For the whole of history, office buildings have existed in some form or way in order to carry out official administrative business. In fact, the word itself is based on the Roman Latin ‘Officium’, a term that roughly stands for ‘Bureau’. In ancient Rome, it referred more to people conducting official business than the physical building or place. Nowadays, the architectural typology of office buildings encompasses more functions and expands the program’s spectrum. Hence the contemporary configuration integrates numerous “third places”. 

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The Roman Office_©www.morganlovell.co.uk

A Retrospective on the evolution of Office Buildings’ design

The first two dedicated office buildings were constructed during the 18th century in Britain, amongst which the Ripley Building was named after its architect Thomas Ripley. It was built in 1726 for the Royal Navy and was the first facility to be allocated the function of an office building. The spectacular U-shaped structure contained multipurpose zones including staterooms, the Admiralty Board Room, offices, and apartments that are presently occupied by the Department for International Development. The second office building housing East India Company was built in 1729 on Leadenhall Street.

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The magnificent Old Admiralty Building_©www.willmottdixon.co.uk

During the early years of the 20th century, the form and function of workplaces were remodeled. In that context, it is admitted that one of the pioneers of office design was the American engineer Frederick Taylor who is recognized as one of the leaders of the ‘Efficiency Movement’. The resulting spatial arrangement of offices was analogous to that of factories with linear rows of desks facing a supervisor and occasionally, separate rooms for managers. Nonetheless, soon after the second world war, business theorists began to keep away from the Taylorist approach. Accordingly, structures that encouraged communication and interaction were preferred and encouraged. Verily, what we know commonly as open-plan offices originated from the popularization of the German movement ‘Bürolandschaft’ (“Office Landscape”). In light of this, architects utilized more organic geometries and favored fluidity in plan elaboration. Moreover, they established the foundation of informal spaces to escape the desk, namely, lounges and break rooms. Besides, the emergence of innovative air conditioning systems brought about significant improvements to indoor air quality. 

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20th vs 21st century Offices_©www.movehut.co.uk

The late 50s and swinging 60s sowed the seed of a new way of office building design. A key element to mention is the development of the cubicle following the ‘Action plan’ in 1960, which was created by the American furniture manufacturer, Herman Miller under the supervision of George Nelson and the direction of Robert Propst. The ‘cube’ system is a partially enclosed workspace with a three-sided moveable partition that is usually 1.5–1.8 m tall. This design generated more freedom of movement and independence, but it resulted in a feeling of being isolated. 

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Office cubicle_©www.qualitygroup-usa.com

Architects and the 21st century Office buildings

Unquestionably, office architects are rapidly abandoning traditional office building design in favor of dynamic, creative, and innovative built environments. Architects are striving to design functional buildings while enhancing people’s productivity, comfort levels, and overall mood. In this regard, the design impact does not only revolve around aesthetics but their aim is to create workplaces focusing on the user’s needs and behaviors. In efforts to achieve such impact, architects are re-evaluating and enlarging their concepts and bridging the ideals of human experience to building performance and efficiency. 

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Foster + Partners Design Open Office Building in Luxembourg_©www.archdaily.com

The Biophilic approach: Bringing the Outside In 

Most, if not all, workers spend long hours at the office staring at their computer screens or facing the walls of cubicles. Some long-term effects include the loss of motivation and the lowering of productivity. As luck would have it, architects started thinking of solutions to turn office buildings into healthy, productive, and pleasant environments. More natural elements were inculcated in office buildings’ design philosophy; be it using more plants and greenery, increasing the amount of natural light, or selecting natural colors and materials in the furnishings and spaces. 

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The office building of the future_©www.pickardchilton.com

In point of fact, this biophilic approach to office buildings’ design reinforces the connection to nature. Its extensive effects on workers’ productivity, mood, and health have encouraged its uptake in workplaces all over the world. Biophilic office spaces can feature large windows that bring in natural light and allow more transparency and interior-exterior interactions, as well as elements like water and earthy tones that mimic natural landscapes.

