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The Architecture Industry on Workplace Design and Returning to the Office
Los Angeles, California, USA
Media, Architecture
Sean Joyner
Date Published: 
Working From Home, WFH, COVID-19, Coronavirus, Pandemic, PPE, Social Distancing, Virtual Collaboration, Workplace Design
Tapestry Statistics:
2020-07-06 18:39:54
2020-07-06 18:44:38
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Michael Hsu Office of Architecture
As many prepare to transition back to the office, it would be safe to conclude that things will not “go back to normal.” With a long list of requirements for businesses looking to get back in-house, it can seem dreadful to coordinate one’s office space in compliance with the seemingly countless precautions. However, this recent time has introduced a new need for spatial experts, a role architects have filled for centuries. Today, we are seeing more firms embrace a role as a consultant in contrast to a more traditional designation as “designer.” Firms are stepping up to capitalize on workplace expertise, informing and guiding clients to fruitful re-opening strategies. Moreover, architects themselves have also been planning their return-to-office strategies, many of whom have communicated their thoughts with us, as we will share in this article.

In this piece, we’ll look at some insights from the industry concerning the return to work, reviewing the new research done by a handful of practices. We will also explore what a number of architects are planning for their internal teams in the coming months and what strategies they are preparing to employ upon reopening their studios.

Novel Research for Novel Times

While many firms have endeavored to address the spatial challenges we’re facing during this time, the research and insights of three practices will be explored to provide a taste of the type of work the industry is participating in to tackle what lies ahead. Think of it as a small sample of a much bigger picture.

The Reimagined Workplace

With the rising need for creative ways to rethink the workplace, architecture firms have stepped up to offer resources to help with the new environmental needs at work and have also embarked on new research tackling the issues we face today when it comes to shared space. International architecture and design firm Woods Bagot is a great example. The global practice has taken this time to reimagine how the workplace can be designed and used by occupants. “The WFH experience will see HOME forming an extension of the WORK more so than ever. The challenge is how to execute this while ensuring organizations have physical time together to build their culture,” the group writes in its white paper titled Where do we work from here?.

In the paper, Woods Bagot outlines four case studies created to explore possible future approaches to designing the work environment. The firm believes that most organizations will likely adopt some form of two or more of these four models. Model 1 is the Culture Club which imagines the office as a “collaboration hub” where focus work is done from home and people only travel to the office when there is a need or preference to collaborate physically with colleagues. Imagine a kind of club vibe, but for creative collaboration.

Model 2, also known as In and Out is an approach building on the idea of “agile working.” This is where people decide how, when, and where they work, which would be executed with aspects such as flexible start and finish times, shared spaces, and remote working. The idea is to de-densify the office space since personnel will be using the workplace on a kind of rotating basis. This is a combination of staff working from home and in the office allowing for more floor area in-house due to the decreased headcount.

Model 3 is what the group is calling Community Nodes; essentially a decentralized HQ where people work in a smaller satellite, community-based office closer to their home. A distributive method, this approach addresses the reduced desire to use public transportation and plays off the Culture Club model in that the central HQ functions more as a collaboration hub with focused work occurring at one of the satellite offices.

Finally, Model 4, dubbed Collectives, is a modified version of a co-working space. Collectives cohabitate the same space but are separated into studio-sized “neighborhoods” with shared amenities. Woods Bagot admits this approach is a bit “flawed” as it relies heavily on increased cleaning and hygiene regimes, requiring a high level of operational discipline from users of the space.

Resourcefulness is Key

Architects have naturally recognized the need for coherent thinking when it comes to proper spatial execution when returning to work. In response to that realization,