Continuing Education Series
New Trends in Environmental Design, Part I
NOTE: For over a year, Landscape Forms, in conjunction with frog design, worked together to study the behavioral patterns and social interactions in outdoor environments and the integration of architecture, landscape architecture and interior design. The research involved round table discussions with over 225 high-profile professionals in 15 cities in the U.S. and Canada. Attendees included architects, interior designers, landscape architects, educators, civic leaders and commercial clients. A two-part CEU article, appearing in this issue and in the October 2004 issue, explores how an integrated, planned approach to the design of public space can enhance the creation of outdoor environments that encourage social interaction, stimulate creativity and build community—thus improving the human experience in urban environments. This CEU article explores the first of five themes that resulted from this research: Work/Lifestyle: Design for a 24/7 Universe; Technology: The Future of Real Spaces in a Virtual World; and The Corporate Campus: Dinosaur or Evolving Species? The second installment examines the remaining two elements: A Sense of Place: Creating Successful Public Spaces; and Design Practice: Challenges for the Profession.
I. Workstyle/Lifestyle: Design For A 24/7 Universe
"24/7" signifies more than longer hours on the job. As the design professionals who participated in our roundtables noted, work cycles are not simply longer—they merge with other cycles of life. The boundaries between work, family and leisure are blurred. Changes in the hours people work are accompanied by changes in the places they work, in the kinds of activities they perform at work and in the cultural norms and patterns that have traditionally defined the structure of our days. Technology lets us take it with us. Work is interactive, it's collaborative, and it takes place wherever we are. Given this new reality we might reasonably question the relevance of the corporate workplace as we know it.
Interiors & Sources Continuing Education Series articles allow design practitioners to earn continuing education unit credits through the pages of the magazine. Use the following learning objectives to focus your study while reading this issue's article. To receive credit, see the series of questions and follow the instructions.
After reading this article, you should be able to:
- Describe how cultural shifts are impacting workplace design.
- Identify the key concerns in how increased technology influences the design of public spaces.
- Describe how corporate and academic campuses are evolving to meet 21-st century needs.
Is the Workplace Necessary?
Some design professionals suggested that the workplace is not nearly as important as it once was. Networked computers and cell phones enable many workers to conduct business from all sorts of environments—at home and halfway around the world—while remaining connected and productive. Many companies have had successful experiences with professional associates who choose to relocate long distances away from the home office but continue to make valuable contributions to the business. Despite these developments, no one predicted the demise of the workplace and a few, including Network Appliance executive Thom Bryant, suggested that the office place in the age of knowledge work is more important than ever.
"Contemporary organizations need to facilitate knowledge work and enhance idea development and sharing," he said. "It is very important for teams within the corporation to get face time together. People telecommuting all over the place sometimes works, but it is definitely not as efficient as being able to have a lot of people get together quickly on the spur of the moment to deal with problems. So there is a trend to get people closer together."
Landscape architect and University of California professor Walter Hood made the case for place as a defining aspect of work. "Place—meaning where I choose to work and the people who choose to work with me—will always be important. Many times clients want to come and see where I work because of what it tells them about me. Of course, the work we're actually engaged in at any moment can happen now in public space, in the car, in the airport. We have added more connections and more communication. But the place is always going to be important because it is a representation of who we are and what we do and those values and attitudes that we believe in."
Flexibility Is Key
The issue, our participants said, is what kinds of workplaces are needed to support the broad array of activities, schedules and styles of the people who use them. The call for increased flexibility in environments and furnishings was one we heard across disciplines and in every part of the country. Fred Schmidt, principal, The Environments Group, Chicago, observed: "Within a day a given space might be used for group work, for a training session, for a party, or for one-on-one meetings. And you might have two clients within the same industry, but end up with two very different design solutions. Part of it is driven by function and part is driven by culture." Participants agreed that addressing the multiplicity of functions over time requires objects that can bend and flex, expand or contract, move into the foreground or background, depending on the needs of the situation.
Dr. Galen Cranz, professor of Architecture at UC Berkeley, called for a whole new look at what true flexibility in the workplace means, questioning the basic assumption that people must sit upright when they work. "The workplace needs to be redesigned to accommodate more than one posture," she said. "If you're going to be spending eight hours, even 12 hours there, you cannot be in the right-angle seated posture the whole time." She cited the growing incidence of repetitive strain injuries as a clarion call for changes to support people and their bodies in a wider variety of postures.
