Category Archives: Events

Unwind with Beautiful Thinking

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It’s not very often that I actually write about design itself on this blog – maybe because it’s the most enjoyable part of my job and often I am writing about the things that frustrate and annoy me -but also it is often a part of my job which I  have less time for than I would like.  The last few weeks though, have given me a number of opportunities to think about design, both in our own practice and through the work of other designers across a number of disciplines from architecture, to furniture, fabrics and paper.

Back in June, our team at DJRD were invited by Interface to collaborate in a pop up installation as part of Indesign’s “The Project”.  Our brief was to transform a number of spaces in the Interface showroom into a space for the rituals of ‘refuge’, a place to get away, to calm the mind and retreat and create opportunities for mindfulness. As well as designing the space itself we were asked to think about activities that could occur within the space, initially yoga and meditation were discussed. We were also to integrate Interface’s new carpet collection and their current campaign “Beautiful Thinking”.

All of our staff were invited to join the design team, and we had a fantastic team of 7 architects and interior designers from graduates through to myself as senior associate, with support from one of our directors – so in some ways very much like a real world project team. Joining me on the team were Tasmin Dunn, Gabrielle Melville, Sally Johnson, Darren Livings, Kate Harding and Hannah Hoeschle (who all worked much harder than I did!).  From Interface we had a brief, deadlines and a budget.  The real difference for our design process was the fact that we would be building the installation ourselves – at which point we also pulled in our IT manager and known home handyman, Peter Lean, to assist us.

Initially, as often in the real world, our brief seemed quite complex, with potentially many ideas and elements to explore. As a team, we felt it was important that our space of retreat integrated the Interface product and the process of making, both the making of the product and making as designer.  We approached the brief as we would a project design brief, which is to look to take all the parts and find a single simple and overriding concept that can unify, enhance and speak to all the parts of the brief.  Our concept was to create a series of spaces based upon nature, places you might go to meditate – cave, forest, tree house and meadow – and for the majority of our materials to be sourced from Interface’s manufacturing process (integrating their products and process, but also helping us with our budget).  Rather than yoga or meditation, we felt that a more active and designer orientated activity would be suit Indesign, and we decided mindfulness colouring in books would perfectly suit our intended audience.  This however wasn’t our main activity.  The main activity, tied (literally) back to the space, using Interface yarn to weave between the cardboard trees in the space.  We titled the space “Unwind”, referring both to the act of relaxing and the weaving and yarn throughout the space.

As well as our (limited) budget from Interface, we arranged sponsorship from Inlite (lighting), Dulux (paint) and Skale Greenwall.  They were all so generous with their products – Jarrod Huxtable from Inlite gave us heaps of assistance building our lighting installation as well, and Skale joined our team only 36 hours before we were due to complete!  So much thanks to all of them, and also to our generous friends who loaned us some great furniture pieces to suit the ‘meadow’.

To work together with a collaborative team not just designing but building our space gave us a fantastic chance to use our everyday skills – from planning, designing and organising a team (thanks to our team leader Darren we were on time, on budget and completed the install within the number of work hours allocated) but to work together in a different way where everyone has an equal say and it was up to all of us and the design team to agree on the solutions without significant client input (although unlike a University project we did have a client, as we had worked with Interface throughout).  To create a space that only exists for 2 days also allowed us to explore different materials and take risks that might not be permissible for a longer term space. The actual act of building ourselves also allowed us to design in a more fluid way (on site changes no problems!) and discuss solutions on the spot.  So much of our work now is competitively tendered it means that you can’t work with a builder in this way.

We were also not the only team creating an installation at Interface – at the same time, 4 other design teams were creating spaces based upon either the same brief as ours (refuge) or a brief titled “Prospect” to create an energetic lively space for play and collaboration.  Not only did we get to explore the spaces created by the other designers, but as part of the activities over the 2 days, Interface hosted a panel moderated by Indesign’s editor, Alice Blackwood on Beautiful Thinking in which each of the design teams spoke about their design, the response to the brief and what they believe Beautiful Thinking means to design.  Talking with the other designers whose fields were as diverse as paper art, textile design, graphics and furniture design, was a fantastic opportunity to see behind their installations as well as understanding how their different backgrounds had influenced their work. For everyone of the panel, simplicity was mentioned as an important element in how beautiful thinking creates places and things to calm and inspire – and to allow those inhabiting the space the opportunity for beautiful thinking in turn.

After we leave university it often becomes quite rare that we see other designers present and speak about their work outside of our own practices – especially in this context, where we are not trying to compete to win an award, impress a client or sell our design. However that’s not to say that seeing designers talk about their work to win awards is not just as interesting! Last week I had the opportunity to see the presentations for the shortlist for the IDEA (Interior  incredibly inspiring.  To see seven of Australia’s top designers present and discuss their work for the year in 5 minutes each is a peek at truly amazing work going on in Australia right now(view the shortlist here).  The quality of the work was all outstanding but for me, one particular presentation stood out from the rest as a great presentation – and it gets back to the idea of simplicity and the single idea.  Hannah Tribe of Tribe Studio presented her work not just as a series of architectural projects but explained the studio’s approach to design as a portrait of the client.  A single idea behind a whole practice of work, but not at all a single look or style, an approach that is not just about beauty and awards but creates a place for people.  To me, this really represents the idea of beautiful thinking.  What inspires you to beautiful thinking?

Ceilidh Higgins

PS.  I am also now on Instagram, where you can see more of my Indesign photos.  Follow me as themidnightlunch.  

Will a Robot take my job?

If I am an architect, a designer, an engineer or even BIM manager – Will a Robot take my job? This is the big question I recently presented in my talk at RTC Australia as part of the session BIMx: Big Ideas around Big Data.  Open up my slideshare presentation above that accompanies this blog post.

NESTA, a UK innovation charity has a quiz you can take to see if a robot is likely to take your job.  The quiz asks a series of 6 questions around skills and ongoing learning, if you manage complex real world tasks, work with, teach and manage people, or design and manage technology, machines and systems. It uses your answers to determine how likely it is a robot would take your job.

The answer is that an architect is “Robot Proof” with a low probability of a robot taking our job.  BUT does this match with our experience? Are architects, engineers, or designers really likely to be robot proof?

Whilst we think a robot won’t take our job – what about a computer?

Many of us would agree that BIM has already resulted in smaller project teams. Computers have long been a part of the design process.  Whilst we often forget CAD standards for ‘computer aided design’, computers can now aid the design process in much more significant ways than back when AutoCAD was released. Its interesting though that today a google search of computer generated architecture still mostly generates links related to rendering and imagery, rather than designs produced by computers.

If you think that BIM won’t take your job – what about Big Data?  We are already using data to check, verify and evaluate options within our designs. As the scale of the data available gets ever bigger these processes become more complex and more powerful. Right now google searching for data generated architecture won’t get you many hits related to buildings, but this is sure to soon change.

Rules based checking might not yet be big data. But it is about using data sources to validate designs or documentation. Examples include checking codes or standards using software such as solibri.

Again data analysis doesn’t necessarily mean big data yet.  Analysis began as something that architects did using pen and paper, a site analysis diagram for example. Data analysis is starting to become more computer driven which allows for much more significant analysis to take place.  Examples include environmental or performance analysis of buildings, or analysis on a larger city scale looking at land use and traffic patterns. This kind of analysis is very much in the realm of current uses for big data.

Data is also the basis of simulations. For example fire or traffic simulation modelling is based upon creating algorithms from data. Currently the simulations used within the AEC industry are relatively simple algorithims.
Big data gives the potential for developing significantly more complex simulations. Last year at RTC in Chicago I discussed the potential for big data to allow us to simulate human behaviour in complex building types such as workspaces with the potential of increasing a companies productivity. (see blog post here)

So, data can evaluate design – but could big data actually drive design? Is it already happening?  As with data based checking, its certainly true that data driven design exists already – and has for some time, although generally not yet into the possibilities of big data. Computational and generative design is data based upon algorithms and therefore data based design. Algorithms are already being used for design in many different ways.

