks character and more importantly, it lacks depth. It is one-dimensional.

What can we change? How can we design multi-dimensional spaces? How can landlords improve their commercial space to appeal to more tenants and enhance their revenues?

Designing for the senses

“Architects who understand their users’ needs and feelings design successful buildings” illustrator and architectural designer Justine Bourland told Republic. “I have always been curious to know how the environment we live in has an impact on our perception of space” she continues to say, “we started brainstorming on a system using a polygraph to measure people’s heartbeat and moisture. This is an efficient way to read people’s reaction to their environment.” A few months later, the device in question, created by Bourland and three of her colleagues, existed in real form and experiments were conducted on over one hundred people. 

The outcome was fascinating. The polygraph showed more activity in an urban setting – which meant more stress – and less activity by the sea. “The results have only confirmed that our urban environment is not adapted to our needs anymore” Bourland points out, raising an important question: how can we design better spaces?

Landlords and developers can learn a lot from this experiment. A commercial property designed for the senses could easily command higher rent as the tenant will be engaged in more ways than one. Bourland is well aware of the magnitude of workplace design: “People living or commuting to a city spend most of their time at work. Workplace design should be just as important as that of people’s home” she says, urging landlords to invest more time and money in the workplace design strategy.

Architecture cannot exist without human habitation. The interaction between environment and body is constant and according to Bourland, it “should be the architect’s priority”. When we experience a space, we experience it through our senses and as we all know, we have five of those. That is five different resources for designers to explore and tap into, five different resources often forgotten by landlords attempting to lease a space that only stimulates one, maybe two senses.

So how exactly do we design for the senses and why will your business profit from it? Let’s take it one sense at a time.

1.   Sight –  the primary sense

Torres de Satelite by Luis Barragan
Torres de Satélite, 1958, Barragan and sculptor Mathias Goeritz.

Architects use vision like spiders spin a web – instinctively. Le Corbusier, the icon of modern architecture reinforced the idea that vision is at the heart of everything when he wrote "I exist in life only on the condition that I see" and, as such, it comes as no surprise that architects, furniture designers, landlords, developers, tenants even, all rely on the power of sight.

Sight is what allows us to perceive light, form and colour. Take the work of Mexican architect Luis Barragan, otherwise known as the architect of colour. Barragan’s style can be recognised not only from the distinctive colour palettes he uses but also the serenity permeating his architecture.

Granted, we could not fully comprehend Barragan’s work without our sense of sight, but what makes the urban sculpture above particularly successful is not only the colour palette but also the choice of material. Notice every concrete prism features horizontal shutter marks that add character to the entrance of Satélite, one of Mexico City’s satellite towns. Yes, colour is at the crux of Barragan’s work, but what about materiality?

2.   Touch – the smooth and the rough

castelvecchio step detail

Materials come in all forms – some are polished, others are raw, some are warm, others are cold, some are even made to interact with their surroundings. Juhani Pallasmaa believes tactility leaves less room for mistakes than sight, no illusions, no trickery.  

Let’s consider all the factors: texture, weight, density, heat, are all related to the sense of touch. That leaves a lot of room for architects to experiment with materials and stimulate our senses.

One architect in particular is known for his instinctive approach to materials and attention to detail: if you haven’t already, meet one of the most enigmatic architects of the 20th century, Carlo Scarpa.

The work of Scarpa is a prime example of multi-sensory design. Bringing together time-honoured crafts and modern manufacturing processes, the Italian architect has embraced contrasts and made them his trademark. His renovation of the Castelvecchio museum in Verona, completed in 1964, is an ode to materials and tactility.

Everything, from the walls adorned with various shades of Prun stone, to the sophisticated combination of steel and concrete throughout the space, reflects the architect’s love for materials.

castelvecchio by Carlo Scarpa

Justine Bourland reminds us of the influence materials have over our perception of space: “The design process should follow questions such as what the user will touch, and so what kind of material will be used?” Such design process does not stop at the sense of sight and in the case of the Castelvecchio Museum, pictures struggle to do it justice because our eyes are not enough to comprehend the space.

3.   Smell –  the untapped design resource

Chicago’s Rush University Medical Center
Chicago’s Rush University Medical Center, by Perkins + Will

Scents trigger memories, we associate spatial qualities to them: "it smells like home", "it smells like a hospital". If cleverly used, these associations could be utilised in architecture to increase certain emotions, to create a complete brand experience or even, like the Chinese used to with beautifully engineered incense clocks, to tell the time.

Using our olfactory sense in architecture goes beyond plugging in an air freshener. It means tapping into fragrant construction materials to create a naturally scented environment: some trees emanate a resinous perfume and much of the wood used in construction or furniture, like juniper wood, cedar of Lebanon, Atlas cedar, cypress, Thuja or Laurel emanates a particular scent.

So ask yourself – what would a modern office reception smell like? Or a luxurious washroom? Now push the boundaries of this default smell. What materials could you use to create an entirely uplifted olfactory experience for your clients or tenants?

4.   Sound - the invisible that can change a space

Low ceilings can be heard. Open doors, nearby walls, tall columns all have their own reverberation time, their own resonance, and their own low or high-frequency energy.

A change in acoustics can have an impact on the entire space. Deep pile carpets create an aural sense of warmth while marble floors and glass walls convey an aural sense of coldness. It is all about reverberation time. 