Design professionals pointed to a broad spectrum of adaptive workplace environments that include open and private offices, individual and shared spaces, and an array of amenities and services. On one end of the scale were environments that offer simple settings in which workers can mingle and relax, such as coffee bars and lounges. On the other were offices that welcome dogs, incorporate play areas for kids, and provide pup tents for people who work late. Such environments, designed for younger workers in highly competitive sectors who often work 80+ hours a week, attempt to make workplaces hospitable and friendly to people who spend more time there than at home. Participants reported workstyle/lifestyle innovations in their own offices, including seating areas designed to accommodate visiting
family and friends, entertainment areas for hosting after-hours events and community functions, and afternoon teas at which all firm members gather to share downtime.
Companies are also making workplaces more hospitable and responsive by providing larger and more varied outdoor environments that support both work and leisure activities. Patios and gardens outfitted with data ports, electrical outlets and phone connections are now common, along with basketball courts, jogging trails, cafés, and seating enclaves of many sorts. At the new Sprint World Headquarters in Overland Park, KS, 60 percent of the site is green space. The campus contains five major courtyards—one an amphitheater and
the others used for yoga and karate, outdoor dining, relaxing and meetings—as well as walking trails and other exercise facilities.
Even in areas, such as southern Florida, which have not historically been popular places to sit outside, there has been an increase in the use of outdoor facilities. Some participants saw this as a direct reaction to the 24/7 phenomenon and the need to escape from the workplace to a completely different environment. Architects and landscape architects reported increased client requests for a variety of outdoor spaces to which workers can retreat, even if those spaces are in close proximity to buildings. They noted that corporations are using outdoor facilities as tools for recruiting employees.
Corporate Culture Counts
While many companies, such as Turner Entertainment in Atlanta and TIAA-CREF in Charlotte, successfully integrate relaxation and work elements in their landscape design, others discourage the use of outdoor spaces for work activities. Sonja Schiefer of frog design reported that some high-tech clients have instructed the firm not to design outdoor furnishings with built-in access to technology because they want to encourage their workaholic associates to get out of the office and relax. And designing non-traditional spaces and amenities doesn't ensure that they will be used.
Architect Jim Prendergast, principal at Perkins & Will, observed that, "The idea of having outdoor pavilions where people can go for meetings and where they have internet access and phone lines has a lot of momentum as you're talking to clients. But culture becomes the bigger hurdle. The perception is that if you're out at the picnic table, you're not really working very hard. There's a functional and cultural link in America to the landscape that runs in our blood, but connecting it to our corporate clients is a tough thing to do."
The nature and scope of change vary by industry and geography. Radical workplace solutions were more enthusiastically embraced by the west-coast dot.com culture than in many other areas. But meaningful changes have been widely implemented and they are having a lasting effect. Multiple activity settings, facilities for socializing and recreation, and access to personal services in the workplace have created more diverse, multi-layered, urban-like environments. This trend is further reflected in the resurgence of traditional urban environments, an issue that we explore in our discussion of the corporate campus.
The desire to balance the relationship between family and work in a 24/7 world emerged as a serious concern. While a number of participants pointed to Europe as a model, applauding the place of honor reserved there for social and family life outside the world of work, several design professionals suggested that the solution to ballooning work schedules might be inviting the family to the workplace. After all, they asked, if you don't have time to go home and interact with the kids, why not find ways to accommodate them at the office? Ernest Wong, landscape architect and principal of Site Design Group, said he finds taking work home unproductive. So he brings his children to the office where they play on their GameBoys while he conducts meetings. "I'm now preparing a new office to increase our space," he says "and adjoining it I'm creating a space for my mother, so that she can help with the kids."
Some participants weren't sure all this is good for business. They claimed that the blend of office and personal life within the workplace sometimes results in less rigorous professional work. They struggle with the challenge of how to make the mix of family, personal and work life stimulate creativity.
Not surprisingly, as workplaces become more informal and people spend so much time there that it starts to feel like home, there is a pronounced trend for corporate furnishings to become more residential in feel. Design professionals said they looked for comfortable, lightweight, moveable furniture for creating home-like settings in places such as hospitals and corporate environments. Some reported specifying higher-end versions of residential products to provide more personality and less institutional quality. And designers saw the overlap in residential and workplace design going in the other direction as well, pointing out that the kinds of spatial experiences and preferences expressed in the workplace are having implications for how people design their homes.
