Calm

Calming, restorative workspaces allow people to step away from the intense bustle of activity in the workplace, even without the availability of a wholly separate room. Quiet colors, simple furniture and some form of delineation or identification of separation—a screen, a high-back chair, a border of plants or other marker—are all that is required.



I feel calm

JUST AS MEN AND WOMEN ARE REQUIRED TO BE ALERT, ENERGETIC AND ACTIVE AT WORK, THEY ALSO NEED TO STEP BACK TO ABSORB AND PROCESS INFORMATION, TO SIFT THE DAY’S INPUT AND PLACE IT INTO A LARGER FRAMEWORK. IN OTHER WORDS, WE NEED PERIODS OF QUIET, TIME FOR “THE INTERIOR PLACID MURMUR OF SILENCE” —TO REST AND RECHARGE — IF WE ARE TO BE TRUL Y CREATIVE AND PRODUCTIVE.



Often distracted by the buzzing hive of the work environment, many people now seek out sheltered places in which to withdraw to think, write, read and rest. Even in an open plan with no private offices or enclosed meeting rooms, designers are creating partial refuge by means of reading alcoves, booth seating, high-back chairs and semi-private hubs that allow for retreat, while maintaining some connection to the larger space. For a deeper sense of refuge, no-talk zones like a library, meditation room or another space where cell phones and chit-chat are forbidden can help to mitigate feelings of stress and preserve cognitive and emotional health.

Not every company has the resources to create sleeping nooks like those provided by Google and Uber, but freestanding, cocoon-like structures can also offer a pleasant niche in which to retreat. These pods or hubs may be engineered with soft, tactile surfaces that help to diffuse sound and can be equipped with comfortable seating and lighting that illuminates the individual work zone. Such small, sheltered spaces are not about isolation or getting away from work, but rather about working with less distraction and a lower level of stimulation.

According to an article by Gina Trapani in the Harvard Business Review, some of the best creative work is done in “times of reflection and idleness. Studies have shown that the wandering mind is more likely to have a Eureka! moment of clarity and creativity. Taking breaks…gives our brains time to do a kind of long term, big picture thinking….”

Jeff Reynar, Engineering Director at Facebook, comments on the company’s Frank Gehry designed New York office in the historic Wanamaker Building. "Though everybody has a desk in the middle of the floor, you’ll also see that there are lots of quiet, tucked away corners where you can go sit on a couch, sit on a chair, and get some work done away from the hustle and bustle of your team."

"The design is to communicate clearly by whatever means you can control or master."
- Milton Glaser

While the Facebook office has the raw, industrial look associated with start-ups, along with a whimsical Gehry-designed “cloud” and a collection of gaming tables, it also has a library designed for quiet. The library is furnished with study carrels made of Douglas fir plywood, plus over-sized lounge chairs upholstered in leather and open shelves stocked with books. Visually, it’s a simple, uncluttered place with a warm, unified palette rather than a kaleidoscopic jumble of artworks and artifacts that fill the open work area.

Kickstarter’s office is located in a former pencil factory in Brooklyn—a 29,000-square-foot space in which the Ole Sondresen design team introduced a variety of refuge spaces that offer protection overhead and to one’s back. “...some work is social,” Sondresen notes, “and some work is study. The grand library is a social commentary/experiment as much as an ‘amenity.’ Some work requires a quiet and contemplative environment and some work requires a place of action and engagement. The library is a place to squirrel away for a while and hatch those genius thoughts that are the foundation of a business like this.” In addition to a library with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves and reading alcoves, the office has an habitable green roof and a courtyard with views of a fern grove, flowering trees and a rain chain—all of which add to the sense of retreat within the urban landscape.

The need to take a break from meetings, socializing and the onslaught of emails, arises from real human needs. It is a biological and psychological response to stimulation that may be amplified by temperament, as well as by the nature of one’s profession and work tasks. Designer George Nelson noted that: “There are kinds of people and kinds of work. There are people who file and people who pile. There are doers and dreamers.” Both doers and dreamers, introverts and extroverts, leadership and staff, need time and space in which to contemplate and create. Design has to accommodate this basic human need.

Design can create spaces that help to create a feeling of calm by providing spaces to work away from one’s colleagues and through such strategies as:

  • A muted color palette, subdued patterns and plush textiles provide respite for the eye and mind.
  • Warm or cool neutrals create a restful, restorative backdrop.
  • Sheltering furniture like high back chairs and booth seating can provide a semiprivate space with a degree of protection and acoustic control.
  • Reference to the contours, patterns, textures and sequences that persist in nature enhance biological and psychological equilibrium.
  • Organic materials such as wood, brick, wool, felt, burlap and others with a matte finish and texture act as an antidote to the hard, reflective surfaces of technology.
  • Small-scale patterns help to create a space that feels quiet and calm.
  • Gardens and atria offer the ephemeral movements of grass, leaves and light that lend a sense of peace.

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The True Measure Of A Space Is
How It Makes Us Feel