The use of formulas to create design is an example of data driven design.
An example is the façade of the Auckland Savings Bank by BVN and Jasmax which was designed using Microsoft Excel and the Chaos formula.

The structure of the Watercube by PTW and Arup was designed using an algorithm to determine structural steel member sizes.

A simulation is just another kind of algorithm. Rather than just using simulations to test current design proposals, the simulation algorithims can be part of the design software and the design options can be based upon the outcomes of the simulations.  This bandstand by UK architects Flanagan Lawrence was designed using Dynamo and an acoustic simulation algorithm called acoustamo.

Algorithms can be used to optimise an existing design. At the Barclays Centre by ShoP – detailed design of the steel panels was undertaken using CATIA to generate options which allowed a reduction from 230,000 sqm of steel to 150,000sqm. No two of the 12,000 panels are the same.

This exhibition hall building was designed by the University of Stuttgart’s Institute for computational design.

The question – How can you create a resilient timber structure with as little material as possible? This is a simple example of applying one rule to a simple building type. Using an algorithm inspired by a sand dollar one of natures most efficient structures, this building was designed by computer. The human input to the design is the initial idea and the design of the algorithms. (Read more)
As a side note, it was built by robots too.

What about more complexity? The complexity of trees growing in nature? There is actually already an algorithm for that.  The programming to create suburban housing exists too (its initial use is for generating realistic houses for 3d gaming environments). Using rules based criteria such as number of rooms, adjacencies and architectural style, a suburb of varied housing can be produced.

With big data the questions and the building programs can get more complex. And these kinds of design tools are not as far away as you might think.  Autodesk has a lab project in development called Dreamcatcher. “Dreamcatcher is a goal-directed design system that enables designers to input specific design objectives, including functional requirements, material type, manufacturability, performance criteria, and cost restrictions. The infinite computing power of the cloud then takes over.” The publicity for Autodesk’s Project Dreamcatcher suggests it is for industrial design – the same could potential apply to create rules based design solutions for buildings.

Autodesk are not the only company investing in this technology. Google has setup a spinoff called Flux to explore how data will shape our future. Right now Flux software and much of the media is focused on the metro scale data analysis but the future of Flux is about buildings.

Flux asks “What would happen if we stopped designing individual buildings and started designing building seeds” It is based upon the idea that the data will form seeds.

The information would include the codes, standards, weather conditions, occupant data, building product data and other information available about a building, its site, its occupants and client requirements as well as industry data such as materials, systems and construction methods and costs.

Just as each seed grows up to be a different tree, the building data seeds will grow to be different buildings depending upon the site and its constraints, the client requirements and other project specific inputs.
This kind of design will have a significant impact upon the way our industry operates.  (See post by Randy Deutsch)

This is a clip from a talk by Jen Carlilse co-founder of Flux. (Embeded in slide share or at youtube)

We probably all agree that the building examples in the Flux video are somewhat lacking in the architectural beauty department.  If nature could be an algorithm – could beauty also be an algorithm? Is there the possibility that in the future we could use data analysis to design beauty into our buildings, to use data to design buildings like the Sydney Opera House?

So what will my job be? It won’t be drafting disabled toilets anymore that’s for sure.

I’d like to think that the data will allow us to get rid of the drudgery. It will allow us to focus on the best parts of our jobs. It will allow us to realise the true value of design.

We will still evaluate the computer options and talk to the clients. Whilst data can assist us to make decisions, the human race is not about to let everything be decided purely on the basis of data – if we did we would be doing it already. Human nature is that we still want humans involved in decision making. We still need to tell the computers what to do at some level. Does it mean we all become programmers rather than architects and engineers? Could this process can bring out the best in both humans and computers?

What do you think your job could be?

Ceilidh Higgins

 Imaged Credits:
See slideshare presentation for full image credits.

 

Is a Well building different to a Green building?

Sick by Leonid Mamchenkov, on FlickrRecently I attended Worktech  Melbourne, where many of the speakers focused on wellness (or  health and wellbeing) which seems to have become the next big thing in workplace design. Australia is about to have its first certified “well” building, the new Macquarie Bank building at 50 Martin Place.

When Tony Armstrong from CBRE mentioned this concept of a certified “well” building, and that it had been around since 2013 (with CBRE’S global headquarters actually having being first certified WELL workplace) I wondered why I hadn’t heard of this building assessment tool before. I keep pretty up to date with what is happening in both the world of workspace and of green buildings, and this concept of a well building certification seemed like something that would have grabbed my attention before. Someone suggested maybe it was the Living Building challenge rebranded (it’s not). Whilst the WELL building standard may have been around for a little while, it’s been a pilot (version 1 was just released in February 2015) and there are so far only a small number of WELL certified spaces (coincidentally I have been to one of the restraunts registered for certification in Chicago).

So what is a WELL building? According to the website of the International Well Building Institute, who developed the WELL Building Standard “Buildings should be developed with humans at the centre of design.”  Interestingly this sounds almost the same as TILT Studio’s concept for codesign, who also spoke at Worktech (and is fresh in my mind because I have just been reading their book Codesign).

A WELL building is more than just human centred design – a WELL building sounds pretty amazing actually. The Well Building Institute claims not only will a WELL space improve our health, nutrition and fitness, but also our mood and our sleep patterns. And of course our improve our performance. There have long been claims that a well (as in good!) designed building, in particular workplace increases productivity, which one assumes equates to increased performance. From my own experience as a designer,it’s clear to me how buildings can help or hinder the activities within. Buildings improving mood also makes send to me – stimulating design, natual light and sufficient ventilation all play a part in enhancing our mood. But how can our buildings help improve sleep? Or nutrition? Clearly I need to learn more about what a WELL building might be.

So this week I set out to undertake some research on the WELL Building standard to see what it entails and how it differs from and compliments a green building (I should mention that the WELL Building certification is administered by the GBCI who certify LEED).  When I started reading the WELL concepts (or categories) it sounds a lot like GreenStar (Australia’s equivalent to LEED) – air, water, comfort… nourishment and fitness are a bit different. WELL has 7 categories (called concepts) are air, water, light, nourishment, fitness, comfort and mind. Like GreenStar these categories are then broken down into features (a total of 102). Some features are baseline essentials for certification and some are optional for extra points and a higher level certification. Also like GreenStar some features relate to the built fabric and some are management, policy or education strategies.

Air – this category is all about indoor air quality so is very similar to what you would expect for a green building.

Water – green buildings tend to focus on water use, WELL is all about water quality.

Nourishment – I am going to quote this one because I am not even quite sure what it might mean yet. “Implement design, technology and knowledge building strategies to encourage healthy eating habits. Provides occupants with design features, behavioral cues, healthy options and knowledge to enable healthier food choices”!!!! How will my building do all that? More research required on this element for sure!

Light – this seems a little more straight forward. It’s all about appropriate light and enough natural light. I can see how lighting can impact health, so many people complain about headaches and muscle tension related to poor lighting. Daylight also regulates our mood and sleep patterns so maybe his is how well buildings help improve our mode and sleep?

Fitness – is about introducing opportunities for occupants to excercise. So I expect this category will include features such as gyms but also design strageties that encourage using stairs over the lifts.

Comfort – again this is someone similar to some similar GreenStar credits. Acoustics and thermal confort a key to providing a “soothing, distraction free environment”.

Mind – this is another category I want to research further. Here we are looking to support mental and emotional health, relaxation spaces are important but so is “providing feedback and knowledge about their personal and occupational environment”. What does that mean?

