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Week 33, 2020

Make Space: Places, Properties, Actions, and Attitudes

Photo by Alice Dietrich on Unsplash

Each week I share three ideas on and about the future of work. Only there are four ideas this week; four ideas on the topic of space planning.

Why am I writing about this? I suspect many organizations will find reason to rethink their office space post-COVID. Some will undoubtedly see the rise of remote work as an opportunity to downsize and save rent. Others will start looking for creative ways to get more out of the space they already have. And that’s where Doorley and Witthoft’s book Make Space — How to Set the Stage for Creative Collaboration comes into play.

First published in 2012, “Make Space” is not a new book. But it’s a excellent resource. I’ve had plenty of opportunities to reference it in years past — both for MAQE as well as for choice client engagements. And I’ve found the language it uses to deconstruct space particularly useful; language that explains how spaces can “reflect the culture, behaviors, and priorities of the people within it.”

Let’s dig in.

1. Places

Places come in either of four types. There’s the Home Base type in which an individual or group gets work done. There’s Gathering Spaces in which people meet. There are Support Structures such as kitchens and storage rooms. And there are Thresholds/Transitions such as hallways etcetera that connect and “mark changes in mood, tempo, and subject matter as people move from space to space.”

2. Properties

Places are always imbued with properties of some kind — spatial characteristics that impact behavior and mood. There are six such properties — posture, orientation, surface, ambiance, density, and storage — that space designers can tweak to “fundamentally alter the nature of an interaction.” Importantly, these properties are ever-present; they influence behavior whether we do anything with them or not.

3. Actions

Actions are the behaviors and tasks that our space accommodates. And here again, there are six overarching groups: saturate, synthesize, focus, flare, realize, and reflect. “Actions are different steps of ‘doing’ at any given moment.” And space designers can arrange an environment in such a way as to support (or even incite) one or more of these actions — an act that is easier to do for single-use than multi-purpose spaces.

4. Attitudes

Attitudes are the values and habits that our space promotes. “Make Space” uses the values of the Stanford University as examples, but it encourages space designers to replace them with the beliefs and values of their own organization. And that makes sense as each organizational culture is unique. “Space is the ‘body language’ if an organization”, and it’s the space designers' job to translate and manifest that language.

When contemplating an office remodel, I suggest starting at the bottom to answer the following questions:

  • What attitudes and values do we wish to promote in this space?
  • How might those attitudes manifest? What actions do they promote?
  • What properties might we use to invite and facilitate those actions?
  • And how many places do we need to create to accommodate properties?

Space should serve a purpose. And by considering places (and their properties) as products of the attitudes and actions that we want to promote, we can ensure they do.

That’s all for this week.

Stay safe out there.

Now get back to work.




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