The office is changing ... again.

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Since the mid-twentieth century the workplace has changed dramatically and not only because the purpose of the work changed, but because the means to do work changed, together with  acknowledgments on how architecture can  influence a pleasant and more productive environment .

Once upon a time there were clusters of small private office rooms, for few employees, and then large number of employees within corporations dictated the idea of open space with cubicles. This layout could still provide some privacy, which completely disappeared with the advent of large open spaces. At that time some research studies proved that we need to connect with others and that we create an internal model of the experience of those we come into contact with. Isolation couldn't  help people to accomplish what groups of talented people might by pooling their knowledge, talents, insights and energy.  .

 A scene from  "ALL president's men" 

A scene from  "ALL president's men" 

But going over limits has been proved being deleterious. There are times, in spite of the brain being a social organ, when collaboration is distinctly brain-unfriendly. The reasons are different. Think about negative emotion and how easily they can spread. Consider how much weaker personalities can feel overwhelmed  by dominant ones. And what about the pre-existing issue on privacy ?

So, now, offices are changing again, and not only to solve the privacy issue, but to be aligned with the recent outcomes in behavioral and social psychology and cognitive science. If we consider creativity, and how much important this requisite is in finding out-of-the box solutions, we need to fit an office with isolated slots, in order to ensure creative - and often introverted - people  be free from interruption or dissipation of energy on social matters which are unrelated to work. People engaged in creative works need freedom in managing their work schedule and, therefore, their work environment.

 Tomoko, from:   http://www.mottowasabi.com/

If previous workplace design relied on cutting-edge technology to tie it all together, now contemporary technologies work on opposite direction. New solutions allow a precise control of sound and light propagation  even in space with no physical boundaries.

Fast and efficient wireless connection  are making remote work easier and not just possible, so that people can attend meetings while at home or even during commuting.  Once you experience flexibility at work you can't go back to a rigid frame anymore and this tendency is building up a different concept of work environment. Flexibility requires offices to offer multiple choices and provide private and individual solutions alternate with communal spaces, as there are times when people can and should collaborate productively and times when people should be wise enough to leave each other alone. Acknowledging that different personalities have different roles to play and allowing each one to get the appropriate environment, to utilize its talents, is critical for true innovation.

There is another important contribution by technology: improved wireless communication makes remote work possible so that people can attend meetings while being at home or even while commuting. So why not  conceiving offices with smaller area than needed?  There are companies that are shrinking spaces by reducing the footage per person and also reducing  the number of desks, despite the actual number of employees. High rent is another important issue and some companies in New York are looking for creative ways to cut the costs, by promoting new concepts of co-working and   even  recurring to bartering. All strategies to help small  and large firms to handle unstable economic situation, like starting a new business (the former) or  facing tough economic times (the latter).

Besides a new philosophy of space planning is spreading. The recent product design  let the end-user personalize objects and furniture, and choose geometry, finish, assembly to get personalized layouts. Some open-end  solutions let the user  perceiving his own affordance and  decide his own way to use an object. Everybody can  contribute to shape the environment  and  build up the identity of the brand he/she works for. Flexibility is he most important issue and not only to embrace a fluent, dynamic and partecipatory space concept,  but also to foster a reduced discrimination of classes, by considering  interchangeable working slots, where your desk will be somebody's desk in the future and vice versa.   Employees involved in creating their work environment and dealing with less hierarchical issues are  more likely to be happy, as they can identify themselves with the culture of the organization, and not just follow unwritten codes or rules. 

 Image from linkedin 

Image from linkedin 

Good mood is a requirement for being more productive, and, although this is a quality very difficult to measure,  it does effect efficiency and efficacy of production (intellectual and not).  Architecture and interior design contribute a lot to get these results, but they have to accomplish a very delicate job, that is to say consistency with the real policy of the firm.  No spacial concept can get  positive accomplishment in well-being and productivity if there are bosses, and not leaders, at the top of the system.

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Giusi Ascione

Architetto abilitato dal 1992, LEED Green Associate, con un’esperienza decennale all’estero presso studi di progettazione internazionali (Burt Hill, EMBT/ RMJM, Forum Studio/Clayco). Rientra in Italia nel 2008 per avviare ABidea, dedicato alla progettazione e al retrofit. Nel frattempo presta consulenza presso Proger Spa, NeocogitaSrl, collabora con il GBCItalia. Consulente architetto per spazi rigeneranti e formatore di CFP per architetti, è coinvolta anche in attività di ricerca interdisciplinare centrata sulle relazioni tra il comportamento umano e lo spazio costruito. (EBD - Environmental Psychology)

1000 WORDS ABOUT ... ... the new appointment of the month

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Examples of buildings and spaces, that best meet the performative and / or emotional needs of the people who live there, will be examined.

Comment

Giusi Ascione

Architetto abilitato dal 1992, LEED Green Associate, con un’esperienza decennale all’estero presso studi di progettazione internazionali (Burt Hill, EMBT/ RMJM, Forum Studio/Clayco). Rientra in Italia nel 2008 per avviare ABidea, dedicato alla progettazione e al retrofit. Nel frattempo presta consulenza presso Proger Spa, NeocogitaSrl, collabora con il GBCItalia. Consulente architetto per spazi rigeneranti e formatore di CFP per architetti, è coinvolta anche in attività di ricerca interdisciplinare centrata sulle relazioni tra il comportamento umano e lo spazio costruito. (EBD - Environmental Psychology)

BEAUTY: a concept, a value or just an activated brain area ?

"Beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror" wrote Rainer Maria Rilke at the dawn of the last century, subverting the culture of neoclassic beauty and vividly reclaiming the culture of sublime romanticism. But the question is: is beauty a concept that only poetry can try to explain? Maybe what beauty is will remain a mystery, but what happens in our brain when we look at beauty will be no longer.

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Neurobiology has no interest in understanding the factors that determine and trigger the sensation of beauty and pleasure in humans, rather it only tends to understand what is happening in our nervous system when experiencing the beauty. Semir Zeki, ( in his interview for 'Why Are We Here?') supports this position and keeps the distances from any direct confrontation on the subject with the rest of the intellectual world, especially the humanisties, who on the contrary, would be afraid of the contradictions found along their ideological path, when facing unmistakable scientific evidence.

Architects, on the other hand, are very eager to know more about the hidden magic that makes some spaces much more enjoyable than others; they would solve most of the problems due to the arbitrariness of languages , and finally there would get  objective, stable and unmistakeble references.

 Color Constancy:  you recognise conspicuous colors even when subjected to different levels of ambient light

Color Constancy:  you recognise conspicuous colors even when subjected to different levels of ambient light

Our brains are always looking for stabilizing references, and all sensory processes are nothing but an expression of this tendency: the visual reality we perceive is nothing but the subjective interpretation of electromagnetic waves and the prospective construction of shapes, which tend to to eliminate contradictions and uncertainties. For example, we always perceive the leaves as green, that is as they appear in the daylight, although they look different in other moments of the day, when they mainly reflect the red of the crepuscule or the dawn. The perceptive process is a survival tool and therefore tends to recognize reality to the extent that we need it. When the same reality returns forms, colors and sounds in the way we think it makes sense, we feel pleasure, and that feeling is closely linked to credibility even before simplicity, and produces a sense of satisfaction in the brain.

Zeki points out that there are no delimited areas of the brain that are sensitive to the perception of the beautiful but we can assert that there is a part of the brain that activates when we feel the sensation of beauty. This area is the medial orbitofrontal cortex, and it is the same when we react positively to the delivery of a prize, when we hear beautiful music, when we are directly or indirectly involved in an action that we consider to be just and / or good (Moral Value of Artistic Beauty of Kant). It is a feeling that connects us to the world and can vary in intensity, but never to the point of destabilizing ourselves.

When you raise the "volume" of pleasure and you get to a destabilizing point, beauty fades to leave the place to something different, which is the sublime. The sublime is defined as the beauty that is captured in horror, the pleasure contained in terror. It is the sensation aroused by nature in its most grandiose and powerful manifestations, such as storms or even a high peak view. This is a point of imbalance in which the sense of self is turned off in relation to the world, as the sense of infinity and impotence is overwhelming and takes over. Unexpectedly, when experiencing the sublime, the active brain area -the medial inferior frontal gyrus - is not the same as the one involved when we experience the beauty. It is a zone involved in strong emotional experiences and is recorded as pure mental construction.

Can we distinguish in architecture examples looking for sublime from esamples looking for beauty? And what could be the environmental feautures which distinguish one category from the other?

According to what has been said so far, we should say that an architecture is beautiful when it satisfy our brain, does not stress but provides cognitive and physical ergonomy. The demarcation line between the sublime and the beauty is very subtle and is also closely related to time and cultural evolution. How long can we stay in the Battlò house without feeling the weight of a continuous and repeated sensory stimuli? Gaudì's work is one of the most popular attraction for tourists in Barcelona, but It's pretty sure none of us would be happy to spend all their lives in such spaces..

 Casa Battlò - Barcelona

Casa Battlò - Barcelona

A "beautiful architecture" survives cultural changes, and remains pleasant forever and for different types of users. It's what we need for places where we spend most part of the day: places where we study, where we work and where we spend time with our family. These spaces have to recharge rather than overwhelm us.

So let the museums, the churches, the playgrounds offer special effects and positively over-stimulating experiences. Let them be the artwork to surprise us with their forms. And let everyday spaces be seductive but classical, provocative and innovative to be capable to reset the negative mental states and predispose to creativity. Every solution should be proposed in the right place at the right time.

 

Comment

Giusi Ascione

Architetto abilitato dal 1992, LEED Green Associate, con un’esperienza decennale all’estero presso studi di progettazione internazionali (Burt Hill, EMBT/ RMJM, Forum Studio/Clayco). Rientra in Italia nel 2008 per avviare ABidea, dedicato alla progettazione e al retrofit. Nel frattempo presta consulenza presso Proger Spa, NeocogitaSrl, collabora con il GBCItalia. Consulente architetto per spazi rigeneranti e formatore di CFP per architetti, è coinvolta anche in attività di ricerca interdisciplinare centrata sulle relazioni tra il comportamento umano e lo spazio costruito. (EBD - Environmental Psychology)