Inventing work space: finding the balance between aesthetics and practicality

As all buildings consist of an arrangement of shapes in space, aesthetics is always a part of work space design, but aesthetics that prompt a positive response from those who use the building will always be preferable. Similarly, all buildings are designed with a practical purpose in mind but not all designs will support that purpose equally. As the same company will not necessarily use a building for the whole of its life, flexibility needs to be considered and architects must also include economics in their reckoning, because there will always be a finite budget. When a successful balance of aesthetics and practicality is achieved, the resulting work space design should hopefully enhance the performance of workers, as well as improving their well-being.

Visually striking buildings are not always the best work spaces

Sometimes, a big budget is allocated because a company is looking for a landmark building, but this may not always be practical for workers. Unusually shaped structures can make it difficult to use the space inside a building effectively, although some companies do utilise awkward corners as quieter areas into which employees can retire to work alone. Tall, thin buildings can be impractical if they split companies over multiple floors and, if a design means that workers are unable to open windows, or there is no natural light, this may be demoralising. In some cases, a landmark building may be designed perfectly for one company but may not suit others. For example, the Ark in London remained empty after its intended occupier did not move in.

The novel, dramatic features seen in some spectacular-looking office buildings, such as high walkways, platforms or staircases, may be terrifying for workers with vertigo. Even being too close to a glass window that offers a plunging view can be too much for many people. In tall buildings, there is also the consideration of sway, which can be upsetting for some. In China, the Shanghai Tower is over 600 metres tall but was designed taking workers’ needs into account. As well as having nine stacked levels that are self-contained, with gardens, natural light, shops and restaurants, the external shape has been designed to minimise the effects of wind and reduce sway.

A seamless blend of aesthetics and practicality is ideal

Clever architects use aesthetic work space features, such as vast reception areas, in a functional way that may not be immediately obvious. Some such areas provide reservoirs of colder air as part of an overall cooling system. Decorative facades can have practical purposes, such as the exterior screens found on one hospital in Mexico City, which are made of ornamental tiles that also help to filter pollution. The Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris has window shutters designed in a Moorish style, containing apertures that open and close to regulate light entering the building. Elements that contribute to the well-being of employees tend to be a mixture of the practical and aesthetic: the need for optimum air quality and temperature, ergonomics, noise reduction and a lack of crowding are all practical considerations, while access to views, daylight, colours and sensory variability are equally important aesthetic factors.

Posted by Mark
February 1, 2014

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