I had a fascinating extra-curricular discussion this week with a Californian architect. She works for a global Oil and Gas company, and her brief is to “optimise workspaces”.
It turns out that a large part of the job concerns making people more productive at work. We’re not just talking about faster coffee machines and shorter walks to the desk, but also about building the propensity for creativity at work (hurray!)
This, it transpires, is a seriously interesting challenge. The publically-available research seems to be lacking in many respects, but there are some documented findings. She kindly sent me a few articles she’s collected, so I’ll condense a few of the main messages in this post …
Pharmaceutical GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) seems to be a much-lauded paragon of creative innovation—at least by UK standards. Working with an agency, it has created “Focus Booths” (for concentrated sole-working) and “Buzz Space” (for collaboration).
GSK’s thinking is that Buzz Space supports ad hoc collaboration as a routine part of work, and that against such a backdrop Focus Booths will be needed to allow people some peace and quiet to concentrate. (As I’ve written before, I consider both modes of working to be very valuable in creativity. It’s not all about collaboration.)
Both types of space at GSK are adorned with evocative imagery—both literal and abstract—something which we discussed at length by phone as I evangelised about the power of the random object (see earlier posts). The partitions between spaces are mostly transparent, so GSK avoids the sense of segregation which can dominate other office environments.
Elsewhere in the world, architects have experimented with:
· The blending of indoor and outdoor spaces (fine in California; less fine in Aberdeen)
· Games rooms, slides and waterfalls
· Programmable lights which can transform the look and feel of a room
· Buildings heavily modelled on other objects such as a tent, town centre or a farm
· Very high ceilings, which apparently encourage us to think more freely and abstractly, with less attention to detail
What I found most interesting though was the likely impact of colour: A 2009 study in Science magazine found that we remember details best when surrounded by red, but are more imaginative in the presence of blue.
It’s a good thing I opted for that eggshell blue in my study at home. Now if only I could do something about the ceiling …