Architectural design and space planning are being influenced by our society's awareness of the environment, Earles Architects and Associates (EAA) Principal Dan Earles says.
“Clients are much more interested in conserving energy, recycling and incorporating reclaimed materials into their spaces,” Earles says. “This helps guide our decisions on everything from space planning and the use of natural light to the types of furniture we select.”
Office design has changed considerably as well, Earles says.
“Companies are changing how they use space, with many moving toward some form of an open floor plan with collaborative space that helps promote team work and information sharing, Earles says. “EAA has designed several offices for law firms, for example, that feature more open space instead of the traditional corporate legal environment. Many firms also are reconfiguring space to create efficiencies.”
The range of office workers’ ages is important when planning, Earles says.
“In today’s designs you also have to take into consideration the wide gap in the age range that is in the work force,” Earles says. “We are designing space for people in their 20’s all the way to their 60’s and sometimes beyond. That creates challenges in the design because it is not a one size fits all solution.”
People want the open and collaborative environment, but there are some that find it difficult to work in that environment so you have to make sure they are accommodated as well, he says.
EAA is currently working on a project that requires designing office space in the lower level of a building with no windows.
“The challenge is overcoming the lack of natural light to help make the space desirable and leasable,” Earles says. “Our approach is to bring the outdoors inside, a concept called biophilics, by using video projection and also green living walls.”
EAA recently completed a full floor expansion for a tenant in a downtown office building.
“We wanted to keep the feeling that the new space was not secondary to the existing space just because there was a floor in between them,” Earles says. “We worked to keep the same finish levels using bright paint colors and carpeting to act as way-finding, as well as an inexpensive way to liven up the spaces. Also, we created some new space for large gatherings with sliding overhead glass doors to provide a space to gather entire company for meetings and training or use as smaller separated meeting areas.”
Earles finds working in the current design world rewarding and fun.
“We get to try many solutions and create the right and perfect fit for the client we are working with,” Earles says. “We’ve always had a strong focus on client service and that’s really our starting point with a new client.”
Earles starts a design project by asking questions about how the client’s work flows through the space and how employees would best function.
“What do they want in their space?” Earles says he asks. “What do they like or dislike about their existing space? This might lead to a discussion about open space planning or adding a fun break room for employees.”
Earles says he loves solving the puzzle.
“I like being able to listen to a client, hear their needs, wants and desires and then create the space to meet that,” Earles says. “I so enjoy giving a client what they need as well as giving them what they want. I like being the one who is able to create the 3D vision of a client’s 2D concept.”
Home offices, Earles says, should have the same functionality as a traditional office, from the dedicated work space to good lighting and storage space.
“The space also should have a professional feel to it, from the furniture to the location of the printer and office supplies,” Earles says. “Once you have all the functional elements in place, it’s fun to incorporate a few features that showcase the employee’s personality, whether it’s a basketball hoop behind the door or a table top fountain for the soothing water effects.”
As far as future trends, Earles believes spaces are going to become more of a hybrid type space not the completely open plan or the completely closed office plan but somewhere in the middle.
“This will be needed to accommodate the vast array of working talent and types of work functions,” Earles says. “I see spaces continuing to be very light and bright and trying to bring the outdoors in for the enjoyment of workers as well as their physical and mental health.”
Earles expects there will be more emphasis on the flexible working space that can accommodate different functions based on the needs of a company and the need to be flexible with employees’ hours and work locations.
“The sit/stand phenomenon is catching fire and I see that becoming more integrated into design of spaces,” Earles says. “I also expect much more use of simple 3D images to convey design ideas and concepts.”
Today schedule is one of the most challenging things when working with clients, Earles says.
“Everything moves so quickly and you have to stay on top of so many things in such a short period of time,” Earles says. “We are in a society of instant gratification and everyone expects everything to happen immediately. Sometimes it is hard to rush, but many times these days we don’t have much choice. We’ve manage it all by putting the right resources in place to help everyone keep up with the fast pace of today’s business world.”