Today, many people spend the vast majority of our time at work. Therefore, the spaces and furnishings must not only support innovation and work processes, but also our well-being and job satisfaction.
The workplace spaces and layout must offer added value that supports the organization as a whole. From healthy workstations and pleasant indoor environments to a layout that reduces walking distances for cleaning staff.
The way we design workplaces holds significance because it directly impacts the well-being and productivity of individuals. The COVID-19 pandemic has fundamentally changed how we perceive a workplace today. The expectations of what a workplace should offer have increased, and many prefer working from home for several days a week. This shift has consequences for the culture within a workplace. Simultaneously, it risks negatively affecting knowledge sharing and the quality of work processes as physical interactions become less frequent.
What are the new needs and requirements for the workplace?
We have a collaboration with a client who experienced significant issues in the aftermath of the pandemic. Employees simply did not feel like coming into the office. They struggled with problems such as noise disturbances and headaches, and the existing spaces no longer fulfilled their needs. There was a lack of necessary space for both meetings and concentration. Either all meeting rooms were occupied, or they were too large and occupied too many empty square meters - highlighting a lack of coherence within the building. Simultaneously, the company faced a problem with recruitment as skilled employees sought opportunities elsewhere.
For a larger auditing firm, we developed a workspace design plan that reduced the space requirement from 32,000 to 8,000 square meters. Many employees are salespeople and consultants who spend a significant amount of time outside the office and therefore do not need a dedicated workspace. Consequently, many seats remained unoccupied, creating dead zones that negatively impacted the environment. As part of the interior design solution, a booking system was implemented where employees reserve a workspace in the morning when they arrive. This ensures there are people and activity every day, transforming the office landscape from a lifeless environment to a lively one.
We humans have a social and professional need to meet and be together. This also applies in a workplace setting. Therefore, the design and programming of functions in workplace settings should support well-being - more than ever before. If well-being is not a focus in a workplace, employees will disappear. Naturally, not everything can be solved through design, but it is possible to create the best possible framework based on the specific needs and premises of a given company. We know that there is a growing need for flexibility in design, quiet zones, meeting spaces, and activity-based areas where various professional backgrounds can come together across departments within an organization.
How do you ensure that the needs of the users are met?
It's crucial for a successful outcome that the users - including management, employees, service personnel, and other users - are heard and involved before we initiate the actual programming and design process. For a government agency, we established a process involving 12 workshops across the entire organization where everyone's dreams and thoughts were brought to the table. From the rooftop terrace to the coffee machine to the color of tables and access to outdoor areas, all inputs were transformed into data that we utilized in the subsequent process.
What will be important in the future design of workplaces?
There will be much more focus on sustainability, biobased materials, and how we reuse existing resources. This can take the form of transforming and repurposing furniture and materials, as well as upgrading older buildings into modern workspaces with excellent acoustics, lighting, and functional programming of spaces.
And when we talk about new constructions and headquarters, we see an increasing desire from clients to open their buildings to more people. It's about sharing square meters with entirely different functions, such as a café, shops, and multiple companies coexisting in a kind of community. There's a growing trend to "connect" to an existing local environment. It's both cost-effective and has the potential to create new dialogue among companies while contributing to a more diverse street-level cityscape if the edge zones and the environment around the buildings are also considered.
What role does design play in companies?
Creating something specific for a company provides identity and pride, both for the employees and management. It strengthens the sense of place within a building. Not all furniture and equipment need to be custom made. It's possible to have many generic tables and chairs, and especially, it's often feasible to repurpose what already exists by giving it a new coat of paint or new linoleum on the tables. Thus, the focus can be on custom designs in key meeting rooms and common areas, which we design and develop in collaboration with, for example, carpenters and blacksmiths.
How is classical design linked with the modern flexible workplace?
