Cynthia Wisehart on Open Plan

New thinking in office architecture
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This month I took a field trip to the offices of DLR Group in a downtown LA highrise. I’d been reading about new workplace thinking, especially as it relates to collaboration. I wanted to come to InfoComm with a better sense of context, especially for schools and workplaces. So it seemed like I should get out and see this particularly good example.

With technology becoming so powerful, portable and personal, it means people can have much greater work mobility, not just in the world overall but within the office or campus footprint. The space can be shared and fluid, where people no longer take root but move freely throughout the building, working where the spirit moves them. What a nightmare. Noisy, chaotic, distracting—like something dreamt up by twenty-somethings who crave an unstructured, communal, flat culture where nothing ever gets done on time. Oh, sorry, where deadlines, schedules, and appointments are not the critical drivers they once were. At all.

As I stepped off the automated elevators at DLR Group (the guard desk people program your floor in), I was confronted by two choices—to my left a big beautifully-lit room where people were obviously busy working. To my right an even bigger, gorgeous, chicly-furnished, two-story room full of windows. With no people. Do I interrupt the people working, or do I help myself to the big empty room? It was like walking into a fancy restaurant with no hostess and no diners. But I found I really wanted to sit in one of the many inviting places.

Eventually I got connected (the receptionist was out sick). But I learned something else, as my host walked me through the amazing offices. For some companies a lack of formality is most definitely the point and it comes with a palatable upside: The more time I spent in the space, the more I felt at home. The movement of light and air, the many options for working and gathering, the idea of mobility, and that the whole space was more or less shared seemed so…civilized. If you wanted a corner office, go for it—just grab one of the tables in the corner library or a bench in the corner yoga space, or a comfy chair in the corner of the huge lounge.

You can read more about some of the theory (and practice) of collaborative working spaces here. This kind of design thinking will be coming up for some of your clients—whether it’s on a grand open plan scale or more locally within the collaborative spaces of a building. From my daughter’s experience, it’s the way more high schools are going, and as younger people continue to join the workforce it’s what they understand, more than fixed space.

Speaking for myself, I’m a convert.

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