By Dale R. Gardon
Photography by Dino Tonn
Who said that going to the office every day means being sentenced to architectural or aesthetic hell? I’m astonished when I consider how many people drag themselves into a vanilla-colored-wall environment, complete with standard-issue lay-in ceiling tiles and inoperable windows, and become acclimated to this environment for eight to ten hours a day—every day. Someone once decided that this is the way an office should be: sealed from the natural environment with work spaces neatly lined up like rabbit warrens housing prairie dogs bobbing up and down to see what’s happening across the sea of cubicles.
Imagine a place where you don’t have your nose prints smudging the glass. Imagine an office with operable windows and doors that allow you to hear the birds, smell the flowers, and feel the breeze. Imagine a space with interesting interior volume, natural daylight, and interior materials composed thoughtfully in an array of soothing hues and warmth, giving you a feeling of the comforts of home.
What if there were a place where informal meetings were held in a room or space with comfortable chairs instead of at a conference table over which you crouch and hover? A more relaxed setting may allow for flow and freedom of thought. Is all this really possible in an office environment?
I’m less concerned with office trends than sharing a personal crusade to change the places in which the majority of the workforce toils away. Anyone working in a home office knows the great appeal that lies beyond the ability to sit around in your underwear while engaging in a Web meeting. The mere thought of a more relaxed and pleasant environment gives awareness to how workers can focus better: being in the office seems more comfortable and enjoyable because the place in which we are conducting our business was designed creatively.
Of course, not all offices are as unpleasant as I’ve described, but after visiting and taking note of the majority of office environments, I suggest that if some of us have to spend most of our daylight hours in a place called “the office,” then maybe we deserve to have at least some of the comforts of home. The office’s kitchen should be the social heart of the office and a place to gather and socialize with coworkers, not just a wet bar counter with a water cooler and a coffeemaker that all serve as a good behavior escape from your sentence.
Beyond the exterior walls of my office building lie multiple courtyards to explore and a fountain for audio and microenvironment comfort. We are also fortunate in having chosen to build our office building in a community where the Path and Trail system lie right outside our door so that health and wellness can be enhanced by taking walks or riding bikes during a lunch hour or immediately before or after work. The bathroom has a shower available for freshening up after a long walk. It is also uncommon to find office sites where you can actually walk—yes, I said walk—to a restaurant or shopping environment without firing up all those cylinders in the car just to get a bite to eat.
Consider, too, utilizing more green and sustainable materials. We have a natural integrally colored concrete floor in most of the office, a cork floor in the conference room, and recyclable rubber flooring made from recycled tire scraps for the mail/print room, as well as TimberStrand steps, Paralam steps and posts, and Oriented Strand Board (OSB) for ceilings and flooring, all made from excess wood chips. All of this contributes to the dematerializing of the material composition of our building—basically, the core structural and mechanical products left exposed and dressed up with stain or a clear sealer in the case of the remanufactured wood products. This means less carpet, drywall, or other ceiling products.
If we can be aware of the visual, inspirational, and emotional benefits that this type of office design can provide for workers, the building owners and developers, and the environment, and if the public at large is more demanding of them, then maybe we can make a significant change for the next generation of worker bees, who would then continue to pollinate these ideas to nourish future generations.
This office lobby exhibits the warmth and charm of a residence, demonstrating sustainable design principals that utilize a broad shaded overhang, recycled materials like the glass chips in the terrazzo floor, the use of Structural Insulated Panels (SIP) for the roof, and the exposure of the Oriented strand Board (OSB), stained in a warm, light cherry tone.
The outdoor environment welcomes the user or visitor to the office complex in an inviting way that celebrates the landscaped environment—so contradictory from offices that experience garage parking, waiting for elevators, and wandering down endless non-day-lit hallways to find the office entry door you are hunting for.
The main office studio space exhibits the natural integrally colored concrete floor, the OSB ceilings, and the structural trusses exposed for the artful composition seen in the volume space. The daylight adds benefits from clerestory windows, operable windows, and sliding glass doors.