Over the past decade, Professor Jeremy Myerson, Director of the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design at the Royal College of Art, has been conducting research into the relationship between the workspace and the city. His work has identified “the three Cs" of a productive workplace: collaboration, concentration, contemplation. In the final part of the series, he discusses contemplation.
When the trend for cubicles ended and office walls were torn down, the emphasis was on open-plan space and working life became one big brainstorm. There has been a lot of faddism in office design – table football, beanbags and hammocks are supposed to help bring staff together. Collaboration is important but people complained about being pushed off-task by noise and distractions. It is important to provide an environment that also allows concentration when necessary. The third C, contemplation space, is often the missing link in office design, but it is starting to be introduced in progressive workplaces such as The Shard, which has the right landscape to accommodate all three Cs.
“It is a peaceful space in which to think freely, reflect on ideas and plan in a relaxed environment – and this offers a direct benefit to employers”
A contemplative space is one where you let your mind run free, where you’re not surveyed. Perhaps mobile phones are forbidden and there’s no conversation, while water features and plants enable rest and recuperation. This zone will become particularly important as the demographic of the workforce changes. We are all going to work longer and need to be allowed to have space and time away from what’s conventionally known as work. But it is not only a location for what might be called rest and recuperation. It is also a peaceful space in which to think freely, reflect on ideas and plan in a relaxed environment – and this offers a direct benefit to employers.
The Shard’s Winter Gardens (breakout spaces with floor-to-ceiling inner glass façades and windows that open) provide opportunities for people to take themselves away and let their minds run free. The floor plates are atypically generous, and can allow a range of settings to be created within them. They are on a human scale, so people won’t be marooned in deep space. As a 21st-century building for knowledge workers, it has a very broad appeal and will become a model for other cities.