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Many of BCJ’s recent projects have involved the adaptive reuse of older buildings, and from these they have discovered several recurring themes for workplace design – Photo courtesy of BCJ

Building more adaptive workplaces – By Lynne Richardson

As organisations grow, they need more room for their rising numbers of employees. But these same employees want to work and live in the city rather than on the outskirts. So how can businesses grow within the confines of a city?

Accommodating a growing workforce is often achieved by building from scratch – witness the new headquarters for Fonterra, ASB, Vodafone and others within downtown Auckland. But alongside these new-builds, other companies are finding that they can repurpose an older building – one previously built for industrial use – at a fraction of the cost, and through considerate design principles can adapt it completely to their own needs. 

They’re called ‘adaptive workplaces’ and visitors to the recent Facilities Integrate expo were treated to an insightful presentation from Christopher Orsega, a senior associate with Bohlin Cywinski Jackson (BCJ) from San Francisco.
Christopher Orsega presenting at Facilities Integrate 2017: “You have to design buildings for people”
Chris has extensive experience and expertise in reconfiguring office and retail space in the San Francisco Bay area, including universities, museums, libraries and commercial projects, including many in Silicon Valley. He says traditionally, companies flocked to Silicon Valley to be part of the ‘tech’ environment, but the valley is situated 75 km from downtown San Francisco, and with more people living in the city, they have a desire to work nearer to home. And with the increasing scarcity and elevated costs of traditional commercial real estate space in San Francisco, more and more companies are seeking out spaces in less conventional building types.
Many of BCJ’s recent workplace projects have involved the adaptive reuse of older buildings in the city, and from these they have discovered several recurring themes for workplace design.

Functional transformation

It would be easy to transform a building for the sake of it, but the purposeful transformation of a building for a very specific function is something else entirely, says Chris. It’s a case of examining the existing building and deciding which features will lend themselves to the new workplace.
He gave the example of Square Inc, a company that moved its headquarters into an old Bank of America data centre. The vast floor plates and high ceilings were ideal for creating an open-plan office environment, but the lack of light was an issue that was overcome by inserting windows along the length of the building.
Nearer to home, Chris says Christchurch’s Re:START shopping mall is a classic example of functional transformation – repurposing shipping containers as functional shops and cafés. The mall was closed in April this year, but operated for five-and-a-half years and became internationally famous and a symbol of post-quake
Christchurch innovation.

Systematic arrangement of space

Technology is changing and will continue to change, which means how we work and the spaces we use for work will have to continue to adapt to keep pace. For example, people are increasingly using a laptop or tablet for work as opposed to a desktop PC, and as a result are more mobile and seek multiple work environments over the course of any given day.
“We are seeing a general increase in the quantity of dedicated lounge and conference room seating, which in many cases is equal to or greater than the number of assigned desk seats,” Chris says.
The question then is how to adapt our workplaces in a systematic, smart and thoughtful way and organise our work spaces so as to accommodate this change in technology – and continue to be able to adapt in the long term.
“You have to think about how the organisation works,” Chris says. “Is it hierarchical or collaborative? Do you need individual workstations and offices, or more open areas for larger groups? The nature of a business’s work will determine the distribution of space for work.”
As an example, he mentioned a project where BCJ consultants had ‘shadowed’ existing employees to find out how and where they liked to work and the issues they were encountering. They found that some areas experienced heavy foot traffic close to workers’ stations, which workers found distracting, and this issue was overcome through the clever use of wooden slats and acoustic screens to create more private areas and divert foot traffic.
The other important issue regarding the systematic arrangement of space is the creation of ‘purposeful circulation’ – how people move through a space. How often do they move through an area? At what time of the day do they move through it most often? Is it a commonly used area, or one needed for emergency purposes? ‘Purposeful circulation’ is also vital to establish a sense of community.
Chris talked about a project where they used urban masterplans to design a workspace as a ‘neighbourhood’, with all the redeeming features of an urban landscape reconfigured into a workspace: a central ‘boulevard’ for foot traffic and meetings, anchored at each end by communal facilities (a library and a café), off which branched secondary pathways leading to workstations and offices, anchored by common amenities such as tearooms and social hubs (the ‘parks’ of the neighbourhood).
The central ‘boulevard’ also acted as a ‘spine’ for technology equipment, from which extra outlets could be added as the company continued to grow.

Creative customisation

The third recurring theme – creative customisation – links the two above, and relates to the use of materials, furniture, walls, floors and lighting to customise the building to the company’s ideals.
In one project, BCJ worked with a local electrical manufacturer to develop some customised light fixtures which the client found visually pleasing within the building. In another project, they worked with a metal fabricator to design a screen for the building’s café – the client had requested a design that was unique to them. The fabricator took BCJ’s design and developed some tessellating shapes that could more easily be made and assembled, and the client was delighted.
“It’s about getting your client involved with and excited about the project,” Chris says.

Spaces for people

Chris says there are a number of parallels between Auckland and San Francisco, including a maritime environment and some seriously good cafés and restaurants! All joking aside, he thinks Auckland is on the right track, with some creative and inspiring designs that show sensitivity to the environment.
“Energy efficiency and environmental sensitivity have been integral to BCJ’s design culture,” Chris says. “Our principals and our staff are deeply committed to active collaboration with our clients through research and analysis of each situation’s particular human, technical and economic circumstances. You have to design buildings for people. The result is exceptional architecture that resonates within its place.”

Lynne Richardson is the editor of New Zealand Construction News and FTD - Supply Chain Management Magazine  lrichardson@astonpublishing.co.nz


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