There's already a very strong connection because what is classic - good quality and robustness - is precisely adaptable. Buildings and high-quality spaces are adaptable and not confined to one specific purpose. The classic and timeless aspects are characterized by thorough craftsmanship, and the layout and design of furniture reflect functionality. Additionally, the durable solution is always site-specific and designed for users - living people - whose well-being is influenced by factors such as colors, daylight, moods, and spaces for both community and concentration.
Upcycling, energy optimization, timber construction, and certification schemes. The sustainable agenda is advancing, but Danish developers and architects overlook a crucial point: the greenest square meter is the one we don't build.
Far too many built square meters lie unused, and there is significant sustainability potential if we dare to rethink the way we construct, especially in commercial and office buildings.
An average Danish office building is practically empty between 5 PM and 8 AM, on weekends, and during holidays, remaining unused for more than half of the time. Additionally, internal areas such as cafeterias, meeting rooms, and auditoriums are only in use for short periods throughout the day.
The waste of space is unbelievably large. Even though the work on optimizing commercial square meters is not new, there is still a focus on utilizing the building as a workplace within office hours. However, this is an unnecessary limitation.
We need to rethink the workday!
Architects and developers need to become much better at considering the advantages of maximizing the use of square meters over the 24 hours of the day throughout the year. This way, we can support urban life without increasing the amount of construction. Even though it results in increased operating expenses throughout the day, the economic and environmental costs are still significantly less compared to constructing a new property.
From a life cycle perspective, there is a considerably greater climate and environmental impact in building something new rather than renovating and transforming it. An impact that takes many years to offset, according to Concito.
Co-working and the sharing economy have been global megatrends for years, with a strong presence in Denmark. The next step is to rethink the entire way we perceive a workday. The facilities we interact with during the day should seamlessly integrate with our work, and we should also share these facilities publicly with others. When companies share with each other, they get more for less. We should expand this idea to include the local community.
A commercial building can be a catalyst for culture
A few examples of projects that redefine office building are the upcoming Kay Fiskers Plads in Ørestad C and the Novo Nordisk Foundation's Center for Biosustainability at DTU in Lyngby.
Up to 3,000 users are expected to frequent the 50,000 square meter new commercial building on Kay Fiskers Plads in Ørestad in Copenhagen when it's completed – equivalent to a small provincial town. But instead of a large building that drains the city of life toward the evening, the building should be a generator for both business and the local community.
The Norwegian pension fund KLP, the developer, has wanted a new, long-term concept from the beginning that turns the building into a catalyst for culture. The ground floor will be largely public, with a focus on utilizing the space around the clock and sharing it with the local area. The traditional cafeteria is replaced with an open square with a food court, restaurants, etc., accessible to the city's residents even outside office hours.
The square can be used for public events from morning to evening, and there will be access to services such as dentists, hairdressers, doctors, and bicycle repair shops. In addition to making life easier for the tenants and local residents, it reduces the need for additional square meters and brings the building to life.
Another example is the Novo Nordisk Foundation's Center for Biosustainability at DTU Campus in Lyngby. The classic solution would be a closed building with high security. Instead, the developer has chosen to move security and access control to the first floor and open the entire ground floor to students, even outside office hours. As a result, the ground floor becomes an active study environment that benefits both employees and students and creates campus life.
A duty to build smarter
As architects and developers, we owe it to the environment and the climate to build much smarter. We should not just build for ourselves – instead, we should share more with society and the local communities around us. We should rethink office buildings so that, instead of being closed, private square meters for the few, they become functional, 24/7 open business spaces that also function as cultural hubs in local areas.
By double-utilizing areas for retail, service, and cultural functions in commercial buildings, we avoid building the extra square meters that would otherwise need to cater to local residents. At the same time, we also increase the building's preservation potential in the future.
My hope is that there will be a greater focus in construction on the fact that if we build smarter, we can build smaller – which is the most sustainable approach.
Opinion by Thomas West Jensen, Partner at Vilhelm Lauritzen Architects. Published in Politiken BYRUM on August 19, 2019.
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