Given that we spend big chunks of our waking hours at work or working, it stands to reason that the way our work environments look and function should be a high priority. At FORM, we’ve been exploring our working life and the changing shape and look of the modern workplace. Today, we’re sharing an interview with Culver City—based architect Clive Wilkinson, first published in our September/October 2011 issue. Here, Wilkinson— just elevated to an AIA fellow last week—discusses his own designs for office space and the broader philosophical realities inherent in the projects.
Check back here throughout the year, as we explore the topic in more detail.
1. What are the most important elements in designing an office?
We believe there are two overriding issues, and they are not design ones. The first must address the personal needs of someone working in an office, and the second addresses the social nature of that environment. We believe that small businesses are relatively simple challenges as they can work like extended families, where people have a sense of (partial) ownership of the business. However, large corporations suffer from scale challenges and people engagement problems. Our goal is to encourage a sense of employee engagement and ownership.
2. You draw a lot of parallels between designing workplaces and designing educational facilities. What can the two learn from one another?
We believe that working and learning should be almost identical activities. The companies that will thrive in the future already know this. A successful business must foster a learning/growing culture, and a successful school must adopt a serious work culture as a means of penetrating future challenges.
3. How do you address the needs of individual work and collaborative work?
Although there are many great examples of good work environments, there are still some dogmas surrounding “the office.” Data from Cisco and others has shown that while 70% of office space is configured for personal work, and 30% collaborative, the ratio should be reversed. The office of the future will be shaped for collaboration in all its various forms.
4. What is the biggest mistake made in office design?
The biggest mistake by far is what Marshall McLuhan described as “continuing to use old tools to solve new problems.” Cubicles are still selling in the marketplace even though these “tools” are divisive and hopeless from both a personal and collaboration perspective. The cubicle is not a solution; it is a sociological problem.
5. A lot of your projects feature bright colors and playful elements. How does this help create a productive environment?
The most valuable kind of work today has been called “serious play.” There needs to be a thread of disruption in the corporate environment, which mirrors creative thinking. Color and playful elements are part of that. This also reflects Disruption Theory concepts, which many organizations now value as a powerful methodology for driving change.
6. Many of your projects have very open floor plans. Does noise become a problem?
Openness is one of the most important factors in the modern office, for numerous reasons, but the most powerful one is organizational transparency. When we designed Google’s headquarters some years ago, we planned around distinct noise contours so that there could be buzz in the public spaces and quiet in the concentrated work areas. A simple mitigation solution is often to pad the ceiling, but also to strategically
7. How has technology in the workplace impacted the architecture of the workplace?
New IT technology is beginning to radically liberate work. With mobile devices, the worker can work anywhere. In addition, we are seeing the end of paper. Our building in Sydney for Macquarie Bank had no garbage bins for workers, and we are now talking to clients about not wiring their offices, but relying on wireless with mobile VC devices.
8. What has been the biggest lesson you’ve learned from designing these environments?
Ultimately, the biggest lesson we’ve learned has been that simple formulaic solutions are generally weak, and that complexity requires complex responses.