Obviously to understand the tool and what it means for the design of buildings I need to do a bit more reading (all the above was gleaned from the overview sections of the website). Next step download the standard.

One difference I notice immeadiately on reviewing the executive summary is that “the space must undergo a process that includes an onsite assessment and performance testing by a third- party” – this sounds interesting someone must actually visit the building – and is not required for a GreenStar certification. The assessor will spend up to 3 days onsite undertaking tests and verifying features applied for. This is pretty stringent and I imagine comes at a cost (Certification is charged by the square foot, prices are on the website).

The program allows for certification only of completed occupied spaces. Buildings yet to be tenanted cannot be certified, only designed as WELLL compliant. Like GreenStar or LEED there are levels ranging from silver to platinum. WELL is being designed for many building types, although at this point is mainly aimed at office and institutional projects. Other project types (retail, residential, healthcare and more) are encouraged to register and help develop the pilot programs.

Like GreenStar has recently introduced, certification has a validity period of 3 years after which time, it must be re-verified and certified again.

If you are familiar with LEED, the standard has a comparison table identifying how the WELL features relate and cross over with LEED.

At this point I decided to read up on the nutrition and mind sections of the standard as these are the areas that I feel I have the least understanding of how design could affect space occupants in these areas. So I am by no means an expert on the standard yet!

Unsurprisingly a large part of the nourishment section relates to food and drinks provided or sold by or under contract with the project owner. So if I wanted to have a WELL certified shopping mall and my food outlets would have to meet pretty specific items around fruit, vegetables, fat and sugar as well as serving sizes and labeling. I’d say it would be simpler for a workplace which would tend to provide less food to employees. Hand washing is a feature where design plays a part – provision of disposable paper towels and soap at all sinks as well as minimum sink sizes are required for this feature. Under another feature, food preparation area require separate sinks to prevent cross contamination. (I wonder if a workplace breakout counts as there wouldn’t usually be raw meat there?) There are some specific requirements for refrigerators which might be selected by a designer. The main areas where nourishment features are impacted by design would be the provision of gardening space and spaces for mindful eating, both of which are optional features. Mindful eating is the provision of breakout areas as unsurprisingly getting away from out desks is good for reducing stress, and apparently eating with others encourages healthier eating. The eating space must have fridges, microwaves, sinks etc and contain tables and chairs to accommodate at least 25% of total employees at a given time as well as be located within 60 m [200 ft] of at least 90% of occupants. The new GreenStar interiors tool also requires breakout space, with an area based calculation per occupant and less definition of what the space contains – the GreenStar credit is about providing staff for employee enjoyment as opposed to specially a space for eating (it can be part of an activity based work area)

The mind concept is much more diverse. Covering biophilia, workplace policies in travel and flexible working, charity, beauty, the design process and post occupancy evaluations. Some features would be perhaps difficult to demonstrate objectively – how do we measure if the project contains features intended for human delight and celebration of the spirit? (This feature is apparently derived for the Living Buildings Challenge). The feature related to adaptable spaces and requirements for both diverse spaces for collaboration and private spaces for concentration could start to provide a good guide to the amounts and types of private spaces required within workplaces when clients start pushing design teams to cram in more workstations. Not sure the sleep pods and meditation cushions will take off just yet though! Inclusion of plants has already seen a big increase in Australia due to GreenStar, and forms part of the biophilia features along with patterning from nature, water features and roof top gardens. Other design oriented elements include minimum ceiling heights and the inclusion of artworks.  This mind section would be worthwhile for designers to take into account even when not designing specifically to meet the standard.

Having reviewed in more detail two of the seven concepts, only around one third are design related. Clearly certification under the WELL building standard requires a high level of commitment from management and will have far reaching effects on the organisation and it’s employees and building occupants. The question is who will drive adoption of this standard – whilst design teams can educate their clients as to its existence, I think ultimately it will have to be driven from within an organisation’s leadership team for there to be any chance of sucess. Perhaps also we will soon be finding a new consultant on our team, a wellness consultant who might have a background in HR or psychology rather than in buildings. Personally I believe, this could only be a good outcome for workplace design. What do you think? Can design contribute more to health and wellbeing? Will your own or your client organisations be interested and committed to this process? Would you like to have a wellness consultant on your team?

Ceilidh Higgins

Image Credits:

Reproduction, Replica or Rip Off?

’56 Speedster replica by Some Guy Photo, on Flickr

Replica, reproduction or rip off? It’s likely what you call a fake piece of designer furniture depends on if you would have one in your house or not. Over the last few years designer fakes have been seen as big issue in the Australian interior design industry. For example Authentic Design Alli ance was set up a couple of years ago to petition government for change and educate both the design industry and consumers.

The topic of fakes or copies came up last week I attended the launch of Penny Craswell’s The Design Writer blog at Stylecraft. The panel consisted of 3 Australian furniture designers – Keith Melbourne, Helen Kontouris and Greg Natale.  The issue of copying was raised by Penny as part of the panel discussion and certainly dominated the audience comments at the end of the night. Whilst none of the designers present had yet had the (dubious) honour of having their pieces copied, all are aware of how prevalent cheap (and even not so cheap) reproductions are – and that they seem to be are comprising a growing segment of the furniture market in Australia.

Speaking afterwards with Helen and Greg, they were discussing how designers today may deliberately design details that are hard to manufacture and therefore hard to copy in order to reduce the chances of being copied. Whilst I am not disagreeing with this tactic, I would guess it creates additional costs both in time to market or in manufacture and whilst it certainly does not detract from, it does not necessarily benefit the design.

So what’s the attraction of fakes? And why are they so prevalent in Australia these days? Cost is the obvious answer but not the full picture. Availability and ease of purchase is certainly part of the issue. Reproduction pieces have been ever more widely available in Australia in recent years, particularly when compared to European countries. The internet is certainly part of the rise of fakes, it is much easier than ever before for either designers or individual shoppers to quickly source furniture by keywords and images. No longer do you need to know which suppliers or stores to go to, you can find what you want on the internet within minutes – often just by using Google images. Frequently we all specify or select furniture based purely from the image. There just isn’t time to visit every showroom or collect samples of every item in many fitouts (I blogged just recently on lack of time) I wouldn’t be surprised if some junior designers specify reproductions by accident – perhaps not realising that an original exists or that the supplier they have selected is selling a reproduction. (Even during the course of writing this blog I have discovered a lamp shade in my house is in fact a designer knock off – now do I get rid of it?)

Designers are also being pressured more and more to meet project budgets. Clients and project managers push to bring the costs of projects down – and loose furniture is almost always the first part of the project to be attacked by ‘value management’. Is it really ‘value’ to replace a designer piece with a reproduction? Are we reducing the value of our own interior design by doing so? Do our clients understand that there is lasting resale value in the original but not in the fake? If they don’t, perhaps we need to educate them in this regard. I can buy 2 replica Eames plastic chairs for $136 but I probably won’t get $10 back for them. Sadly though-  today I can’t prove this point – all I could find for sale on Gumtree was replicas! I guess that suggests that people want to keep the real thing?

I would also suggest that the increase in the sales of fakes  – perhaps somewhat strangely – is because Australians are more exposed to design than ever before – but without necessarily having the understanding or appreciation of quality that exists in many European countries. Think about the standard of design in your local cafe or average workspace – I would say that over the last 20 years the level of design that goes into these spaces has markedly increased. In the media, I have frequently seen Australia referred to as being a hot spot for interior design or ‘punching above its weight’. The 2 Eames plastic chairs I mentioned above I saw advertised on prime time TV (to buy on the internet though!) so clearly the market for designer furniture is now pretty broad. In my area of Sydney every second house for sale has an Eames lounge and a few Eames plastic chairs that seem to come standard as part of the stylists package. Are Australians now coming to appreciate design in the spaces they inhabit, but devaluing design itself by filling the space full of cheaper reproduction furniture? If you can’t afford an Eames, shouldn’t you just accept that? As Helen Kontouris pointed out – if you can’t afford a BMW you don’t drive a fake BMW (although I did find this replica speedster image on flicker – where there were more replica cars than replica furniture images! Perhaps that just reflects the bias of flickr’s users to cars rather than furniture).

