Designers are building zones with the WiFi, power, and shading elements for conducting tasks and meetings entirely outdoors.
For years now, designers have been emphasizing natural lighting, ventilation, and connectivity to nature as ways to improve employee health and wellness. Now that the coronavirus is much more likely to be transmitted indoorsâ€”the risk is nearly 20 times greater, according to one studyâ€”a strong case could be made for moving some office work completely outside. â€śThe benefits of light and fresh air are pretty self-evident, and the pandemic only reinforces that,â€ť says Christopher McCartin, managing director of design and construction at real estate developer Tishman Speyer, which has been including â€śsignificant outdoor spaceâ€ť in all of its office developments nationwide.
Elsewhere, the main conference room, which is typically one of the largest spaces in an office, is being reimagined as an indoor-outdoor space. Designed by SF Bay Areaâ€“based RossDrulisCusenbery, the Contra Costa County Sheriffâ€™s new Emergency Operations Center in Martinez, California, has a conference room that seats a crowd of 175 on risers. But the back wall can be opened up entirely to a shaded patio via a glass garage door, to accommodate another 100 people, and provide flexible space for training sessions. â€śRather than narrowly focus on customizing spaces for a specific program, weâ€™re prioritizing them for social interactions,â€ť says firm principal Mallory Scott Cusenbery. For another building, currently in design for Stanford Universityâ€™s Department of Public Safety, the architects are extending a conference room for breakout meetings by adding lighting stanchions with built-in power outlets around an adjoining courtyard. Instead of relying on a dim laptop screen, groups will be able to give presentations on portable, high-lumen monitors.
Besides a power source and Wi-Fi, shade is critical for working outdoors. â€śPavilions are great conceptually, but itâ€™s important to fine-tune them to create workable shade,â€ť says Motonaga. At the Playa District office complex in L.A., his firm replaced ineffective rectangular pavilions with triangular-roofed ones that maximize shade. The shade can, as Motonaga says, â€śmove radically off the work area,â€ť so workers could be under the canopy but still in full sun.
Privacy is another important consideration. â€śPeople donâ€™t like to work where others can look down on them or see their screens easily,â€ť says Motonaga. â€śIf you have a barrier or grade change, that can make a huge difference in peopleâ€™s comfort levels,â€ť he notes. The firm has found that people tend to gravitate towards bar-height tables versus low furnishings for work, perhaps because solo workers feel lonely sitting by themselves in lounge chairs. Lightweight furniture that can be easily reconfigured is useful, in these casesâ€”and these days, critical for social distancing.