Stephanie Laggner, a social and cultural Anthropologist from Austria, living and working in Australia combines her knowledge about a balanced learning and working environment from her empirical research at the University of Vienna, to find out ‘’If the office space is really that bad?’’.
She has looked at space from different angles and scientific positions. During her research in classrooms, which are basically used to work with the brain on the same level as people in an office would, the same questions arose again and again:
How can the senses be better stimulated by their environment?
There is nothing worse on a Monday than coming into an office where your brain creativity has to shut up. To be a happy employee you need a personalised environment. To stimulate senses there is the need for diverse spacing. This means humans feel attracted to different forms and colours and we all work with a different daily mood. Ecological sustainability, optimal lighting, energy efficiency, comfort and freedom of movement are necessary for people’s health at work while they use and develop their intellectual skills.
In which environment does a working or learning person feel well?
Working at the office mostly means sitting. But sitting doesn’t have to mean zero diversity in your sitting experience. I found out about a school project where the rooms were designed like a bees’ nest, with several chambers to work alone, or share the space. Students could hang in a hammock, sit on top of a window bench or have a gymnastic ball under their working bottom. Even the entire furniture layout was movable. The children were able to move their whole classes around if they wanted to. There were function rooms, cross-class teaching and moving learning. This is applicable for office work if there is ambition to change the way we want to work as happier employees.
Peter BROWNS Example, "The Crow Island School":
“For the first time, the Crow Island School in Winnetka, Illinois, combined education with achitection. In 1940 it became a signpost for the United States and beyond its borders. The basic elements of the Crow Island School formed a unit in the classes that combined different spatial areas. Basic elements are tables, armchairs, shelves and walls. It allows the students individual lessons as well as the cooperation in groups. However, the most important feature left behind by the Crow Island School is the successful collaboration between educators and architects, enabling appropriate design changes.”
The aim is to create space that enables self-realisation and stimulates the senses. Everyone has a subjective perception, so it is important that the office can always be redesigned. Light influence, colours, shapes, furniture and acoustics affect the human being. As a result, it is necessary that an office architecture involves the possibility of permanent room changes. After Katharina RÖDDER and Rotraud WALDEN Humans feel comfortable in rooms in which they can be themselves and this will create a pleasant, social climate.
Does a workspace have to be a space that supports creativity?
Yes and No. Everyone is different when it comes to how quickly they finish their tasks and where to find some good concentration. Not everyone needs a little garden around to produce a great new product. Sometimes all that is required is silence, spacious and light rooms, and the freedom to create the picture in your brain alone. Too much external influence can also present a barrier to creativity.
To research the counterpoint to this, I found a private school in Vienna who created rooms with different colours and their focus was to trigger appropriate feelings and emotions for the function of the room.
The same idea could be considered in a big company. If someone has to produce creative content, they need to work in a different environment than someone who calculates statistics for the next project.
Does a space that supports you at work, and promotes thinking and learning, at the same time function like a mentor?
It does! Humans are moved and generate ideas because of the influence of spaces/ places/ environments. Therefore yes, some offices might be an absolute brain killer, as they have no availability to make more space. So with a tiny space and lots of employees, work can produce negative thoughts and negative emotions, as our nature gets fenced in.
Do you need direct contact with nature for a balanced indoor experience?
It doesn’t always necessitate a flower or growing wall next to you. A window with a nice view does a nice job. But again, everyone is different and therefore it is a great luxury if a company allows employees to add a personal touch, as well as actively creates a great working environment. It benefits the whole team. Not only will the workflow be different, but the social relationships and the sense of community can take on a whole new positive form.
In order to approach these questions, it is necessary to understand what space can do to us and how it affects humans at work. It is important that the environment is built around us to compliment our tasks.
The French sociologist and ethnologist Emile DURKHEIM mediates in his Examination of the concept of space, that space and social advancement are related. According to the spatial definition by the german Sociologist Martina LÖW, people and objects make up a space. GOT IT?
Whether the office is a great space relies on a combination of room, light, colour, acoustics, views, personalisation and community. Let's make the office a place where we can find ourselves!
Want to know more?
BROWN, Peter. 2010. Learning process and learning environment as a unit. Connecting learning and learning environments. In: Müller Thomas, Schneider Romana (ed.). The classroom from the end of the 19th century until today. Tübingen / Berlin: Wasmuth Verlag, 52 - 68.
DURKHEIM, Emile. 1992. About social division of labor. Study on the organization of higher societies. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp.
LAGGNER, Stephanie. 2015. University of Vienna/ Cultural and Social Anthropology. Awareness of (school) space. Selected approaches to space and its interaction with humans.
LOEW, Martina. 2006². The space dimensions of education. In: Introduction to the Sociology of Education. (= Heinz-Hermann Krüger (ed.): Introduction to Educational Science, vol. Opladen / Farmington Hills: Publisher Barbara Budrich, 117 - 127.
LOEW, Martina. 2009. The Constitution of Space.
RÖDDER, Katharina / WALDEN, Rotraud. 2013.The interaction between humans and Schoolroom from a psychological perspective. In: Kahlert, Joachim / Nitsche, Kai / Zierer, Klaus (ed.): Perspectives of a contemporary schoolroom design. Bad Heilbrunn: Publisher Julius Klinkhardt, 26 - 30.
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