The point is here in Australia, the replica furniture is widely available so people don’t have to accept they can’t afford it. The same as a ‘Gucci’ bag in Thailand. If you can buy it, some people always will.

In 2011 Herman Miller took legal action against Matt Blatt for infringing its trademark by use of the word Eames chair to describe their replica products. It wasn’t actually even the copying that was at dispute here – but the use of the name Eames. Australian Design Review reported on the case.  The protection for design in Australia is fairly limited, and from what I understand this is one big difference between Australia and Europe. Its not that no Europeans would buy designer rip offs, they just don’t have the chance. The case between Herman Miller and Matt Blatt was settled with what seem to be fairly minor changes to the Matt Blatt marketing and they continue to sell replicas today- and the market for replicas has even probably grown in the intervening time.

The comments at the bottom of the Australian Design Review article raise an interesting point though, and one which was raised at The Design Writer event last week – its one thing for sales of fakes to be taking sales away from a giant like Herman Miller, but do you feel differently about the situation if cheap Aisan manufactured furniture pieces are taking away from sales and manufacturing of Australian furniture? With the flow on of limiting over time the market and opportunities for new Australian designer furniture to even be developed? Or is it as a couple of those commenting say, and that to debate the issue of replicas is only about protecting corporations making money from long dead designers?

Given the concerns of local designers – Keith Melbourne, Helen Kontouris and Greg Natale – the answer is no, they see fakes as having the potential to take food off their tables to quote Keith. Is it that current legislation in Australia is not supporting or protecting live designers too? A design registration only lasts 10 years, it doesn’t actually take long before replicas are legally permitted (assuming a piece could take 3-4 years to get from registration to market) – and that doesn’t even take into account the minor design changes that could allow a replica product to be sold (although not as a ‘replica’) sooner.

The question in my mind is – does it matter? Would the people buying fake Eames chairs actually buy pieces by Australian designers anyway? This is where it comes down to the recommendations and specifications of interior designers. People who are buying replicas on their own, for their own houses are likely not going to change their decisions unless the law changes. Even then would they be buying Australian Designers – well that probably depends on media coverage. However where we as interior designers have some influence over clients its a little different. If they can’t afford an Eames chair, maybe they can afford a new piece by an up and coming Australian designer – and that is the story you sell to them – that they are supporting Australian design (and highlighting therefore what good taste they have, not just copying everyone else etc etc).

As interior designers we want to be paid fairly for our projects, so we should respect that the designers for furniture want to get paid fairly too. Think about it – by supporting rip off furniture, we assist in undermining the value of all kinds of design – including our own – don’t we?

Ceilidh Higgins
Image Credits:
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License   by  Some Guy Photo 

Where do you find your inspiration (or even motivation?)

*inspiration* by AlicePopkorn, on Flickr

I don’t know about you, but I find after I finish a big deadline, it can be hard to get motivated again. There is so much stress and adrenaline whilst you are in the midst of it, and then afterward your brain as well as your body just want to totally chill out.  If you are a regular subscriber to The Midnight Lunch, you might have noticed there has been a longer gap between posts than usual. You might have thought this related to my being buy at work, and in some ways this is right – but it was actually during July and August that we had a large number of deadlines. Whilst we were right in the midst of all the deadlines, it was important to me to keep up with my regular posting schedule of every two to three weeks – committing in my own mind to keeping my work / blog balance.  However, once the rush was over, clearly my overall work / life balance was out of whack and I really struggled to sit down to write.

One of the things I really noticed during this particularly busy period (did I mention 9,000m2 of quality fitout had to be designed and built in under 6 months! insane!),  is that even while I am working hard in the middle of all this stress – my brain isn’t necessarily performing at its best. I am not referring to the mistakes we all start to make when we are tired and stressed, but that I realised I wasn’t thinking about anything other than the particular issues and tasks that had to be done.  While this is necessary at the time to get the work done, too long a period of this, and it becomes a very stale and narrow minded way to think -not particularly productive for a designer, or indeed any form of creativity, problem solving or innovation.

A large part of the reason I got to thinking about this was because I was finding it hard to get out of my day to day project thoughts to write a blog post – but then I reaslised that its the same kind of thinking which I need when for a lot of design – and even detailing work.   Its hard to solve problems or get ideas in a vacuum, and essentially this is what can start to happen to us when we get to busy with the day to day of deadlines for too long. If we stop doing all the things that take us out of our day to day work routine and make us think more about our work and our industry, we can be working and producing, but not really mentally participating. Not going to industry events, not reading blogs or new books, not flicking through a magazine or browsing through some images for pinterest, not meeting sales reps to look at new products or not taking the time to have coffee or a drink with a colleague – for me anyway these are some of the things that feed both my ideas for this blog and for my work as an interior designer. Without all these inputs it easy for our brains to get stale.

We don’t just get inspired by work related things either.  For many of us our holidays and travel are what feeds our imaginations and keeps us working to pay for the next trip.  We all have other smaller day to day things in our lives too that keep us engaged and motivated, even if they don’t even seem to relate to architecture or design (or whatever it is that you do).

For me this is yoga and meditation. Some of my best ideas (noteably including the idea behind starting this blog!) come to me during my regular yoga practice.  I took up yoga about 3 years ago to help recover from injury and also de stress, and over time I found it to be much more than this.   But again, when work is busy, this is something that suffers. Even if I still get to the same number of classes, when I am stressed I find not only is my mind busy but my body is super stiff from so many hours sitting at the computer, so its harder to get beyond the physical and into a more inspired place in my head.

Its made me value the work I do on this blog even more, even though the last couple of weeks I have been neglecting it. Its good to be getting back into the swing of my more regular activities and not just focussing on the push for deadlines. This last 2 weeks I’ve spent some time on all my usual social media sites, browsing inspiration of office snapshots, attending a number of green building events and workshops and putting together a fresh conceptual scheme for my current project. I”m starting to feel inspired again. Just sitting down to think about writing now feels like a good kind of intellectual discipline. When I started writing this post today I was planning to write a post about delegating – its kinda morphed a little bit away from that topic, so perhaps I have a few more ideas stashed away in my head that I realised! Not that I will have so much time to post over the next 2 weeks, today I’m attending the Retrofit and Refurb Conference in Sydney and next week BIM Day Out in Perth, so I might see you there – refreshing and inspiring your brain.

Ceilidh Higgins

PS. For further inspiration Come Out to the (Midnight) Lunch – If you are in Sydney on Thursday 16 October, I am organising another opportunity for followers of this blog to meet and network. The first event in April was attended by a very mixed small group including architects, project managers, engineers and BIM enthusiasts who all meet new people and enjoyed the night. If you are interested in having a drink, meeting new people and talking with fellow The Midnight Lunch followers about workplace, interior design, architecture, BIM or collaboration in our industry – come to Chicane Bar at 10-20 Bond St in the city from 5.30pm. Note the event is not sponsered, buy your own drinks and food. RSVP ceilidh@themidnightlunch.com or just turn up on the night.

Image credits:

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License   by  AlicePopkorn 

Big data at the intersection of building analytics and people analytics

buildings with peopleImagine if you could simulate your building or workplace environment before you built it – not just simulating energy usage or daylighting – but creating a simulation of how the people would behave and work inside your space. And not just a generic sample population, but your actual workforce in a simulation that knows and understands their actual behaviours. Before investing in bricks and mortar (or tables and chairs) – you could test numerous design scenarios and their impact upon not only how the building itself operates, but also how the occupants respond, their use of space, their interactions with one another and more. How would this change the way we design, the way we build and possibly the way we all work?

