Universal Design – Building for Everyone

While the concept of Universal Design is relatively new to the world of architecture and design, there is an increasing demand for more inclusive spaces and products that promote accessibility, safety and convenience for an increasingly diverse population and their wide range of needs.

The expectation to ensure all people, regardless of age, size, cultural identity, ability or disability are treated equally in building environments is quickly becoming the norm across the globe. For this reason, project managers should consider integrating Universal Design strategies into their plans regarding products and spaces.

Architects, product designers, engineers and environmental designers can become true innovators in optimizing Universal Design integration by considering the following:

1. Body fit: Designing spaces and utilizing products that accommodate a wide range of body sizes and abilities

2. Comfort: Keeping demands within desirable limits of body function

3. Awareness: Ensuring that information regarding use of integrated Universal Design strategies is easily perceived

4. Understanding: Making methods of operation and use intuitive and clear

5. Wellness: Contributing to promotion of health on a holistic level, avoidance of disease, and prevention of injury

6. Social integration: Treating all groups with dignity and respect

7. Personalisation: Incorporating opportunities for choice and expression of individual preferences

8. Cultural appropriateness: Respecting and reinforcing cultural values and the social and environmental context of any design project

By implementing Universal Design into new and existing building projects, we are truly designing for this diversity – a philosophy that, when applied, benefits everyone!

 

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A Learning Lesson in Classroom Design

Improving educational outcome in the post-secondary world is a universal goal for educational institutions. How to go about doing so remains the focus of significant research and debate. An often overlooked factor, is the effect classroom design can play in optimizing student learning and engagement. In fact, several noteworthy studies have confirmed that thoughtfully and intentionally designed post-secondary spaces can affect retention, attention, motivation, learning and academic achievement. Here are three simple classroom design tips that promote and enhance active learning.

 

1. Integrate flexibility – modular furniture, technological devices and whiteboards will make room for collaborative project engagement and brainstorming sessions.

 

2. Abandon the ‘front of the room’ – utilize the middle part of the classroom as the primary “teaching corridor,” and leave the wings as study areas for students that can also be walled off with movable screens. This approach will encourage active involvement and shared communication.

 

3. Let the light in – Natural light in the classroom can improve performance. One study of 2,000 classrooms found those with more natural daylight performed higher on than those who had less. While installing new windows across campus could be a costly endeavor, swapping up spaces with windows that weren’t originally used for learning purposes (office spaces or lecture halls for example) could be a viable solution.

 

Generation Z will be the next wave of post-secondary students. In a constantly shifting technological and educational landscape, it’s crucial to design and integrate active learning spaces that inspire the innovators of tomorrow.

 

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Going Green is Good for Business

Integrating environmentally friendly initiatives into the workplace may seem like a simple and trendy public relations move. In truth, going green brings a wide variety of benefits for business owners. Applying green processes to the workplace positions participating businesses as leaders of social change while allowing for significant financial growth. Some benefits include:

Tax Advantages

Going green has many practical advantages. In some countries, tax credits and incentives are available. Many businesses are eligible for a sales tax exemption or corporate income tax credit for using solar energy systems, equipment, machinery and other renewable energy technologies.

Reduced Waste

Sustainable utilization can improve the overall efficiency of a business. For example, turning off lights in vacant offices can save energy, reduce utility costs and increase your bottom line. Printing less cuts down on paper usage and refilling ink cartridges instead of throwing them away can be another money-saving practice while also reducing the amount of plastic thrown away from the cartridge and packaging.

Improved Workplace

 Providing green options within a company can help employees who suffer from respiratory and other health-related conditions, because green products contain fewer chemicals that are connected to physical problems. A healthier workplace reduces sick days, in turn increasing productivity and overall output.

Environmental Standards to Increase Your Bottom Line

Businesses or organizations looking to stand apart, might want to consider attaining ISO certification. The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) has developed a comprehensive series of standards including a family of standards that provide practical tools for companies and organizations looking to manage their environmental responsibilities.

