You’re not in Scranton, anymore

I find it strange, in a way. Most of us spend our whole day sitting in an office, and then in the evening go home, sit down and watch a workplace comedy such as The Office on television. That’s how it is with me sometimes. The office environment where Steve Carell’s pompous-yet-loveable boss character Michael Scott and the rest of the folks at Dunder Mifflin get up to their shenanigans is open-plan and quite unremarkable in terms of dcor — and not dissimilar to the reality of the vast majority of our office environments, which is part of the show’s appeal.

That appeal isn’t because we like the common, drab office environment. It’s just that we can all associate with it, and can even see ourselves in that fictional world. But we all admit we’d like to work in environments more like the ones presented in this issue, environments that acknowledge that work accounts for a significant portion of our lives, and attempt to incorporate holistic designs that aim to create an atmosphere of both motivation and comfort, productivity and environmental sensitivity, and other pluralistic goals.

Trend research started the millennium predicting the disappearance of fixed office spaces following the emergence of new communication technologies, but in recent years that has been reversed. Now we see greater emphasis being accorded to distinctly recognizable headquarters and offices with character. It has to do more now with allowing people to experience the identity of a company, be it values, attitude, or culture, in three dimensions and communicating this both inside and outside the company. This serves to motivate staff and provides a visible sign for business partners.

Offices in modern companies are evolving from being places that perform administrative tasks to knowledge centres. This same concept can apply to a city as a whole. People are not happy when their surroundings are nothing but functional. We need space, light, peace and quiet but also places of communion and places of inspiration. The ability of great architecture and planning — both within a specific structure or between structures — to inspire revitalization growth of us as individuals (offices) and collectives (city) has long been the goal of all space makers.

Cities like the four Rhys Phillips discusses in this issue — Copenhagen, Portland, Helsinki and Vancouver — are consistently rated as some of the best places to live in the world (with Vancouver topping the list according to a new ranking this year from the Economist Intelligence Unit. Yay Canada!), focus on a critical mass of denser mixed use and institutional development, and benefit from the availability of both cultural and recreational attractions and fewer infrastructure problems than are often found among large disconnected populations.

Fundamentally successful places, whether public or private, are places that are good to be in, which is something we all want for where we work in and where we live, especially when, as is often the case, they are one and the same. B

Building welcomes your opinions. E-mail your comments to [email protected]

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