Many people would think this sounds pretty far fetched, futuristic and certainly a little bit big brother. The reality is that we actually have both the information and the technology available to do this – right now in 2014. Today I’m going to talk about why we would want to look at simulating human behaviour in the built environment and what this could mean for design, as well as discuss the types of data analysis and technologies from different fields that I believe could be brought together to make this kind of simulation of the built environment possible.

My background is in workplace and educational design. A large workplace is probably one of the most complex environments in which to try to predict and understand human behaviour. Unlike a restaurant, a shopping centre or a train station, it is designed to have a large number of diverse activities taking place. Whilst at the same time – and I know this sounds a little strange – there is actually less of a clearly defined purpose in being in a workplace than in many other kinds of enivonrment. Different individuals have different purposes in being there, because they enjoy their work, to socialise or to earn money are just a few. An opposite example of a much more simplified purpose of space would be in a cinema – where almost everyone is in the space for one purpose, which is to see a movie (although they may have different motivations for seeing the movie). In the workplace, because there are so many different activities and behaviours, finding patterns to predict how people work – and even understanding what improves their work is more complex.

The holy grail of workplace design is to be able to prove that certain design elements increase productivity. Most researchers agree that it has historically been almost impossible to measure productivity in knowledge or service oriented workplaces, which today make up the bulk of first world workplaces. We can however measure a lot of approximations of productivity – or things that we expect to have a close correlation with productivity – things such as staff retention, absenteeism or self reported satisfaction and comfort levels. This kind of data is readily available.

Another key issue in workplace design centres around the actual useage of space. Real estate is a significant business cost (though much less significant than the people cost) During the design phase of any project there is great debate over wdifferent kinds of spaces and how and if they will get used. Do we allocate individual offices to sit empty, will staff actually use that large breakout space, will that training room sit empty for half the year? From the workplace designer through to the facilities manager and the CEO, the ability to simulate occupant behaviour in the workplace has a huge potential to impact upon what and how we design our workplaces. To me this could be the next significant game changer in workplace design and productivity.

It’s being made possible by big data. In the past, we have not had access to enough information about either building systems or occupant behaviours to be able to simulate these kinds of complex environments. There is software that can simulate human behaviour – and it has been around for more than 20 years. Commonly used software that simulates vehicular and pedestrian behaviour or fire engineering modelling is all simulation software which is based upon predicting human behaviour. However, the difference between these previous software models, and predicting behaviour of occupants of a workplace or other complex building type is the complexity of the human interactions. Human behaviour in a fire situation or within a train station environment is much simpler than in a workplace. There are less possibilities because of the limited scenario, and also we are essentially only tracking one variable – movement. Workplace design has made very limited to use of this kind of simulation, for example Google campus at Mountainview has been designed to ensure that all staff are within 2 and a half minutes walk of each other. Movement within the workplace, or other building types, is a pretty simple and limiting factor to use to test and simulate our designs. Big data, and in particular, combining information from the fields known as Building Analytics and People Analytics, could give us the opportunity to feed a huge range of different kinds of building and human behaviour data into a simulated building model.

Building Analytics is currently seen as the next big thing in building and asset management as well as an important factor for environmentally sustainable buildings. Probably most people in this room have at least some familiarity with this field. In the past, data gathered from buidling tuning or the BMS was more limited and unlikely to be in real time. However this has been changing. Building managers can now have real time access to a range of data – from factors such as which lights or appliances are in use, to the temperature, CO2 and VOC levels, heat or movement maps of actual occupation coming through motion or heat sensors, lifts that track occupant destinations or individuals movement through security systems via access cards or CCTV. Many of these systems are already commonly available in any new large commercial development. Facilities managers and building owners are using them to understand and predict occupant behaviours in relation to building systems. Historical data from the same systems can then be combined with real time data to predict or simulate things like building energy usage in a given period or what the impact of certain weather conditions might be on occupant comfort.

This type of building analytics does take into occupant behaviours, but only at a very simple level, things like is the space occupied or not occupied – because this is key information for the running of building services such as lighting and air conditioning. Whilst this data is firstly being used to control the systems and secondly to predict building performance it also provides us with real time reliable data on occupied versus unoccupied space. The ability to use web based booking systems for rooms or desks was the first step that created some kind of data around anticipated space usage, but it wasn’t real usage data, only a prediction of usage. Today BMS data can be combined with this kind of booking system, and it is possible to not only track advance bookings but real time actual usage – if someone doesn’t turn up to use the booked space it can be reallocated to somebody else. Whilst this kind of information can help manage a building it doesn’t predict behaviours or improve occupant performance.

This is where People Analytics can start to work with building analytics to create a fuller picture of how space is actually being used, and what this means for the occupants.

So what is people analytics? People analytics looks at data generated by people and companies rather than data generated by building systems. It is a growing field of social science with implications in particular for human resources and recruitment – and in my view for designers. People anayltics starts to look at and analyse any available kind of data in order to find patterns and understand human behaviours – its anthropology using computer generated information. Today, data generated by people can include anything from emails, to social media usage, to bluetooth and movement tracking, voice recordings, computer data logs, organisational plans, charts and documents or google searches. If you think about your electronic footprint, even without anyone planning on tracking what you do, there is a lot out there. The more we use the web or cloud based services, the more data exists about our habits, our performance or our personalities. In the past the quantities of data have been so much smaller, that there was not sufficient amounts of data to generate patterns or the computing power to crunch it. Today there is.

By analysing huge amounts of historical data it is possible to identify patterns or characteristics of certain groups of people, or how to predict or promote certain behaviours. Once the historic data set has been created, it is then possible to analyse data of new people to identify who fits the patterns. We still don’t always know what the data can mean on its own though. One of my personal favourite odd ball data correlations is that super guru computer programmers apparently have a tendency to like a certain Japanese manga website! You can see the applications to recruitment and HR immediately.

Another fun example of the use of large samples of aggregate data is the Twitter happiness index. This website analyses the use of certain words on Twitter every day since 2008. Words are assigned values from 1 to 9 to signify sad to happy. The overall happiness score for each day is then calculated and graphed. There are also Twitter election indexes, oscar indexes and many more aimed at trying to predict outcomes based upon twitter traffic. Elections polling has been a high profile example demonstrating people analytics to the public. In the 2012 US presidential election, big data was used by a number of forecasters to accurately predict the results in all 51 states. These are all examples of different uses of people analytics.

But how does all of this relate to buildings, and workplaces in particular?

Lets start with a really simply example of using other kinds of data in combination with building systems data which was undertaken by Immersive, a big data company based in Melbourne, Australia. By taking the historic heat sensor data from a workplace BMS and analysing it against the organisation’s project planning data for the same time period, it was possible to determine what the actual space usage and occupancy loads had been over the period compared to the predicted project staffing levels. Using the same forward project planning data, it was then possible to predict the organisations actual future space needs. Whilst this takes into account some level of occupant behaviour – space occupancy – again its a single variable, where we are still looking at physical space more than actual occupant behaviours.

But what if we could take multiple kinds of data – data that is more specifically tracking behaviours in the specific context of the workplace? And not just data about electronic interactions – what if we can gather the same types and quantities of data about our face to face interactions as our electronic interactions? In analyising workplace productivity, this tracking of real time physical interactions is important – because in most companies, much of the informal collaboration still happens face to face. The theory is that in organisations where knowledge work is undertaken, social networks define how information is transferred informally across the organisation, and that this informal sharing is creating a transfer of knowledge. This new knowledge then has a significant influence on how the work gets done and therefore on productivity – kind of like how you learn just as much by going for drinks at RTC as you do in the presentations – people are sharing what they already know.

