Comfortable

The woman is “floating on air,” completely at ease. As the photograph implies, a sustainable workplace addresses not only physical comfort—optimal temperature, fresh air, ergonomics—but also a feeling of being at home in the environment. This is in part a matter of culture, but also a matter of design. Naturally, a workplace that is intelligently planned and furnished communicates a culture that respects its people, a corporate value that contributes greatly to a psychological sense of comfort.



I feel comfortable

COMFORT COMES IN SEVERAL FORMS AS IT APPLIES TO THE WORKSPACE. THERE IS SIMPLE PHYSICAL COMFORT, WHICH IS AIDED BY WELL-DESIGNED WORK CHAIRS, HEIGHT-ADJUSTABLE TABLES AND PROPER LIGHTING THAT ENSURES VISUAL RELIEF FROM GLARE AND EYE STRAIN. EQUALLY, A SPACE WITH GOOD THERMAL AND AIRFLOW VARIABILITY FEELS REFRESHING AND COMFORTABLE. THERE IS ALSO EVIDENCE THAT HUMAN BEINGS FEEL HAPPIER AND MORE COMFORTABLE IN A WORKPLACE THAT INCORPORATES BIOMORPHIC SHAPES, COMPLEX FRACTAL PATTERNS AND SPACES THAT OFFER GOOD PROSPECT CONDITIONS, I . E . , A VIEW OVER A DISTANCE THAT ALLOWS FOR SURVEILLANCE OF THE WORK “HABITAT .”



Our comfort, or satisfaction with the work environment, is also influenced by the visual language of design and how comfortable we feel with the messages delivered by the architecture, the space and its furnishings. Even without an exact verbal equivalent for language of a space, we intuitively understand the narrative and the values it represents. Are those values aligned with our own? Does the space claim our approval and affection? Or, do we feel awkward with its stiff formality? Are we uneasy with its atmosphere of austerity? In part, one’s comfort or discomfort arises from the built environment itself, but some portion derives from the point of view behind it.

To draw from Stanley Abercrombie’s admirable book, “The Philosophy of Interior Design,” all “departures from the mere accommodation of function are laden with messages, often very eloquent ones, and it is a critical part of the interior designer’s education to become adept at reading those messages and then choosing which ones to send.” Abercrombie adds that without such literacy, even the most elegant rooms may be the least pleasant to occupy. At the same time, a thoughtful use of forms and finishes makes it possible to imply or clarify a set of values via the architecture and artifacts of the workplace. A client or employee may not articulate with precision what it is the enterprise stands for, but it isunderstood and internalized on a subliminal level.

Recently, Pinterest worked with IwamotoScott Architecture to design a new San Francisco headquarters in a 1911 building with a previous life as a John Deere factory. Consciously creating a space to reflect the culture of the design-oriented company, the architects incorporated such brand-driven features as a sculptural stairwell with two “stair runs” that “cross slightly to create an abstract representation of knitting (a favorite term in the Pinterest lexicon, used to describe its company culture and how various disciplines intersect.)” Additionally, the headquarters has two spacious ground floor lounges with views of a central atrium, along with an all-hands meeting space and, on upper floors, a series of comfortable lounges, a library and “a generous allowance of meeting rooms” designed to “foster a sense of communal purpose.” The design expresses the creative, design-driven culture, offers a choice of workspaces and makes it clear that Pinterest is invested in the happiness of its employees.


"There are as many styles of beauty as there are visions of happiness"
-Stendhal

Today, as workspaces are becoming more polished and professional even among startups, cluttered workspaces furnished with beanbags and cushy couches may not be optimal for either physical or psychological comfort. Tech companies are maturing and becoming more sophisticated about design, opting instead (like Pinterest) for refined lounge areas that alternate with meeting rooms and relaxed group workspaces. A smart, sophisticated, well-designed workplace instills pride and helps employees feel that they are a valuable part of something great; integral to a mission they want to invest in.

Gabrielle Rubin Deveaux, senior director of real estate at BuzzFeed, noted that the company’s offices are designed “with an emphasis on creating a comfortable atmosphere,” that includes lots of natural light, open space and traditional “elements of home.” There are couches for conversation, but also standing height tables and semi-enclosed pods where people can focus alone or in pairs to generate ideas and process information. The BuzzFeed office does not include “kitschy components,” for the simple reason that Deveaux feels that, “It is fun at first, but it is not sustainable.”

We can anticipate a further evolution of the workplace and imagine an array of possible futures. Today, there is much talk about “humanized AI” and other technologies that may enhance our work life in the future. Clothing will become wearable electronics and intelligent workspaces will respond to the presence of our bodies and monitor our moods. “Smart buddies” will act as personal assistants or avatars. So far, however, robots and the truly smart office remain in the realm of science fiction. Our buildings cannot yet accurately identify who we are and what we want and need. Nor can we say for certain how such wonders will impact our sense of self, of purpose and well-being.

Even allowing for quantum leaps in AI, human beings will, after all, continue to inhabit the workplace for some time to come—and, to act as the primary source of creativity and innovation. However the future reveals itself, there are ways to help ensure employee comfort:

 

  • Provide workers with multiple options in terms of energy level, informality and noise.
  • Arrange furniture within the space to provide biophilic design patterns of prospect, refuge and mystery. 
  • Include familiar markers of home life, such as table and floor lamps, or accessories that keep refreshment near to hand.
  • Use led lighting with a warmer, slightly yellow light.
  • Warm textures create a tactile enclosure for work.
  • When possible, maximize access to natural light and views that include trees, grasses and other greenery.
  • Ensure that systems maintain a comfortable temperature, humidity and airflow.

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