Australian consumers seeking out sustainable options will be especially interested in Good Environmental Choice Australia (GECA) certified products. Interior designers and project managers looking to introduce new design and furniture solutions into the workplace, would set themselves apart as sustainability champions.

 

With green initiatives increasing in popularity, economic studies have shown that companies utilizing green technology and selling green products are seeing an increase in profit. With environmentally building design and operation, success is assured as the workplace becomes both practical and profitable. The numbers are in and the Return on Investment (ROI) of prioritizing sustainability in the workplace – are sure to drive growth that’s very, very green!

 

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Science proves that we like curves – in everything!

Why is it that we’re so drawn to rounded architecture? Buildings like the Guggenheim of Bilbao fascinate us and even move us to tears. From the Gherkin in London, Al Wakrah, the 2016 World Cup stadium, they all catch our attention and mesmerize us. But what is it about these buildings that intrigues us so much? They are unnatural in that they don’t use straight, rigid lines like so many other buildings we see every day. This is a style that architect Frank Gehry has mastered. He has put his stamp on architecture and design in this area. He is best known for the Guggenheim design and the Walt Disney Concert Hall. Both show off the curvaceous design that makes us take a second glance.

Many studies have been done to find what is more appealing to us, the design with straight rigid lines or curvy architecture with soft rounded edges.

One such study was performed by Oshin Vartanian of the University of Toronto at Scarborough. Participants were shown hundreds of images of rooms with varying styles. Some predominantly curvy with rounded furniture and rugs. Other rooms were characterized by straight lines and sharp corners and edges. People were then asked to categorize each room as beautiful or not beautiful. In the study the rooms with curved features were more often considered beautiful than those with a more rigid design, and by a wide margin. But the study uncovered something much more interesting than that. When they reviewed the brain activity they found that when the participants were shown pictures of the curvy designs there was an increased activity in the area of the brain known as the anterior cingulate cortex. This part of the brain plays a part in our emotions. It’s hard to tell the reason that we are so drawn to design with curvature. Is it that we feel threatened by straight sharp lines? Is it because there is no such thing as a perfectly straight line in nature? We may never know.

So how do we incorporate more curved lines in our offices so that we can bring a little more beauty into our everyday work space? If you are redesigning an office it may be a good idea to use desks that are long and elliptical in shape. Or seating that is twisted.  The Pelikan and Eeni, Meeni, Myni, Mo collection seating options from Luxmy Furniture are easy yet impactful ways to bring a less threatening and happier appearance to the office. The Hoop and Boulder make great options as well.

Although we may not know why we prefer curved lines over straight edges, we know they make us happier and more comfortable. That can make a big difference in any office atmosphere. If you are designing a new office there are tons of things you can do to incorporate a more curvaceous design. Anything from walls to furniture. Incorporate rounded edges and long curvy lines to reap the benefits of a beautiful office.Boulder

 

 

The balance between ‘me’ and ‘we’ spaces

With open floor plans becoming so popular, it’s becoming increasingly more difficult to focus on individual work. We put so much more attention on collaboration, that we are less efficient at sitting down and completing our own tasks, especially when that deadline is approaching.

Working in groups to come up with new and creative solutions is necessary. But there needs to be an area that the team can go to and put those new ideas into action. And without distraction.

There are two primary ways that an office can create that balance of collaborative (we) spaces, and focused, individual work (me) spaces. A distributed model spreads out isolated areas within the open floor design. This can be accomplished by using somewhat closed off cubicles with higher walls. Not only is this a fairly low cost way to allow for focus, but also allows the team to move quickly between the two different types of work areas. Even just a culture of understanding to respect others privacy when working can be enough to allow one to concentrate.

Another model for accommodating both styles of work is to create a quiet zone away from collaborative work areas. This could be a completely separate floor, or just a portion of the office that is tucked away from the noise. This way each worker can decide what the best place to work is depending on the specific project that they are engaged in.