If organisations can find ways to firstly understand these social collaborative networks and then secondly promote them, social scientists believe that the organisations productivity can be enhanced. The office space itself then becomes one means of modifying social behaviours in order to promote certain kinds of interactions. But how to collect information on face to face interactions – we are not all going to suddenly start skyping the person sitting next to us.

Enter the sociometric badge. Developed by a team at MIT, this device contains a number of sensors. An IR transreciver allows the devices to sense one another, bluetooth records their physical location in space, an accelerometer can figure out if you are sitting or standing and a microphone detects audio. Right now this device is approximately the size of your building access card although slightly thicker and can be worn around your neck. In the future your smart phone will probably be able to track all of this anyway – its actually already got almost all of the same sensors. The sociometric badges have been used to track and record the behaviour of building occupants in a number of studies investigating the way we work. The outcomes have been published in a great book called “People Analytics: How Social Sensing Technology Will Transform Business and What It Tells Us about the Future of Work” by Ben Waber.

One of the interesting things is that the microphone doesn’t even record what you actually say. It records things like tone, change in volume and speaking speed – which are considered social signals, and which are in fact more important in our face to face interactions than the words we actually speak. Early tests in laboratory environments included speed dating and salary negotiation simulations. Computers were able to predict outcomes with over 85% accuracy based upon 5 minutes or less of these recorded social signals.

These devices have since been utilised in a variety of actual real workplace studies. So far sociometric badging has found that call centre productivity is enhanced when team members take breaks together and that the amount of time spent interacting and the amount of physical movement are god predictors of creative days.

These studies, and most in the book, are based around understanding and modifying behaviours rather than modifying environments, but as any architect or designer knows, if you modify the environment, you have the opportunity to modify the behaviours. One of the studies of most interest to us, looking at how changing physical space impacts on occupant behaviours, was a study which investigated the size of lunch tables in a workplaces cafe spaces. Using data from the sociometric badges within an online travel company, it was found that staff that sat at larger lunch tables were more productive. Within the existing office environment there were 2 different spaces staff could choose to eat lunch – one had small tables for 4 people, and the other larger tables seating up to 12 (or they could chose to eat by themselves at their desk). The data quickly showed that the people who ate lunch together would then tend to communicate further that day. The staff that sat at the larger tables were more likely to speak with others outside of the group they had arranged to lunch with, and formed larger conversational groups at the lunch tables. These wider lunch time conversations led to links and collaborations in the organisation that were not otherwise being formed. These links were part of the knowledge sharing that led to greater productivity.

In another MIT project, the cubicles themselves were equipped with sensors so both the office environment and the people within it were being analysed. The cubicles were fitted with blinds instead of typical workstation cubicle screens, in order to provide privacy or allow collaboration. Based upon the collaborations that the data had identified as being most beneficial, the automated blinds would open or close overnight. In this way the building itself can even automatically respond to data analysis.

Often, the data coming out of these studies is not surprising the social scientists or the building designers. What is is doing though, is proving things we know instinctively, the things we have seen work before.

When you think about this information about your day, what you do, where you go and who you talk to is then combined with your electronic footprint, the information about your colleagues and then possibly also the building data – its a pretty full story of what happens inside a given workplace or building in a day. The possibilities for analysis and experimentation will be endless. Why is this so important to design and construction though? So far this is all about modifying existing environments. Being able to test and prove what works is the next step.

In an example that initially does not seem to be related to physical space, but to health, the sociometric badge data is combined with data about how disease spreads. The impact of sickness on the work environment, the interactions and the productivity can then be simulated across a range of scenarios with different people being the disease originator and different simulated responses such as stay home versus solider on being tested. One suggested solution to minimise spread of disease was to change the regular seating layout, which has the effect of reducing the level of interactions between people who already knew each other.

Moving into the not so distant future – there is no reason why the possibilities of physical environments could not be tested inside a BIM, with the algorithms behind the behaviours of the sims being developed from these kinds of behavioral data sets. We have the technology available to us already.

While this isn’t about BIM as we know it today, the link between the the building model and the simulations is obvious. But will architectural practices embrace these technologies or will this lead to another new kind of consultant in our team?

Imagine the value of the design and simulation team who can prove to the client organisation that workplace productivity could be enhanced simply by working with them? Translate that to all kinds of building typologies – and the whole definition if what architecture is or could be may change. Perhaps big data is going to have an even more significant impact on change in our industry than BIM, in ways we haven’t even imagined yet.

Ceilidh Higgins

This blog is the text from my presentation at RTC North America last month, as part of the session BIMx: Big ideas around big data.  I had a great time over there and attended some excellent classes.  If you are in Europe, RTC will be in Dublin later in the year.

Image Credits: Via Flickr Creative Commons
Big Buildings https://www.flickr.com/photos/neilarmstrong2/5480543083/
The New York Times on the New Art of Flikr https://www.flickr.com/photos/thomashawk/2442371176/

Get your groupon! A guide to Revit groups

nesting by sizima, on FlickrGroups are possibly one of the least understood and most misused (and abused) functions of Revit. So, last year in the midst of struggling with a large multi-residential project containing hundreds of groups, I decided to submit an abstract to the Australasian Revit Technology Conference focusing on groups. I will also admit that I also thought about the fact that groups had not been a topic I had seen covered at a previous RTC – and therefore I figured had a high chance of being accepted as a session topic.

At the time I submitted the abstract, I was also wondering if in fact groups were the best solution for my purposes, and part of my research preparing for the conference was to test alternatives. Before I started the research, I wondered if my presentation might end up being about something other than groups –  something along the lines of, these are all the things I found wrong with groups, so use assemblies!

As you will see from the slidedeck this was not the case. Whilst groups are error prone and seem to have a lot of bugs (Autodesk are you reading?), they are still the best available solution within revit for collecting together repetitive sets of objects.

The presentation is essentially structured to be your guide to many aspects of using and troubleshooting groups. I see it as a great training resource for all levels of revit users from fairly new to experienced. The slidedeck explores many different ways of using groups, exploring the full functionality of exporting, importing and detailed annotation groups (which is incredibly powerful), how to vary and schedule groups and how to deal with errors. I spent over 6 months gathering screen clips and trying to solve various group errors, and along the way found many to share.

However, even I found something new to learn about groups at the RTC. Aaron Maller, who in my opinion is the guru if groups (I learnt much of what I know reading Aaron’s blog and forum posts) – was also presenting a session on groups. Whilst we covered some of the same topics, there was a lot of different tips from his presentation. In particular, I don’t use face based families, and it seems there are a lot of issues with face based families and groups.  If you want to know more about errors mirroring, flipping and rotating groups check out Aaron’s presentation (if you went to RTC it’s on the app). Apparently you can’t rotate a group with face based objects 90 degrees, 87 then 3 is fine though!!!

Another great RTC is over (it was the sixth time I have attended), but I’m not quite done with RTC for the year yet – today I fly to the USA where I will be presenting at RTCNA in Chicago (19-21 June). I am part of the “BIMinions” lineup and we are presenting a session entitled BIMx: Big ideas around big data. My own presentation is called Big data at the intersection of building analytics and people analytics. Hope to see you there – 2.30 on Saturday afternoon. You can also keep up to date with all my RTC tweets @BIMinions.

See you again in early July when I will share my Chicago talk – which is a very interesting mix of  workplace design issues intersecting with BIM – I have had a lot of fun researching it, and look forward to sharing it with you soon.

Ceilidh Higgins

Image Credits:
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License  by  sizima 

The death of Activity Based Working?

The Valley of the Fallen

At last week’s Property Council breakfast on Activity Based Working – the panel moderator – Michael Cook, seemed determined to announce the death of Activity Based Working (ABW to the initiated, AWB to many others).  Asking the panel “What’s next after ABW?”  To me whilst it seems that many are hesitating to use the term Activity Based Working to describe their workplace, the way they are working seems very much like ABW.