I remember the sound of the gravel under my feet, the soft gleam of the waxed oak staircase

Peter Zumthor, Thinking Architecture

So how can our hearing be stimulated in architecture? Ambient music is an obvious example. Water is an underrated one. Acoustics is key. In the words of acoustic consultant Julian Treasure, “It's time to start designing for our ears”. In a 2012 TED talk,  Treasure talked about "invisible architecture", stating that poor sound affects our health, our education and our productivity in the workplace. And it doesn’t cost a leg and an arm to fix this – acoustic treatments, sound absorbing materials, clever space planning, are all viable solutions to minimise noise levels and improve our behaviour.  

5.   Taste - the bitter and the sweet

Meeting room inside Cision's Chicago office
Cision's Chicago office, by Eastlake Studio

"There is a subtle transference between tactile and taste experiences. Vision becomes transferred to taste as well; certain colours and delicate details evoke oral sensations. A delicately coloured polished stone surface is subliminally sensed by the tongue" says Pallasmaa.

Yes, the sense of taste is strongly related to spaces such as grocery stores, restaurants or bakeries but can’t we use those associations we make in other environments? What do bitterness, sweetness or saltiness look like? Using colours to recall tastes can add depth and character to a space. Paint the wall a bitter chocolate brown, punctuate the space with zesty orange accents… It's all about associations.

Five senses or more?

Rebecca Maxwell is a writer who lost her sight at age three. In a radio broadcast called “Beyond Appearances – Architecture and the Senses”, Maxwell invites those of us who see and design only with our eyes to experience our surroundings in a different way by considering a series of additional senses.

“I believe that there are a lot more senses. We haven't identified them and we don't use them. I think by identifying them we would begin to turn them on, as it were. You see, I think there is a sense of pressure, a sense of balance, a sense of rhythm, a sense of movement, a sense of life, a sense of warmth, even a sense of self, which psychology is beginning to recognise.” That is a lot of senses and a lot of factors for landlords to consider when renting a space. Is it oppressing or is it comforting? Is it inviting?

Human experience is multi-sensory

Maxwell highlights what most of us forget: architecture can impart feelings that will vary from one person to the next. Why? Because we perceive certain architectural atmospheres differently and that is an important aspect to keep in mind when leasing a commercial space.

The hands want to see, the eyes want to caress

Goeth

It is not necessary to design for all senses at once of course but landlords should understand a space can be stimulating in more ways than one. Envision your space like a finely tuned instrument that can interact with its occupants through a wide array of senses. Who is your target and what can you do to find satisfied tenants faster? Design for the senses.

We asked Justine Bourland what building she would like to bring her Time Machine into and she said the Opera House of Sydney. “I can imagine the device would reveal a certain calmness at the start of the visit and excitement at the end, when the user finally walks into the main hall while listening to the musicians play, surrounded by this architectural masterpiece”.

If the Time Machine were yours, would you dare to use it in the commercial property you are renting? What do you think the results would be?

The green wall gains popularity in the workplace

Green wall inside Slack's Vancouver offices

As the green wall becomes more and more present in the workplace, we take a look at some of the most inspiring offices that feature living walls.

Last month, we discussed the benefits of green walls in your workplace. Today, we take a look at 15 offices that have used greenery to their advantage.

Whether it be a creative studio, a co-working space or a law firm, green walls are a surefire way to give your tired office a new lease of life. 

They make for great room dividers in large open plan offices, they can act as a refreshing backdrop in your meeting area or waiting room, and if you lack the space (or budget), you can always replace a poster or two with bright green, wall-mounted planters.

Don't know where to start? Here are four ways to use living walls in the workplace.

1. Uplift the reception area

Office reception area with a living wall
Fuschia pink and natural green blend in inside Microsoft's Building 44 office reception area. By  ZGF Architects
Etsy Brooklin office by Gensler
Etsy's office in Brooklyn, New York features green walls and colourful ceiling decorations. By Gensler
Large green wall in Boston office
The Sonos offices in Boston feature a large green wall in a double-height space. By IA Interior Architects
Waiting area with green wall
Eclectic waiting area with industrial elements and a lush green wall inside Maritime data analytics firm Windward's Tel Aviv office by Roy David Studio

2. Freshen up the office lobby

Large atrium with living wall
Large living wall inside Yoga clothing retailer Lululemon Athletica's office atrium in Vancouver, British Columbia. By Gustavson Wylie Architects
Insurance law firm office with living walls
Sculptural staircase and mini green walls punctuate the waiting area at insurance law firm Wotton + Kearney. By futurespace
Green wall inside Slack's Vancouver offices
Exposed brick walls, contemporary lighting and a bright living wall inside Slack's office Vancouver, British Columbia. By Leckie Studio

3. Infuse character into the breakout area

vistaprint office with a living wall
Contemporary breakout area with a green wall at Cimpress and Vistaprint. By Margulies Perruzzi Architects
Breakout area with green wall inside coworking office Hong Kong
Coworking office The Work Project in Hong Kong boasts an eye-catching green wall. By Bean Buro
Breakout area with green wall
Collaborative space with a green wall divider inside Multinational food and beverage company Mondelez International Madrid office. By Areazero 2.0
Skyscanner Budapest office
Skyscanner's Budapest office is bursting with greenery. By Madilancos Studio

4. Spruce up the common areas

breakout area with a green wall
Colourful furniture and well-lit green walls at Facebook's Tel Aviv headquarters. By Setter Architects
Green walls at BKM headquarters
Green accents add personality inside BKM headquarters by Hollander Design Group
Yandex office replete with living walls
Living walls inside tech company Yandex in Moscow. By Atrium

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