Not Everybody Works 24/7
The landscape architects, architects, designers and other professionals who met to discuss these issues were mindful of their atypical perspective as people in creative fields working with and for other creative types. As one participant reminded his peers, "Most standard rank-and-file corporate customers are not interested in having you bring your dog or your girlfriend to work."
Robert Sutton, professor of Organizational Behavior and Management Science and Engineering at Stanford University, questioned the very assumption that work has changed so dramatically. "All the evidence we have is that there is a small percentage of highly paid people for whom it has changed, but for the rest of society work is pretty much as it always has been," he said. He, among others, voiced the conviction that workers in all situations require healthy, comfortable, supportive places to work and that design professionals must step up to the challenge.
summary: The 24/7 global economy may not directly touch all workers, but it is having a profound effect on many, especially in the knowledge work and creative sectors. Although the cycles, protocols and tools of work have radically changed, the central workplace remains viable. Design professionals are players in the 24/7 world but many are ambivalent about the implications. Their challenge is to create flexible workplaces that support multiple modes of work and contribute to the humane balance between work and life.
II. Technology: Real Spaces In a Virtual World
Technology is everywhere. It's part of the infrastructure of our public spaces and, as anyone who has walked down a city street, waited in an airport terminal, or shopped at a mall can confirm, it is now in the hands of a very large portion of the human population. The ubiquity of personal technology—particularly mobile phones—has changed our experience in public spaces and breached the traditional boundaries between public and private behavior. As a result, the public realm has become more complex. Public space is not just a place for leisure or specific programmed activity. People are bringing new tools, behaviors and expectations into the mix, and that has major spatial ramifications.
Nature Versus Culture
Personal technology is a worldwide phenomenon. People in China are as enamored by it as Americans and Europeans. Of course, as many participants observed, we don't have to talk on cell phones in all places and at all times—we choose to do it. They maintained that the real discussion is about behavior, not about the tools or the spaces in which they are used. In some parts of the world, notably Japan, etiquette defines cell phone behavior, but western culture has, for the most part, yet to develop generally accepted protocols around appropriate use. While one participant suggested that some rules are intuitive, citing as an example "no cell phones in church," another reported spotting a woman at the Duomo in Milan whose cell phone rang while she was kneeling in prayer. She took the call.
Mark Johnson, principal of Civitas, Denver, argued that with new technologies we are seeing the expression of core attributes of human nature. "These things which facilitate us allow our true human nature to act. So even if protocol tells us not to talk on our cell phone while standing with others in line, we are going to do it anyway because the desire to communicate is in our nature. There are core elements that make us human, which are both genetic and cultural and which are now in question. I believe the genetics are starting to drive the culture rather than the other way around."
Public Spaces: Generators Or Respite?
Active measures to control the use of private technology in public spaces are beginning to appear. The equivalents of "no smoking" signs now prohibit the use of cell phones and laptops around some hotel pools. Certain golf courses in England and Scotland require guests to leave mobile phones with the course secretary before proceeding onto the greens. Amtrak has designated "quiet cars" on its New York to Washington Acela service in which the use of cell phones and laptops is prohibited. One participant reported dining in a restaurant in which a cell phone booth was installed right next to a standard model. Jamming devices are being employed to prevent cell phone reception in concert halls and museums. "Dead zones" are being created in some parks, via scrambling devices installed in outdoor furniture and structures, to limit the use of mobile technology in selected areas.
At the same time, corporations and educational institutions are expanding technology infrastructure on their campuses, Chicago is installing coin-fed kiosks to provide technology access in city parks, and New York's Bryant Park now features wireless service. These developments reflect two competing points of view on the role of outdoor spaces in a technology-driven world. We might call them public space as respite versus public space as generator. The first defines outdoor spaces primarily as places for escape to which we repair to break with the daily grind and connect with the natural world. They are refuges to which we go to sit in the sun, watch the birds, read a book, chat with friends or
simply stare into space. Advocates of outdoor spaces as respite cite the traditional role of the landscape architect as steward of the environment and creator of spaces that celebrate nature, and they warn against abdicating this important function. They defend the human need for a balance between density and relief and the importance of outdoor public spaces in providing alternative experiences. They worry about the loss of such opportunities in technology-saturated environments.
Some participants argued that when significant amounts of technology are programmed into public space the platform for the space is tilted toward a particular group of users and away from others. Those who find technology intrusive may have little choice but to leave. In this respect, technology in public spaces can be anti-democratic. At the very least, it is a programming challenge.