Does it really matter if you call it ABW, agile or flexible working? Is there that much difference between the 3 (or any other terms out there).  Whilst there may be slight shifts in the focus of each of these ‘types’ of working, they all mean working in a space that suits what you right now. Maybe that at a desk, or maybe it’s in a huddle room, or at home, or even a ball pit. A ball pit?!? How can that be work? Well – maybe what you need to do right now is take a break,move around and have a colleague throw a ball at your head (or imagine throwing one at your bosses head). The question then becomes not only what spaces do I need to do my work but what activities does or should my workplace support and provide? Activities – oh that sounds a lot like we are actually back at activity based working then aren’t we?

The company that coined the term Activity Based Working, Veldhoen, certainly believe that ABW is not dead. In fact they think the opposite – that it is only just being born in Australia. For Veldhoen, ABW is still the future of work and they believe it is for everyone. They are not searching for the next big trend but seeking to make sure ABW is implemented properly. This was the comment from  an audience member from Veldhoen  (I think it may have been Gijs Nooteboom, apologies if I am wrong).  His comments left the panel in a moment of oddly stunned silence and I thought it was a shame that he hadn’t been part of the panel selection.

The morning began (way too early for networking – who wants to speak to people they don’t know at 7am before their first coffee?) with a presentation from Leigh Warner from JLL on the Property Council’s recent survey of ABW and further analysis of the likely uptake of ABW and its impact upon office space demand in Sydney over the next few decades. (You can download it here).  Regardless of what you think of ABW – and unsurprisingly views are polarised – the findings indicate that ABW will not have a significant impact upon real estate demand in Sydney over the coming years. This is due to a mix of factors including the likely uptake of ABW, the mix of tenant types and sizes in Sydney as well as the types of buildings suited to ABW and the rate of lease expiries each year.

Professor Richard De Dear from the University of Sydney then presented the University of Sydney research that made headlines last year, in its findings that ‘open offices are bad for you’. (My personal favourite headliner, Open-plan offices were devised by Satan in the deepest caverns of hell). In a very quick summary, the study covered 42,000 occupants in just over 300 buildings in the USA, Canada, Finland and Australia. Occupants were in a mix of enclosed offices and open plan cubicles with high, low or no partitions. The majority of the occupants were in enclosed offices or open plan cubicles with high partitions (and were in the USA). The findings were that across a range of measures from comfort, to furniture, to lighting and acoustics even through to interactions with colleagues, the people in enclosed offices were more satisfied. I”d seen this research online last year, and it is frequently accompanied by the suggestion that its quite likely the data is skewed by the fact that people in enclosed offices are more likely to be more senior and have more autonomy as well as higher overall engagement and satisfaction, as well as being fairly irrelevant to actual Australian office conditions of today, which differ substantially from US cubicle farms. Richard also presented some preliminary findings of Australian research which included the workspace type of flexi office.  He commented that the enclosed office was still rated higher by the occupant – but the graphs indicated that the flexi office did actually outperform the enclosed office on at least half the measures.

Putting these 2 presentations alongside one another, unsurprisingly, the densification or reduction of leased office space and its impact on employee satisfaction was a key topic for the panel discussion. The panel included Natalie Slessor from Lend Lease and Emily Dean from Telstra in addition to the speakers. Whilst there were no designers on the panel, there were certainly many in the room. You could almost hear the collective gasp across the room when Michael Cook suggested that designers were responsible for this densification – and thereby implying also, the low level of satisfaction of many office spaces. It has certainly been my experience that the densification of the office is driven by my clients, and not by designers. We work from what is possible and desirable through a range of options to get to the required number of staff. There are very few clients that engage designers before they agree to their leases. By the time we get involved, typically they have signed up for their 3,000m2 and they know they have their 250-300 staff – it is our job to fit them all in – the best we can and by educating our clients as to the options as to how to achieve this. Almost always there is compromise somewhere, a breakout room is shrunk, the number of meeting rooms reduced, or those desks put right in the circulation path to the toilets because at the end of the day they need to fit a certain number of people into their space.

Whoever may be responsible for this densification, the panel all agreed that companies that are reducing spaces and only looking for cost cutting are making a mistake in the longer term. It doesn’t matter what style of working we call a workplace, we need workplaces that match the business purposes and ways of working. A workplace in which staff enjoy coming to work and can do their best work meets these needs. Both Natalie and Emily agreed that the workplace projects that achieve these outcomes usually have a great leadership strategy. As Natalie Slessor put it nicely in response to Michael Cook’s question “should be talking to the corporate real estate team or the staff?” – “We should be talking to the CEO about what business question they want their workspace to answer”.

But getting back to the death of ABW. I think in some ways Veldhoen are right – ABW is certainly not dead. And perhaps nor is it quite the fad that many people want to call it. Do we call the open plan office a fad? If you think about it, we called a space full of high walled cubicles an open office, we called a space full of bench workstations an open office – and most ABW offices – well they are an open office too. Any office where the majority of staff are not sitting in cellular enclosed rooms is by definition an open office – even if we call it something different. This perhaps is the direction ABW is heading in, that it can have many shapes and appearances, but it is about spaces for activities.  Perhaps ABW is in fact a rewording of a design philosophy even older than the open office – form follows function!

Are you designing Activity Based Workplaces? Or are you calling them something else? And what about where you work – is an Activity Based Workplace suited to architecture, interior design or engineering? I find it intriguing the number of architects and designers who say no! Personally, I’m all for it.

Ceilidh Higgins

Image: This is one of my own, taken at the Valley of the Fallen on a recent trip to Spain.  Its a beautiful but strange place with an amazing tunnel like church which seems to have been dug into the hill, it was constructed by Franco as his own burial place and monument.

PS.  Its coming up to that time of year again to get your Revit fix!  I am presenting at RTC in Melbourne 29-31 May and Chicago 19-21 June.  Hope to see you there.

Worktech Melbourne: Let the User Decide

847622286_b1a0789077_oIf you think about all the images you have ever seen of a Google office, you will realise that very few of them picture any desks – ball pits, slippery sides, cars turned into meeting rooms, sleep pods, gardens, game rooms, footsal tables, and of course kitchens full of free food – but not very many desks.  So it may come of some surprise to learn that at Google, each Googler (they really do seem to call themselves googlers) has their own desk. When Hayden Perkin spoke about the design process for Googles New York City offices,  at last months Worktech Melbourne most of the attendees at the event hadn’t been expecting to hear that Google still has allocated desking.

Hayden’s presentation focussed on the importance of the philosophy of “Let the User Decide” particularly in the design of the actual workpoints.  Let the Users Decide is part of the Google workplace design guidelines – which can be described more as a Google vibe than a strict set of standards with limited options.  As part of the Google NYC office project consultation the googlers were asked about what style of workpoints they wanted – and around half were in favour of enclosed offices! This certainly surprised an Australian audience, as even in our most conservative client offices (outside of legal) cubicles are almost considered outdated and the idea of 50 percent of staff having an office would be unheard of for quite a while.

Enclosed and assigned office space is only really suited to very static work environments with very little change in organisation size and structure, teams and small movement of people. The way that Google works needs this flexibility. Typically googlers work in teams at workpoints that are assigned for the duration of projects. Movement and reconfiguration of people and space are frequent – on average people move 4 times per year. So, while we can let the users have input, in this case not all the users got what they wanted – exactly. Given that the other half wanted open plan work environments, Google made  the decision that the open plan environment would suit their operational needs better.  But Google wasn’t quite done with the user input to design.

