We wanted our San Francisco office to be a community space as much as a creative and functional workspace, and yet all material used will need be sustainable. Our San Francisco office renovation began with a commitment to create an airy, energy-efficient and healthy environment even when we have to look across the world to find the righ solution.
We purposely chose a convenient location so people can easily ride their bicycles to work. And it is a 5-minute walk to the waterfront. Office furniture is a difficult place to start as has the most environmental impact. 90% of office furniture out there is plain ugly. These desks and chairs can do more damage to the environment than just using up energy and natural resources when they’re manufactured. They can also introduce toxic chemicals into the environment, both during their manufacturing process and after their disposal. We wanted something that is highly sustainable.
We also need creative and flexible space that supports ‘explorative’ and ‘coordinative’ activities amongst our multi-disciplinary designers. The space design has to communicate and inspire creativity. Designers like keeping rough sketches, magazine clippings, pictures, design models and other relevant things on their working space and surfaces such as clipboards, white boards and office walls in a way that constantly informs and inspires their design work.
Buzzispace provides the multimodality for spaces that convey information through multiple senses that facilitate rich communications between designers and design thinkers. Additionally, we need to find ways to display design artifacts that are indicative of different phases of the innovation process, the current state and the future state. They serve as reminders and inspirations.
In search for our design solution, Idea Couture is working with a super cool Belgium-based company called Buzzispace, a young Belgium design group with big ambitions, and like Idea Couture, they are being recognized as a 'creative think tank'. Their ideas can be described in three simple words: Ecology, Acoustics and Flexibility. Their designs are winning awards across Europe including the Brussels Design Award for Best Belgian Product for 'Buzzizone' – an acoustic, half high, freestanding wall.
The beauty of the Buzzizone (free standing wall) deisgn is that they are all produced from recycled and recyclable materials. Fit nicely with Idea Couture's sustainability needs. You will be seeing a lot of grey, pink and green in our SF office. Their products are upcycled again and again, and the biodegradable cardboard structure inside can be returned to nature after its use, completley saitisfy the 'cradle to cradle' philosophy.
For chairs, it has to be Herman Miller. The company is known for its highly functional, sustainable, environmentally friendly products that marry functional, beautiful design with high standards for recyclability and minimal waste. The Mirra chair is what we are using across all offices. It is a Cradle-to-Cradle Gold and Silver certified by McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry (MBDC), the global sustainability certification firm.
For us, the work space is important. Not that it needs to be cool and stylish, it reflects the company culture, or the smell of the place. Sustainability is a key criteria. Creative spaces are more than just space to brainstorm or a random unification of desks. They are places where innovation happens, experience is being designed, economy is being produced, and new industry are being created. Our design thinkers search for ways to create innovation, our spaces should be a haven for people with ideas. They should act as idea laboratories where people can experiment with new processes of developing and implementing ideas. There is no need for water coolers.
I hate cubicles. Wonder who invented cubicles? It is the worst thing that ever happened to the modern corporation. I believed several decades ago modernist architects/designers saw walls and rooms as downright fascist and wanted change. The spaciousness and flexibility of an open plan would liberate office workers. But corporations took up their ideas differently and used it as means to save costs and pack as many as possible into a space. It eventually became the assembly line equivalent for the white collar.
Cubicles were then invented when interior designers attempted to save it from becoming a white collar factory. In the 1950s Quickborner, a German design group broke up the rows of desks into more organic groupings with partitions for privacy—what it called the Bürolandschaft, or “office landscape”. In 1968 Herman Miller began selling its system as modular systems, the unfortunate consequence is when people cherry-pick the space-saving aspects of these designs and leave out the humanizing touches which is part of the original concept. And when the low cost manufatuers tried to copy the idea and it became a disaster.
Funny enough, there is actually a children cubicle for sale: a baby's first cubicle is one of the most depressing toys ever designed. But having people to switch to the open office is not easy either. One question often surfaces is the benefit of open offices, can you actually make decisions quicker and more efficiently when information are easily shared in an open space working environment? My experience with this is sometimes it takes a little longer for people to adjust to the open space working concepts where people easily overheard conversations. Co-ordination is improved as a result of that and the result is usually better individual and collective decisions.
Elizabeth Gould, Professor of Psychology at Princeton, was working on research attempt to defy the dogma of her field and proved that the primate brain creates new cells, she has gone on to demonstrate that the structure of the brain is incredibly influenced by one's surroundings. The key to Gould's demonstration of neurogenesis was the stimulating environment. Cages stopped neurgenesis, which she describes as "The neurons stop investing in them." It means cubicles can kill new brain cells production and as a result stiffens creativity. And the dull, boring, unstimulating cube life is creating stress for the brain.
I suggest we should have health warning attached to every single cubicle reading “WARNING: Cubicle kill new brain cells” or “The Ministry of Health warns: Use of cubicle decreases creativity”.