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Designing the offices of the future

October 4, 2019 by Ioana Maria Pasc0
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If we were to characterize humans by looking at their prefered work & habitation spaces, we’d be able to distinguish between two very contrasting personalities. On the one hand, at work, most people value productivity, efficiency, efficacy, comfort, relaxation and openness, to name just a few values. On the other, when within our personal homes, other aspects take primacy, such as homeliness, comfort, relaxation, spaciousness and durability.

Now, many aspects may oftentimes overlap between the two and this aspect is a testament to today’s constantly fleeting array of wants & needs of humans. While most individuals approach their office with a different mindset than they would their homes, it is not so rare any longer to find people craving certain aspects of one existing within the confines of the other.

AEC specialists have struggled with designing the perfect environment for people for ages. Take a look around you and you will find minimalist, cement, small, 3-4 floor buildings, or spacious, glass, sky-high city centers and apartment complexes. Designers, contractors and suppliers alike are in a constant race with each other, trying to one up their fellow practitioners, in order to become the benchmark – the model that everyone follows.

In this article, we’ll be going over a few reasons why BIM and 3D modeling technology can offer an edge to anyone interested in winning the proverbial race.

 

The Office, now with less sitcom

 

Today’s technology presents us with an unprecedented opportunity – that of possibly minimizing to zero any opportunity costs related to materials, design conflicts or the neighbouring environment of a building. It has always been a tricky task to find the best area for your office building. It had to be in a central area, with several entry ways and preferably surrounded by stores, restaurants, diners, barber shops, car washes, clothing outlets and others. 

In stark contrast, expectancies were close to nil when it came to the offices themselves. Whether we’re looking at cubicles, an 8×8 confined room or larger, 15×15 layouts, most people didn’t care much about size in this regard. You just worked there for a number of hours and that was it, nothing more, nothing less.

However, in today’s world, it has become an even more challenging feat, given that knowledge workers expect very different things from a workplace than traditional workers.

 

Left – Classical, small-quarters work stations vs Right – Modern, spacious work stations. Sources: WIRED, EverBim

 

Lighting

 

The very first thing one notices upon entering any premises is its lighting. A well-lit space feels more welcoming and enticing than a dimly-lit one, where you feel like every step results in you bumping into something or someone. Research has shown us that exposure to natural, morning or evening light can improve our mood, productivity and even decrease depression & anxiety levels. 

In addition to this, the type of light that we receive whilst in the office also has an effect on our well-being, with cooler-coloured lighting being the best one for boosting productivity, as shown in the graph below.

 

The Kelvin Spectrum, which measures the colour temperature of a light source. Source: UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School

 

Because of the internal process which regulates our sleep-wake cycle, oscillating every 24 hours, also known as the circadian rhythm, we respond to light and its various colours based on how it affects our bodies. Sometimes we feel unstoppable, other times we’re drowsy the entire day. This is where services like our very own EveReal come in clutch, as it allows us to design work spaces which maximize the amount and quality of light one receives throughout the day. For example, in the 3D design stage of the project, we can look at every room and see at what angles sun rays come in. If we hop onto our VR station, we can actually experience said sunlight first-hand, helping us decide how we want to alter designs before we even consider laying the first brick.

 

3D model of a meeting room for one of our clients. Source: EverBim

Colours

 

The second aspect you notice immediately upon entering a building is its internal colour pallette. From dreary full-gray hallways & rooms, to energizing multi-coloured chambers, most individuals will get a general vibe from an office space immediately upon setting foot in it. This is once again an area in which BIM & 3D modelling prove their worth, as you can freely change any colours at will during the design phase of a project, until you feel everything is just right.

If you’re curious to find what may or may not feel right, here’s a quickfire list:

  • Green – Evokes memories of lush vegetation, nature. May induce relaxation and can be conducive to respite.
  • Blue – Evokes memories of the sky, the oceans, the seas. May nurture tranquility and serenity.
  • Red – Evokes memories of powerful emotions like passion, love, anger or fear. May lighten or darken moods based on its shades.
  • Orange – Evokes memories of action and energy. May induce liveliness and excitement.
  • Yellow – Evokes memories of either happiness or sickliness, depending on how much is used. Like red, may lead to a state of joy, ease or conversely, of nausea, depending on the shade.

 

Ventilation

 

The third aspect that follows swiftly after the first two is ventilation and it is just as much of a heavy hitter as the first two, in terms of sudden realization. 

Have you ever walked into a building and instantly felt like it was stuffy, rendering you somehow incapable of breathing properly? Have you seen the people who work there experience eye irritation, headaches, constant coughing or wheezing? This phenomenon is known as sick building syndrome, whereby the occupants of a building experience acute health- or comfort-related effects that seem to be linked directly to the time spent in the building. No specific illness or cause can be identified, with complainants being either localized in a particular room or zone, or widespread throughout the entire building.

However, this is not the only instance where poor ventilation can be the downfall of today’s generation of knowledge workers. An observational study published in the PLOS Journal of Medicine found that during the summer of 2016, inhabitants of non-air-conditioned buildings experienced reduced cognitive function during that year’s heat wave. 

What makes this study particularly interesting for the AEC industry is the fact that these buildings were designed to harness heat during the cold, in order to improve heat efficiency. Not only did they not do that, but these structures exacerbated thermal exposures during heat waves, by maintaining high indoor degrees even when the overall outdoor temperature had subsided. While several factors were at play, including those not within our grasp, such as rising global temperatures, certain aspects like building materials, design and location played a part in worsening the condition of workers.

As we’ve already alluded to previously, this is another area in which 3D design and software solutions can lend a very impactful helping hand. For example, by leveraging the ability to alter the placement, size and style of windows and air vent grilles at your leisure, those companies making use of 3D modelling engines to craft building projects will have yet another advantage over those who snub their nose at such technology.

 

Final thoughts

 

Productivity and well-being are two sides of the same coin. If employers want their employees to bring out their best every single minute, day, week and so on, then one of the first places one have to invest is the very establishment in which said employees will carry out their work-related tasks.

A little over 30-40 years ago, sick building syndrome would have been chalked up to being wimpy or were considered nothing more than fallacies. Nowadays, we’ve come to ascertain that such conditions actively impair one’s ability to perform at their highest level. With jobs moving more & more from the factory floor to the office desk, AEC companies and specialists would do well to take note of this trend and jump on the hype train early on, lest they wish to trail their competitors.

 

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