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Out in the Open

By Robert Nieminen

Now that the open plan is all the rage in corporate interiors, it’s interesting to note the effects that all those collaborative and teaming spaces are having on the average office worker.

Now that the open plan is all the rage in corporate interiors, it’s interesting to note the effects that all those collaborative and teaming spaces are having on the average office worker. While privacy and acoustics are concerns that can be addressed through design solutions such as workstation partitions, etched glass or acoustical ceiling panels, there’s no changing the fact that the modern office is shrinking, leaving employees with a lot less personal space.

In fact, a recent CoreNet Global survey of corporate real estate managers found that individual space utilization will reach an all-time low of 100 square feet or less within the next five years, and that the square footage of offices has declined by up to 25 percent in just the past five years. Whether it’s due to the economic recession or simply a result of corporations wanting to work smaller but smarter, designers are now forced to pack “more offerings into an even more compact square,” as Senior Editor AnnMarie Martin reports in this month’s Feature article, “Onward and Upward." Fortunately, there are a number of functional products on the market that facilitate smaller footprints, and Martin highlights a variety of them to give you some ideas for the best applications.

With the dwindling office footprint comes the question of flexibility: How do you plan for change and still achieve a desirable design aesthetic when everything is on wheels? What do you do about built-in components such as millwork and casework? Before you throw the baby out with the bathwater, check out our Focus article, in which Andrew Franz of NYC-based Andrew Franz Architect explores the latest trends in modular casework.

“Designers instinctively associate casework with environments that change infrequently—libraries, storage areas, kitchenettes, conference rooms and reception lobbies,” notes Franz. Nevertheless, “the aesthetic of the high-tech sector has driven modularity and flexibility in casework,” a trend that he says does not need to lower the bar for space programming and layout.

The growing need for flexibility can also be seen in the resurgence of hoteling concepts within corporate environments, writes contributor Kylie Wroblaski in this issue’s Trends column. However, providing a percentage of your workforce with only temporary space is not without its challenges—some companies have added a “concierge” to support productivity and avert potential morale issues among hoteling employees.

All of these trends and changes in office design sound good in theory, but how does it look in practice? I’m glad you asked. Two of this month’s featured projects, including the Montreal-based Attraction Media (see p. 86) and Weber Shandwick in Chicago, were designed with flexibility in mind. They cater to the needs of the emerging, tech-savvy generation entering the workforce and mobile workers alike. Gone are the days of working your way out of a cubicle into a corner office, and the results of this shift in office design are illustrated beautifully in these two photo essays.

Speaking of change, there are some notable revisions coming to the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED Rating System, with the release of LEED 2012 scheduled for this year’s Greenbuild Expo. With the addition of new market sectors, increased technical rigor and revisions of credit weightings, you’ll want to be sure to read this month’s EnvironDesign Notebook column to find out how these modifications will affect your next sustainable design project.

Given that this is our annual NeoCon issue, I’d be remiss if I didn’t direct you to our NeoCon Product Preview. Managing Editor Adam Moore poured through hundreds of products that will be launched in Chicago this June, all to give you a sneak peek at the latest and greatest innovations coming to a showroom near you. Also, as you make your plans for NeoCon, don’t miss the second annual Interiors & Sources Materials Pavilion, located on the 8th floor (#8-3130) of the Merchandise Mart. You’ll be able to get your hands on the coolest materials and decorative finishes on the market, and register for a chance to win an Apple iPad 2.

Now that I’ve got it all out there, I hope you’ll do the same by letting us know what you think of this issue by sounding off on our Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn pages. Be social and give us a shout!