When it comes to balancing the “me and we” spaces, flexibility is everything. Giving the team options and the ability to decide what works best for them and their particular piece of work is the most important thing. The best and most successful offices offer a range of options for its team. Even promoting a culture in which there is a respect for those that have their head down and are concentrated can make a huge difference in improving the balance.

 

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The Millennials Are Moving Up. What Does That Mean For Business? 

It seems like only yesterday we started talking about millennials in the workplace. However, considering the fact that millennials were born between 1978 and 2004, the oldest are now approaching 37. They’re already a major part of our work culture. In fact, by 2025, this generation will make up 75% of the global workforce – which means organizations are considering an entirely new challenge: preparing millennials for management and executive roles.

Generally speaking, millennials are a tolerant, curious, positive, sharing, connected, flexible, generation that are true to themselves. You may have already noticed that millennial team members tend to thrive when they are allowed extra space and time to brainstorm and explore new ideas, while remaining close to their teammates for mentorship and connection.

Many millennials cannot imagine a point in time where the world was not available at their fingertips. Their up-to-the-minute understanding of innovative solutions, round-the-clock availability and global engagement will keep an organization ahead of the curve in today’ constantly shifting technological landscape.

Integrating a work culture and design space that reduces boundaries will allow an organization to get the most out of millennials fresh, entrepreneurial perspective. This could include incorporating flexible work hours or remote work opportunities into your employee offering. Traditional office spaces will be a thing of the past leading to a new way of envisioning work space design.

Creating an environment and culture that fosters growth and professional development in a unique and customized manner will not only streamline workflow and enhance productivity – it will help you retain key innovators – allowing you to build a leadership team that is well ahead of the future.

 

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Today’s Workplace Gone Global

In today’s shifting business landscape – many companies and organizations have strategically placed offices in both rural and urban areas across the globe in efforts of expanding their reach and gaining a full perspective on the markets they serve. In order to truly accomplish business without borders, it’s more important than ever to offer local knowledge, national insights and an international perspective.

With that being said, every business in the world, no matter its size, benefits from tactically developing a brand and maintaining it as a recognizable representation of the organization. A strong brand identity propels it to the forefront of those consumer attitudes which facilitate their spending decisions. To accommodate global structuring while maintaining consistency in brand, more and more companies are turning to internationally standardized office equipment and furniture that can be easily configured in any rural or urban location. Thoughtfully designed, prebuilt offices that can be shipped and installed to and from any location, will strengthen brand identity while streamlining processes and reducing design costs. Customisable furniture in design, material and colour choices all offer flexibility in creating consistent brand identity.

When designing standardized offices, for cross border business, consider the value in creating open networks and utilizing tech hubs or co-working spaces which will allow for creative, collaborative and innovative work in any location. Integrating local cultural or geographical design pieces into each location’s workspace creates a personal touch, that will make executives and employees feel more at home in the workplace – increasing overall job satisfaction and productivity – allowing your business to reach its true global potential

 

Photo by Inhouse Brand Architects

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Extrovert AND Introvert friendly office – It can exist!

Not all employees are the same. Some thrive in social settings. Others, when they are in their own space and able to focus. So when designing an office, how should you lay it out so that both introverts and extroverts can grow and contribute? Understanding the team that you’re working with is the most essential step to putting together an office in which all team members feel most comfortable and productive. With the trend toward open offices, we can leave out a whole group of workers. Some industries or jobs will attract a certain type of person. Sales people may be more likely extroverts, while accountants and engineers may need the quiet to focus. So what are some things to consider when designing and office for both introverts and extroverts?