"Creating spaces within public plazas where there is a natural deadening of noise or seclusion is just an extension of the concept of creating places that serve multiple social needs," said Arun Jain, chief urban designer, City of Portland Bureau of Planning. "It's not only being able to provide spaces that allow the opportunities for solitude or group activity that is important, but also being able to provide those that reduce ambient noise levels or chatter, encouraging the idea of public space as refuge."
Some design professionals questioned the impact on civil society of personal technology in public spaces. They observed that people using cell phones and laptops may be connecting to people in their own circles, thereby behaving in a social way, but are at the same time engaging in behavior that is markedly anti-social to those around them. Architect Mark Rodgers offered an example that highlighted the conflict. He reported that the University of Denver is creating wireless communities on campus where students can move around freely while using the laptops that all undergraduates are now required to have. Predictably, they end up in places where coffee is served, places which have historically served to encourage random interaction—between students and faculty, younger students and older students, the athlete and the student of law. Instead, the university is finding that the technology intended to keep students connected is limiting face-to-face interaction and encouraging immersion in the virtual world.
The Laptop And The Latte
The proponents of public spaces as generators have a different vision. They see technology in public space as a step on the evolutionary ladder, one that reflects the reality of a changing world. Landscape architect Paul Shaw said one of his favorite places was a park with electrical outlets in tree wells because "it recognizes the ubiquity of the laptop and the latte." Others celebrate technology's facilitation of education and entertainment in the public realm. Emory University, among others, is now developing solutions for powering outdoor classrooms. Interactive technology using touch screens and related elements is being implemented in gardens, zoos and other venues across the country. Electronic
billboards are already common in European capitals. Joe Parinella, a landscape architect at Universal Studios in Orlando, described generator nirvana in which hotels offer internet connections around the pool so mom and dad can work on laptops while watching the kids rock to underwater music. And where, in the future, visitors could use a Blackberry or PDA to interact with kiosks or games set up around the park.
Some participants said they view technology in public spaces as a medium for democratic expression and an opportunity to embrace diversity. "The boom box is not anti-democratic," insisted landscape architect Lynn Wolff of Copley Wolff Design Group. "Music is very important to certain cultures. We're not designing parks just for Caucasian Americans. People from different cultures use parks in different ways and that's a problem we have to solve. The more democratic place is the one where you have diversity and you celebrate it."
Several design professionals noted the advantages of clear way-finding and other information now available through technology in interactive kiosks like the transit tracker. "It's not how much information is out there," explained landscape architect Carol Mayer-Reed. "It's a matter of presenting it appropriately so that we do not feel bombarded and overloaded." A Chicago participant pointed out that, although 60 to 65 percent of Chicago workers commute by bus and train and many use laptops and cell phones, the acoustics in
public transit are terrible and there's no place to plug in. He and others argued that, given the critical importance of mass transportation to the economy and the environment, transit facilities must incorporate technology to support the way we live and do business today.
How Much Is To Much?
Some proponents argued that technology in public spaces is necessary to lure the next generation out of doors. Opponents asked, "Is the only solution to getting people to use outside space giving them what they can have inside?" They worried about the power of technology to "anesthetize" spaces by encouraging global uniformity, ignoring the unique features of a site, and negating the sense of place.
Some participants argued that it is possible to achieve a balance in which experience of the natural world and connection to the virtual world complement and feed off each other. New York's Bryant Park was cited as an example. There, people working on laptop computers share six acres in midtown with people who are eating lunch, playing cards, dozing in the sun, and enjoying the park's newest addition, the Reading Room, a designated reading area complete with magazines, newspapers and books on loan. Norman Mintz, design director of the Bryant Park Restoration Corp. and New York's 34th Street Partnership, says, "This is the most popular park per square foot in the country and part of our goal is to encourage as much diversity in activities as possible. Computer access adds to the diversity and usefulness of the park. This is a place for people to relax, and even people who are working on their computers are enjoying the break it provides."
Designing With Technology
Finally, in addition to personal and programming technology, participants noted the trend toward the use of technology in the design of outdoor public spaces. Computer-assisted design tools speed the design process, enable a freer exploration of possibilities, and allow designers to create presentation materials that help clients understand concepts and plans. Soil and drainage system technologies are enabling design solutions such as roof decks. Technology-driven improvements in lighting, paving systems and other components are
making it possible to increase the quality of outdoor spaces while controlling costs. Design professionals reported that in some areas technology affords their clients greater choices, higher quality, more flexibility and better value.