Taking the user involvement further than your typical consultation sessions, Google determined to allow the users to custom design their open plan environments. So while you couldn’t necessarily have an enclosed office, you could make choices such as how high the screens are or what type of desk layout or accessories you have at your workpoint. Google worked with Haworth to design a workstation system that allowed the users maximum control over their own micro environment, and that looks something like a desk sized meccano set. The system is based upon a post and beam system, with worktops, screens and accessories to attach. The attachments are made via coloured connectors (google colours of course). Hayden described the system as “controlled chaos”.

Within a certain set of rules (for example different carpet colours delineate fire egress paths that must be kept open) each team got together to plan their own defined workzone. The groups have come up with many different solutions and have used the components to build not only workstations, but semi enclosed office areas, park benches, canopies and toys. Some people were not interested in building their own desks and Google now offers a selection of standard models for these individuals or groups.

The result is certainly not at all a designed aesthetic, this is saved for the cafes, libraries and nap areas – those images of a Google office with which we are all familiar, still exist as part of the NYC office, but were not the theme of Hayden’s presentation. As an interior designer, I’m still not sure how I feel about this level of user design and customisation. The flexibility and choice it gives to the user groups is fantastic and I’m sure this allows Google to make more googlers happy with their own work environments. It certianly also works in an environment where teams are constantly moving and reforming.  As a designer, I would also certainly love to never have a discussion about workstation screen heights ever again.

Visually however its not the sort of environment that I like to work in. That said, I also know that within days or weeks of the client moving in, any office environment can quickly turn into the same level of controlled chaos. I’ve never quite figured out if its just rules or also culture, but even the most uncluttered aesthetically designed office environment can quickly descend into something else entirely. Archive boxes build up around desks, collections of trolls pop up on top of partitions or other paraphernalia starts to take over the office (I had one previous boss that insisted upon keeping dusty models of some of Sydney’s most hideous buildings) and then the controlled chaos is not really much different to that of the create your own work point office.

I guess this point brings me back to one of the biggest issues of workplace design and user consultation – it doesn’t matter if your workplace is fixed seating or an agile workplace. Choice, customisation, control and personalisation are big issues for the workplace occupants. They are issues that don’t easily mesh with the visual control of interior design or the flexibility of standardised corporate space allocations. So the question which applies equally to interior designers and those within client organisations responsible for procuring workplace design (whether facilities or project management, human resources or finance), how much do you let your users decide?

PS. Come Out to (Midnight) Lunch – If you are in Sydney (or will be on Friday 11 April), I have decided to organise an opportunity for followers of this blog to meet and network.  If you are interested in having a drink, meeting new people and talking with fellow The Midnight Lunch followers about workplace, interior design, architecture, BIM or collaboration in our industry – come to Chicane Bar at 10-20 Bond St in the city from 5.30pm on 11 April.  (Note: This is not a sponsered event, so you will have to buy your own drinks and food!)

Image Credits
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License  by  TitaniumDreads 

Worktech Melbourne: Jellybean Working

Yummy Jelly Beans by Ruth L, on FlickrLast week I headed down to Melbourne for Worktech 2014 . It is the first time I have attended a Worktech event , going based upon a few great recommendations – I had been told it was the best workplace event in Australia. I wasn’t disappointed. As well as getting a peak inside of NAB’s new 700 Bourke St at Docklands (which was the event venue) the presentations were generally of a very high standard – great presenters with relevant and focussed material. I also found it interesting to note that most of the presenters were not designers – but representing the client organsiations such as NAB, Bupa, Google, MLC and RMIT to mention a few – which sets the apart from many other workplace seminars. The day was jam packed – there were approximately 15 sessions, as well as the presentations these included a site tour and an interactive session moderated by Rosemary Kirkby. I thought rather than give you a sentence or 2 about all of them I’m going to share my thoughts on the 2 sessions I found most interesting , over this post and the next. If you see other sessions in the program and wonder what they were about – feel free to comment, tweet or email me and I am happy to share further thoughts.

Philip Ross is a workplace futurologist at Ungroup, and so not surprisingly, he was talking about the future of the work in a presentation which he described as being about Jellybean Working. At first I wondered what the reference to jellybeans might mean, surely not the fad for jellybean shaped desks, but as I got interested in his talk the reference to jellybeans faded into the background. Although he did explain towards the end, and so will I. The main focus of Philip’s presentation was the impact that technology would have on the workplace of the future – and not a far range future, but within the next few years, technology that already exists. Whilst we are all now familiar with the idea that we work using technology tools – and that they change and update all the time, I would say less of the audience were aware of the technologies that makes up what Philip described as the next break through in the workplace – big data and real time activity tracking.

Philip spoke about a range of technologies and methods for tracking activity both in the workplace and elsewhere including sociometric badging, social media and short range wireless as well as other technologies such as driverless cars which would change the way we work.

Sociometric badging is an area I have been interested in since I first came across it about 12 months ago. MIT have invented a device, which they call the sociometric badge which allows you to record data about the movement and behaviour of the person wearing the badge as they move around the workspace during the day. The device is about the size of security swipe card (and can have this function embedded into it I recollect) and it contains a whole bunch of bluetooth and/or wireless sensors, motion detectors and recording devices. So not only will it track where you walk, but if you are standing or sitting and if you are talking to someone and how loudly for how long. Put very simply and crudely, through a whole lot of measures, the data then indicates who you talk to a lot, who you say hello to in passing and where and how you spend your day. The data can then be used to create social maps of an organsiation, which are now being considered important signifiers of innovation and collaboration. I could probably write a whole blog post on this topic…If you are interested in reading more, I highly recommend “People Analytics: How Social Sensing Technology Will Transform Business and What It Tells Us about the Future of Work” by Ben Waber.

As Philip pointed out, all of this leads to the question of privacy. However studies are showing that privacy is very much a generational idea, and that generally younger generations have less concerns with sharing information than older generations. Many people seem to no longer care about privacy at all – Philip referred to a website ijustmadelove (which I am not linking to my blog – I don’t want to think about how much spam it might set off!) where people are choosing to share very private information. Whilst some information we are sharing by choice, other information is shared without most of us realising it. We are already sharing significant amounts of information with search engines and retailers, and not just online but a link between instore and online.

Using short range wifi to allow checking into a locations via a social media application means that the next time you enter that space the retailer will know every time you are inside their store. They will also have your purchase history and your browsing history while in store. This will lead to live time direct advertising. Apple are also already using a low energy bluetooth system called iBeacon which doesn’t even require you to check in. I already have something like this happening on my phone which I think is operating via gps tracking – every time I pass the local burrito place after using an evoucher there – at this point it doesn’t offer me any deals but it does pop up to tell me I am near the restaurant.

All of this eventually leads us eventually back to the jellybean. Philip uses the term jellybean to refer to the social media dot or blob that indicates if you are online or offline. He suggests this will become more important in the workplace, signaling to others where you are and what you are working on. I know in an office I worked in with an instant message network people did stop calling the phones if your greet dot wasn’t on. However in the fairly near future, not only will this social media icon just signify that you are online, the technology to concurrently edit documents with other users, will also allow it to signify who is working on a document, whilst tracking technology will identify where in space they are physically located. Philip defines “Jellybean working” as the intersection of technology, people and physical space.

All of this freaks people out a little sometimes, but if you think about it, Apple and Google probably know everything about you already. Which is a nice segway into my next weeks blog post, which will be on Hayden Perkins presentation about NYC Google and Let the User Decide.

Would you sign up for a sociometric badge in your workplace? What new technologies or social media platforms do you think will transform the way we work? Do you use social media in your workplace?

P.S. I’m excited to announce that I’ll be presenting at RTC NA in Chicago in June in a session on a similar topic to this one – entitled BIMx:Big Ideas around Big Data. Registration for the conference hasn’t opened yet, but the RTC AUS conference registration has, it will be on in May in Melbourne and I am also presenting there – a session called Get your Groupon. Check out the RTC Events Site.

Image Credits:

Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License  by  Ruth L