Until relatively recently, very little thought was given to where and how we work. The psychological impacts of architecture and design, while they have been studied for decades, seem to have attracted very little media attention. Despite staff costs amounting to 90% of the typical cost of running an office business (compared, for example, to the 1% spent on energy), it seems we overlooked the fact that, at the end of the day, buildings are intended to be used by people. Yet, ironically, with the rapid rise of flexible and remote working, this is beginning to change.
Changes in the way we work have highlighted the need to strike a balance between enabling and nudging: creating a space that allows people to work the way they prefer (and to adjust that workstyle for different types of task), but which also encourages desirable behaviours like creative thinking and collaboration.
According to shared workspace provider WeWork, data will be key to tailoring office spaces to individuals and cultures: its Swedish workspaces have large communal lunch tables, while those in the UK have smaller breakout spaces. However, beyond reflecting existing norms, small adjustments like introducing social spaces or shared print rooms can encourage cross-departmental "networking" and prompt innovation.
Research is also increasingly looking at "biophilic" architecture as more than just an interior design choice. According to research by the US Joint Commission, 40% of all sickness absence is down to indoor air pollution or poor air quality. Greenery (even in photo form) can help support mental wellbeing, while the increased melatonin associated with circadian lighting (that is, the colour-shift in light throughout the day) has been linked to increased productivity and better quality sleep.
However, we must avoid the trap of focusing exclusively on data. Both design and psychology are highly individual and it is important to recognise the immeasurables (like the "character" of a building) as well as the oddities of human nature. In fact, our perceptions can even override the statistical "truth". As architect Peter Fisher explains, "people believe they are more comfortable if they have the opportunity to change their environment, even if they’ve actually made it worse for themselves".
"We shape our buildings and afterwards our buildings shape us"(Winston Churchill)