Participants also pointed to the use of technology in security, including cameras and other sophisticated tools, such as sensing mechanisms that signal when children wander to the perimeter of a space and track their safe return. And many participants heralded the use of
sustainable technology including wind power, solar power and condensation recycling systems in site design. "If we are using technology in our design process that is sustainable and unseen," landscape architect Randy Sorensen of Carol R. Johnson Associates predicted, "We will preserve the sense of the landscape while giving spaces new versatility so that they perform as public spaces have never performed before."
summary: Personal technology has changed the definition of privacy and our experience in public spaces. Programming technology is influencing the platforms for use of public space. Design professionals are sharply divided in their assessment of technology as a generator of activity on the one hand, and a threat to meaningful experience of the outdoors on the other. New technology in products, materials and design tools is helping professionals deliver innovative solutions to clients.
III. The Corporate Campus: Dinosaur Or Evolving Species?
Is the corporate campus on the endangered list? The broad consensus that emerged from our roundtables was that the opulent and iconic suburban campuses of the '80s and '90s are an idea whose time has come—and gone. One participant called them "white elephants." Another charitably suggested that, "We should preserve a couple of them." Nevertheless, the corporate campus does have its defenders. They argue that in some areas the campus is alive and quite well. New York architect David Smotrich cited Morgan Stanley as an example. After 9/11 this financial powerhouse moved most of its operations out of the city to the northern suburb of Westchester, which it perceived as a safer setting.
The more widely-held perspective was articulated by Orlando landscape architect Lucina Selva. "It's an evolutionary process," she said. "Corporate campuses aren't going to die, they're going to be redefined." Indeed, there are strong signs that corporate and academic campuses are evolving to meet changing economic, social and environmental realities.
At one end of the continuum, corporations such as TIAA-CREF, USA Today, Nike and Microsoft are building relatively isolated campuses, designing them to function as self-contained environments by including a huge range of services and amenities, from exercise facilities to day care centers, dry-cleaning pick up to take-home meals. At the other end, companies including Adidas, Vulcan Ventures and Southwestern Bell, and academic institutions such as Grand Valley University, the University of Denver and The Savannah College of Art and Design, are moving into city centers and/or expanding their presence there. In between, other companies are breaking down the barriers between their campuses and adjacent communities, implementing public transportation solutions, and partnering with other corporations and public entities to create mixed-use campuses that serve a wide range of users.
The Drivers Of Change
Numerous factors are driving the changes in how we think about and design corporate campuses. Ex-urban campuses require costly infrastructure and use resources that, in less isolated settings, might be shared. Locating campuses in areas remote from population centers encourages sprawl and contributes to a growing transportation crisis. Remote campuses require workers to spend hours a day in automobiles, consume large parcels of land for parking lots and garages, and contribute to highway congestion and pollution.
The rising cost of real estate makes investment in big, individual campuses an expensive and risky business. Initial costs are high and specific programming and design may make facilities hard to re-sell. Long-term maintenance costs are significant, driving many companies to prefer leasing to owning. And in difficult economic times, when corporations want to prove to their shareholders that they are fiscally responsible, large campuses may not deliver the desired message. Some corporations are reducing risk by building campuses consisting of several small flexible structures, rather than a single large one, enabling the campus to be fully occupied if the company is doing well and sub-leased if the business contracts.
Technology and the reliance on outsourcing are enabling some companies to shrink the size of their facilities. Many corporations are looking at ways other than icon campuses to convey identity by, for example, investing in high-profile projects or advertising in the communities in which the consumers of their products and services live. Participants suggested that the long-term impact of the post 9/11 need for greater security is not yet clear, and that many more corporations might be reconsidering the risks of concentrating their operations in a single location.
The evolution of the corporate campus is also being driven by changes in lifestyle and a growing concern for quality of life. Workers are more conscious of transportation and health issues. Fewer workers are willing to endure long hours in their cars and wide separation from their homes, families and social life. Knowledge workers, especially younger workers, show a preference for living, working and playing in urban areas.
Landscape architect Jerry Shapins of Shapins Associates observed: "The very notion of campus implies over-consumption of resources, uniformity of approach and a single aesthetic. Complexity is much more flexible. The campus is too simplistic given our current economic climate and the evolving status of the world."