I was fortunate to speak at the CUREM conference at the University of Zurich a couple of weeks ago – I love mixing travel with work, perhaps the topic of a future blog. One of my co-presenters, Itai Palti of UCL and Hume, made a point that struck a chord.
I have occasionally criticised architects of “designing with their eyes” and not their ears etc but I have kind of fallen into the “ignoring the senses” trap myself. Obviously when recommending quiet booths/pods/rooms I specify that they need to have good acoustic screening, but I had not considered the other environmental factors. I realised my oversight when Itai suggested that in the eighties we focussed on providing good artificial light and in the naughties on natural light (which ties in nicely with the current wellbeing agenda and flooding offices with daylight), but he suggests in future we will focus on task related dosage, an alias for activity based dosage. In extreme cases, like air traffic control, the different light requirement is obvious but what about for more typical office work with spaces that need to facilitate screen activities versus more paper-based activities.
As a young researcher I explored adaptive comfort, particularly in the field of thermal comfort. Part of our innate survival instinct, and one reason for the success of our species, is that we can adapt to our surroundings or we can adapt our surroundings to us. For example, regarding thermal comfort, when too hot and given the choice we may i) change our clothing, ii) change our activities or reduce their vigour, iii) drink cold fluids, iv) move to a cooler spot, v) use a fan or window to increase create a breeze, vi) design the building to have cross-ventilation or passive stack cooling, vii) install or bring in air-conditioning etc. As intelligent animas, we are less likely to sit still and over-heat, unless of course we are prevented to implement the previous adaptive options. In and outside the office, we all have our favourite spots, ones that make us feel comfortable as well as supporting our activities and reflecting our mood. Unfortunately in many offices, we do not provide a range of spaces with different environmental parameters but design for the assumed average (often based on flawed data or assumptions) and we do not allow our workforce to select their workspace based on comfort (and the associated productivity).
Acknowledge that office occupants have a wide range of comfort requirements and design for that range not the average.
Zone the open plan into areas that better support specific activities, this may include areas that are cooler, warmer, quieter, buzzier, lighter, dimmer.
Provide the right proportion of spaces (and zones) that support different activities and empower/encourage staff to use those spaces as and when required.
Offer some personal control (or rather adaptation), for example headphones for noise and relaxed dress code for thermal comfort.
Introduce office protocols around temperature and noise etc, for example how the room temperature is agreed and selected, and acceptable noise levels from colleagues.
Whilst a laudable idea, we didn’t get much uptake on DUCOZT – maybe the system was too costly and difficult to implement at the time, or maybe it was just a rubbish acronym! Perhaps it is time to revisit such a system for sound and light as well as temperature.