Architectural Trends – Designing for Function & Productivity

business flowchart-facility-management-consulting-consultant-cmms-facilities-training-education-ifma-fm360-rimerI know what you’re thinking, “What’s a facility guy doing writing about architecture?” “I thought architects and facility managers are supposed to be enemies…” While the two professions have typically collided in the past, trends in our industry are thrusting our two worlds back together – and shouldn’t they be? When you take a step back and look at the bigger picture, we are all (along with engineers and construction folks) trying to accomplish the same goal – design, build, operate, & maintain an effective and efficient facility the meets the performance requirements of the Owner. Okay, don’t accuse me of being utopian; I’m just trying to make the point that we, as facility managers, should be diligently working to build relationships with these other professions that significantly impact the form and function of the buildings we live with every day – because we need each other to be successful in our careers and at returning value to the triple bottom line. And after attending IFMA’s World Workplace in Philly and doing some studying of my own, I gained additional respect for architects and insight into some important architectural trends that facility managers should be aware of, as, I believe, these trends and the respective research quantifying their benefit will further aid us in making our cases for facility and program improvements.

Let’s start with a new word of the day – “biophilic design”, which essentially means design that brings the outside inside. There are various books and websites that explore this further in much more philosophical terms; however, I want to focus more on the output and benefit of bringing nature into the building. Now, I am sure many of you would prefer to be outside breathing the fresh air, feeling the warm sunshine, seeing the Fall foliage, and hearing the wind rustle through the trees. In fact, as I write this, I am thinking I need get this article finished so I can get out there…

If that word picture appealed to you, you are not alone. Studies have shown that incorporating design elements such as wood beams & posts, rock fireplaces, and water features, including rounded shapes as found in nature, reduce stress and bring a calming effect to the occupants. Even something as simple as a painting can have similar effects. For example, the Sonoma County Jail Intake Center did a Savannah experiment, where they installed a wall-size photo of the outdoors on what used to be a white, cinder block wall. As a result, they realized lower levels of fatigue among workers, higher cognitive test scores, and lower incidents of disruption and violence – all by installing a picture of a serene outdoor setting.

I am sure many of you have had to mediate and field debates regarding proximity to windows and offices with a view during space planning and people moves. While those debates likely increased your stress level, a recent study found that occupants that had a window with a view had higher mental function, increased recall of 10% to 25%, and performed processes 6% to 12% faster. Conversely, those that did not have a view had increased fatigue and poorer health conditions. They even found that higher cubicle walls slowed performance for similar reasons. The supposition was that natural daylight and a view of the outdoors precipitated these benefits.

The benefits of daylighting have been frequently discussed and at times debated. However, there are numerous studies that have shown the positive effect of daylighting on worker productivity and health. For example, a report by the California Department of Energy stated that an increase of daylighting from 1 to 20 foot-candles increased worker performance by 13%. Contrast that with studies that have found a correlation between artificial light and depression and stress. These negative effects could be somewhat attributed to the impact that artificial light has on our circadian rhythm, which regulates many of our body functions throughout the day, including our sleep cycle. Research revealed that the orange and yellow hues of a sunrise, the pinks and blues of a sunset, and the transition of colors and type of light throughout the day helps to manage our circadian rhythm. Thus, advances in LED lighting will soon be used to help mimic the natural daylight frequency cycle within buildings to help mitigate worker fatigue and stress. In fact, airlines, such as Virgin Air on their international flights, are already incorporating color changing LEDs to help passengers minimize the effect of jetlag.

As I mentioned in a recent article, Facilities Department Not a Profit Center – But Can It Be?, many corporations provide on-site exercise facilities for their employees. This convenience keeps workers closer to the office, improves health, and lowers insurance costs; but, as studies are finding, exercise increases worker productivity. Employees that exercise have lower stress levels, more energy, and higher cognitive and brain activity – all this equates to better performance. Thus, as I wrote in my article The Forthcoming Millenial Reign, architects are purposely making elevators less convenient and putting wide, open stairways front and center as means to encourage exercise. Additionally, many campuses create and maintain park-like settings to promote exercise and to realize many benefits aforementioned in this article.

So now you are thinking, “This is all great information, but how does this help me as a facility manager in my day-to-day struggles to operate & maintain my buildings?” First, let’s not forget that we need to be forward thinking, so we should seize the opportunity to promote such beneficial designs in future projects. Second, consider how you could leverage the information found in these studies to justify building improvement projects, such as increased daylighting, lighting upgrades, and better floorplan layouts. Perhaps these studies can provide some insight into new paint colors and artwork on interior spaces, cubicle and office furniture selection, and flooring replacements. The point is that facility managers should always be mindful of how we drive value to the bottom line – not just considering cost cutting measures, but improvements that increase worker productivity and well-being, even if that means we have to think a bit like an architect…

Reports and studies cited in this article include The effects of indoor air quality on performance and productivity – Indoor Air 2004, Windows and Offices: A Study of Office Worker Performance the Indoor Environment – California Energy Commission, and presentation given at IFMA WWP’13 This Is Your Brain on Space by Little Architecture in Washington DC.

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