“Architects, interior designers, and even office managers have begun incorporating elements of Biophilia (dubbed biophilic office design) to alleviate the disparity between our urban lives and our born need to be close to nature, making our office environments more palatable.” 

  • Amanda Lim, Head of Knight Frank’s Flexible Office Solutions
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Biophilic Oasis Space in An Office Building in Tokyo_©www.officelovin.com
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Biophilic Workspace_©MOSS
Flexible Office space 

Another way in which architects impact office buildings’ design is by developing sustainable solutions that keep up with higher levels of uncertainty. Flexible and adaptable office spaces are a great example of how architects define future needs and anticipate changes. There are numerous benefits of flexible office spaces such as effective re-configuring of areas or workstations, improved resiliency, and reinforced collaborative behaviors. To achieve flexibility, the office building’s design should also take into consideration the contribution of moveable furniture, operable partitions, efficient storage systems, and modularity.

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Flexible Office Space Design_©www.hubblehq.com
Collaborative Working spaces 

When it comes to office buildings and workplaces, it is worth mentioning that co-working spaces have advanced into an innovative style of architecture that affiliates concepts of an office space design to third places. With the idea of collaborative working gaining momentum, architects are shifting towards this trend. As a result, it is common to find open spaces with shared furnishings in offices and fewer barriers separating desks. These design methods facilitate collaboration and clear the way for employees to communicate regularly and interact with each other.

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Yuanyang We+ Co-Working Space Located at The Centre of Beijing_©MAT OFFICE
What Covid-19 taught us about Office spaces

The socio-political repercussions of Covid-19 had brought about having added new layers to the impact of architects on office buildings and the work they undertake when designing these spaces. The effects of the pandemic on the design of office buildings have taught us to pivot with flexible, resilient, and adaptable design typologies as architects are reinventing office design and reimagining workplaces comprehensively while ensuring the physical as well as mental well-being of the employees. 

Divided Open Plan for The Post-Covid Era_©www.paramountinteriors.com

References:

  1. Insights.jonite.com. 2022. Improving Office Through Design And Architecture. [online] Available at: https://insights.jonite.com/improving-office-through-design-and-architecture
  2. HMC Architects. 2022. Office Architecture Concepts: How Workplace Design Affects Human Behavior | Thought Leadership | HMC Architects. [online] Available at: https://hmcarchitects.com/news/office-architecture-concepts-how-workplace-design-affects-human-behavior-2019-07-05/
  3. Special Project. 2022. How does architecture impact society?. [online] Available at: https://mgtuts.com/housing-planning/how-does-architecture-impact-society.html
  4. Griesbaum, J., 2022. The Long Lasting Effects of Flexible Office Design. [online] Work Design Magazine. Available at: https://www.workdesign.com/2020/08/the-long-lasting-effects-of-flexible-office-design/
  5. Knightfrank.co.uk. 2022. Biophilic Office Design: The Science and Benefits – Knight Frank (UK). [online] Available at: https://www.knightfrank.co.uk/office-space/insights/culture-and-space/biophilic-office-design/
  6. K2space. 2022. Office Design Trends 2022 – K2space. [online] Available at: https://k2space.co.uk/knowledge/office-design-trends-2022/
  7. Morgan Lovell. 2022. The Evolution of Office Design. [online] Available at: https://www.morganlovell.co.uk/the-evolution-of-office-design
  8. HubbleHQ. 2022. The History of the Office: Office Trends through the Centuries | HubbleHQ. [online] Available at: https://hubblehq.com/blog/the-history-of-the-office
  9. Oktra. 2022. How Office Design Has Evolved Through the Centuries. [online] Available at: https://www.oktra.co.uk/insights/the-evolution-of-office-design/
Author

Najlaa believes that writing, art, and architecture enunciate one’s inner voice. Through a process of research carried out with scrupulous attention to detail, she seeks to ease curiosity with a pen, and tame the incessant questions of Why and How.

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