Space to Work: Book Review

I have chosen to review ‘Space to Work’, a book written in 2006 by Jeremy Myerson and Philip Ross. The aim of the book is to establish a code of office design for the modern-day knowledge worker to increase productivity.

What is a knowledge worker?
The book starts off by defining what a ‘knowledge worker’ is; those who carry out work based not on performance, but on applying specific knowledge to a profession. Examples the book gives are doctors, lawyers and academics. This work doesn’t need a traditional office layout or design, something that many firms have failed to take note of in recent years. This is true of both the physical structure of the office layout and amenities it offers, as well as the hierarchical structure of the firm.

The four ‘realms’ of knowledge workers
The book looks at 43 separate case studies of offices, split into four realms of knowledge worker. These are the corporate realm, termed ‘Academy’, the professional realm (Guilds), the public realm (Agora) and the private realm (Lodge). These case studies give a good overview of what the book terms ‘new office design’ that could well lead to significant increases in workforce productivity. For this review I have chosen to summarise four case studies; one for each realm, to create an overview of these sections.

1. Academy
The academy realm of knowledge worker are those that thrive on communication and the sharing of ideas. The offices are frequently collegiate in their layout, formed round a quadrangle or central communal space. Offices designed for this realm should encourage workers to ‘cross-pollinate’ ideas throughout the company through social interaction. This has led to offices with plenty of chances to meet colleagues, to be inspired by the building itself, and more choice in how and where to work. They are not concerned with efficiency of space but more with how and where the workers can congregate and bounce ideas around.

The case studies for this section were very interesting as all bar two of the fourteen focussed almost entirely on the redesign of the social space; the meeting areas, canteen and circulation routes. Only two looked at the redesign of the actual workspace as a tool for enhancing communication around the office. One of these is the study I have chosen to summarise as I felt it best fulfilled what this realm tries to achieve.*

This is the office of London-based advertising firm Mother. Their office is in the Tea Building in Shoreditch, and was designed by Clive Wilkinson Architects in 2004 (see image to the right). The main feature of the office is a 76 metre long concrete table designed to emulate the iconic 1910 racetrack on the roof of the Fiat factory in Turin. This table seats all 200 members of staff comfortably and allows conversations to happen across the table, during work. Staff move to a different seat every three weeks to encourage diversity of ideas, as well as breaking down the office hierarchy; directors are subject to the same rules. This design works very well as it allows staff to have these all-important conversations and interactions without having to get up and leave their work. They don’t have to go in search of inspiration as it is all around them.

2. Guilds
Guilds bring together those who have a shared professional skill or specialism and allow them to work together with a reasonable degree of freedom to again achieve this sharing of ideas and knowledge, so that all workers may understand more and therefore be able to produce more. They are based on the idea that ‘a problem shared is a problem solved’, and generally use a mix of public and private spaces to do this.

The case study for this section is Pixar Studios in Emeryville, USA. Completed in 2000 by architects Bohlin Cywinski Jackson (see left image). The offices bring together people who are different experts all working on the same creative process. The aim of the offices is to create a cultural environment where people can collaborate well. The studios are designed to be at a human scale, with only two stories, but with extensive social and meeting space, including landscaped grounds, a large central atrium with sofas, a café and many places to bump into people and stop for a chat. The bright and airy feel of this building seems like it would be a good place to work creatively.

 3. Agora
The public interaction between clients and professionals is what this realm is all about, including professions that need a strong public face such as lawyers, and those that prefer to work in a public place with their clients, like in a library. It plays on the growth of mobile working, allowing staff to work out of the office but still be connected back to it. This allows workers to be closer to both customers and suppliers without having to pay out for the office costs.

The Coblentz, Patch, Duffy and Bass LLP are a firm of lawyers in San Francisco that moved into a well-known public building – the San Francisco Ferry Building (right and top of post) – in 2003 as a part of a refurbishment project. The ground floor has been transformed into a public market with restaurants and cafés, but the upper floor contains the law firms offices. The proximity to the public realm has created a three-tier office structure; a social zone closest to the public space with meeting areas and reception, a middle zone for amenities such as a library and storage, and then a private zone farthest from the hustle and bustle for the work area. This proximity to the public works well to keep the firm visible, creating an approachable feel.

4. Lodge
The lodge realm looks at the rise of live-work units, both out of choice and necessity. It explores where knowledge workers have reconnected home and work and includes small multi-function spaces that, like the agora examples, transform from office by day to home at night. The most common form of this is when the workplace is integrated into a single dwelling.

The case study in this section is a small Manhattan flat of 56m2, designed by Roger Hirsch and
Myriam Corti. The living space includes a moveable wall that can be folded out to reveal a desk and office area (image, left and plan, right below), but at the end of the day can be put away again, leaving space for a built-in sofa and a dining table. The ingenious design allows work to literally be hidden away at night, meaning that both work and home spaces are generous. However, it leaves me wondering how easy it would be for the worker to switch off at the end of the day; can s/he slip as easily into ‘home’ mode as the architecture?

What does the book conclude?
The book doesn’t have a conclusion and ends rather abruptly after the last case study. From this I gather that readers are meant to draw their own conclusions, but I would have preferred a break-down of what the case studies had shown were good and bad examples of office design for each realm, and maybe a code or design brief to implement in practice. I think the aims of this book were good, and it brings up some interesting issues, but I don’t feel that it fulfils what it sets out to.



*I wrote a small rant about this in the previous post as I was so interested in what it meant for future office design. Get to it here.

2 Responses to “Space to Work: Book Review”
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  1. […] The offices are featured in a book I’ve been reading for the book review project (full review here) and made me notice something quite interesting about office design and what people want out of the […]

  2. […] via Space to Work: Book Review « MArch2. […]

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