It’s no secret that introverts feel more productive when they are on their own and able to focus solely on the task at hand. They will prefer a quiet space with little to no distractions. An introverted team member won’t contribute a whole lot in a brainstorming session with the whole team. It is important to have spaces set aside away from distractions and noise for this type of worker. If you are set on an open floor plan, it’s necessary to make available small rooms that are relatively sound proof to make it easier to focus. Other options include private hubs or pods via specialty furniture or strategically placed décor that offer some privacy.

Extroverts will thrive in open spaces where they can collaborate with other team members and bounce ideas off of each other. Conference rooms and open floor plan offices are great for fostering their talents. Many creative ideas can be born from these interactions. Offices are getting rid of desks and cubicles all together and using one large conference table for their team. Moveable furniture, from seating to desks, also allow groups to maximize the use of space for communication and comfort. This allows for open communication between the team and gives them the ability to share ideas as they work.

While understanding your team is the most important part of designing any office. It can be very beneficial to know their personalities and how they work best. Most offices are filled with people from very different backgrounds and work styles. It is very important to incorporate a little for everyone.

 

Photo by the Financial Times

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Future of Workspaces – Tomorrow’s Workplace Arrives Today

As our technological landscape continues to evolve, so too is our modern workplace. More and more frequently, offices are moving away from centralised locations, to more suburban communities that allow space for innovative workplace solutions. Creating ‘hubs’, has revolutionized the entire concept of the workplace.

Picture an office filled with people. But unlike a traditional office, where all of those people work for the same company or organization,  some of them are freelance writers, graphic designers, programmers and developers; others are in the process of forming start-up companies or working for very small firms. The workspace may simply be a large room where people work at couches, tables and bench desks, or it may contain carrels, cubicles, private offices and even classrooms. These hubs, are the future of the workplace.

Workplace hubs, and the flexibility they allow are leading to greater productivity, increased creativity, lowered levels of work related stress and boosted overall job satisfaction. The ability to approach problems from a variety of angles addresses a simple, but critical, need for employees to embrace collaboration and take advantage of being elbow-to-elbow with other innovators.

As we redefine the parameters of work and how it is conducted, architects and designers are looking to integrate solutions that bring local ‘flavour’ into the workspace. A co-working hub based in Canada for instance, might introduce cedar desking solutions. These Corker pendant lights, are a direct reflection of the iconic Australian cork hat while also embracing the sustainable properties of cork as a material.

Sustainable, collaborative workplaces are redefining the parameters of how we work. As the workforce continues to embrace innovative solutions, employers and employees alike will only benefit from getting onboard!

Featured photo by Julia Sperling

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Future of Workspaces – Designing for the growing Millenial

When it comes to designing a new office, doing so with millennials in mind is a good idea. It’s estimated that one third of the workforce is made up of people who reached adulthood in the 2000’s. That number is expected to grow to three quarters in just the next ten years.

So what can we do to make sure that our offices are appealing to this tech savvy bunch? Open communication and giving back to the community are both vital for young up and comers. So cubicles are not a good idea. But it’s great to have a public area that shows how the firm makes a difference throughout the world. Posting pictures of projects that help the community can be a big motivation for millennials.

Instead of big boardrooms for meetings, a more casual area where ideas can flow freely is a much better option. Cubicles surrounded by closed off offices can give the feeling of a closed off culture. Whereas an open floor plan where everyone can openly communicate gives a sense of transparency within the firm. The ability for new team members to easily reach out to the more experienced ones can make millennials feel more comfortable and accepted.

What are some things to consider when you are designing an office to attract potential Generation Y employees? Dedicated areas allowing employees to think and concentrate are important. But so are areas in which they can collaborate on projects and openly talk about their work. More sustainable and environmentally conscious design should be implemented. Try decorating with a lot of plants to give the office a brighter and fresh appeal. Brightly colored furniture and decoration give offices a more active feel.

Millennials will definitely change the way that offices function and how they are laid out. If you are designing an office of your own or for a client, it is important to implement some of the strategies to give a more modern look. Younger employees may not stick around if they are with a firm that they don’t feel closely aligned with.

 

 

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