Looking Back on Some Utopian Principles

Chris Grenville
12th December 2016

Relationships Matter

With all the ideas swirling about how work itself is changing and how it is, in turn, changing the workplace and office design, it seems an interesting time to return to some perhaps utopian theories about how we can create spaces that support human endeavours in the best way possible. In the 1977 book A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction, a team of architecture theorists led by Christopher Alexander posited some big-picture notions about how people are best situated for the work day.

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Office Design

Open versus protected space

We are becoming more accustomed to working in places like airport terminals, but how many of us are at our most productive in Heathrow? Alexander believes that people need a combination of open and protected space, so a desk should ideally have a wall to one side as well as behind you. People feel vulnerable sitting in spaces that are too open, but should not be confined to a space that is less than 60 square feet.

Natural light and different focal points

Having some means of seeing outside and access to natural light is enormously important. This idea has been upheld by many psychological studies since then that indicate that workers feel less stressed and get better sleep if they are exposed to natural light throughout the day.

Around your work area, you should have something other than open space within about eight feet in front of you. This gives you a place to rest your eyes.

Like with like

The theory goes that we work best when we are working in a similar way to others near us. Workers should be surrounded by people doing tasks that are not too much at odds in terms of noise or activity. If you’re the one making the hammering sound, you don’t find it nearly as disturbing as those listening to the hammering sound. That might be an extreme example, but it seems to be upheld by all the anecdotal “evidence” against hot-desking and poorly conceived open-office plans, but the answer isn’t as simple as open or not open.

People and their places

The authors proposed that you should be aware of other people around you: at least two but not more than eight. If you work in a room with others, you should have a maximum of four. Desks or workstations should be arranged such that you aren’t directly facing someone else.

Some of these hit the mark, others are wide of it. Some companies might have people facing each other for a good reason, and they might be perfectly content and productive working that way. Because every organisation must answer for itself the question of how to keep staff engaged and animated, there are still depths to be plumbed when it comes to the psychology of workplace design.

Want to modernise the way your staff work and interact? Contact Rainbow Office Design today and we’ll be happy to listen to your ideas and offer our expertise.