Aspiring to be clutter free

We live in a world of increasing ‘stuff.’ Our houses are crammed with kitchen appliances, gadgets, knick-knacks and fast-fashion clothes. The weight of this clutter can affect not only how you feel about your home, the environment but also your mental health as the weight of clutter stresses and weighs us down.

There is a cost – mental, emotional and environmental – to our consumption.  The attractiveness of flatpack items and fast fashion in terms of cost and being “trendy” are moving us away from buying items for life. In the UK alone, more than a million tonnes of clothes are disposed of each year with 300,000 tonnes going to landfill or being burnt. While many try and recycle, only 1% of fibres used to make clothes are recycled to make into new clothes.

Obviously we need things to get through our daily lives but we can all do more to ensure we are buying consciously. There are three relatively straight-forward steps to becoming more mindful about what we buy and use in our homes. The first step is to take a look at what is in your home today. You may be surprised to find the things that are already in your home, stored away. The second step is, having audited and edited those items, to create a home that allows you to manage and store your belongings that is practical and makes sense to your family.  Finally you need to create a process for dealing with incoming items.

Culling the clutter

Most people find the idea of decluttering daunting. There are a myriad methods of decluttering but the key is to see this as a journey, not a single day. The first thing to do is to audit your home. Pull everything out and work out what is working, what is working for you, what you want to keep and what you want to dispose of.  Here are some simple tips to start:

– Create a plan of attack and actually stick to it. It is easy to be overwhelmed but if you approach it bit by bit, you can achieve your goal. Tackle a room (the bathroom or the kitchen) or a type of item (your books or out-of-date food) every day or each weekend. Even do one thing on day one, two on day two and so on.

– Create a system for sorting items – keep, rubbish, donate, sell… and follow through on those categories. Otherwise the temptation is to simply move things from one box or place to another. Set this up before you start so you can easily process things. Use bin bags or boxes to easily store these items once you have made the decision.

– For items you are on-the-fence about or that hold sentimental value, put them in a box, marked with the date and store them. This gives you the ability to see whether you actually use the giant platters for the parties and whether you really miss that novelty sombrero when it isn’t directly in your line of sight.

– Consider how to find a home for or dispose of your items responsibly. Many charity shops are overwhelmed with goods, have a conversation with your local charity teams about what items are useful for them, look for some of the lesser known charities who may need specific items; look online and on social platforms for Free or Recycle/Upcycle sites; there are specialist companies and council sites that can help with broken electrical equipment – some even can generate you a little cash!

Putting it in its place

Having removed items that you no longer want, it is time consider how to stop them from building up again. To do this you need a system.

“A place for everything and everything in its place” is an axiom for a reason. Creating places to put things is key to controlling clutter. Review your storage areas like cupboards and drawers. Are they properly set up to help you easily keep things organised in a way that makes sense to you? There are a lot of storage products out there so find the ones that fit your lifestyle and don’t forget the magic of labels to help you see what you have.

Creating a beautiful and stylish place for things to helps deliver an organised life without sacrificing your design and the feel of your home.  A stylish receptacle for keys, coins and glasses at the front door; a shoe rack to keep shoes organised; a coat rack with labels for each member of the family. It doesn’t need to be fancy, just think it through for your family and how you live your life.

Also consider a policy of “One item in, one item out”. No new items unless something has left the premises. If you are trying to downsize, consider making it more than one item out. There are inevitably times of the year where there will be large influxes of things – Christmas and birthdays, for example. Consider how to balance your gifts to other family members or even to give in other ways – make gifts, give a memory or experience. Sometimes time is the greatest gift we can give.

Look at having a capsule wardrobe. There are many books, blogs and videos on how to achieve this, but having a wardrobe that is designed to work well together is a great step to ensuring that you can keep your clothes from proliferating.

Designing for clean lines

There are thousands of products available that will help you stay organised. The point is to ensure that you have built-in sensible, accessible places for the things you use day-to-day. There is no point putting things in the attic if you can’t access them or find them.

When designing your home for a clutter-free life, look for streamlined surfaces and practical storage solutions. More storage isn’t about more things, it is about ensuring that you can put things away: think labelled bins where the children can put their toys, for example. A new trend is to help children to organise by colour which while being practical is also beautiful from a design perspective. Use boxes and bins to separate and control items – you will always be able to find the remotes if they have a specific place where they live.

Consider your vertical space too. This gives you the option to not only create the illusion of a bigger space by lifting things up off the ground but to expand your storage space. You can increase your storage options too by using furniture like ottomans that have built-in storage or storage behind larger furniture such as mirrors and sofas.

Remember, the key to using less stuff in your home is to consider its role. Ask yourself: will you need to create space for it? Does it add to your life in some specific way? Is there another way to achieve the sense of having that item that takes less space (a photo perhaps)?

When looking to be more responsible in creating a clutter-free home, we actually don’t need to be more organised or create more storage and we certainly don’t need more products to organise us. We need to think more about the things we surround ourselves with on a daily basis and how we incorporate them into our homes so they are controlled rather than overwhelming and controlling us. Being more mindful about our consumption and what is in our environment can create a clutter and stress-free environment at home, decrease landfill and still give us a beautiful and practical place to live.

Making the change – optimising mental health in the workplace

With ever-increasing stress and challenges to mental health, ensuring our workplaces are designed to promote optimum conditions is not only important but central to keeping businesses running. Essentially, the biggest capital investment a company makes is its employees. To ignore sick, stressed, sleep-deprived, or disengaged employees is tantamount to ignoring the upkeep of a building. 

There are four key areas to consider when designing to optimise mental health in workplaces.

Light and colour

Science tells us that there is a significant effect of air quality and light exposure on circadian rhythms, social behaviours, mood, physical well-being and sleep quality. Working in poor or insufficient lighting can lead to headaches, eye strain and tiredness, ultimately causing stress, anxiety and depression.

The colours we surround ourselves with also affect how we feel. Light is made of colour, it converts into electrical impulses when it hits our retina. These impluses pass into the hypothalamus and affect the release of hormones. Green, particularly, is a mood-enhancing colour and is known to reduce stress. 

Using plants, green-view windows, water features and other biophilia can help mitigate stress triggers for employees, creating a healthier and more soothing workplace for your staff. Perhaps if you have a balcony or roof-top space, consider fitting it out as a lunch space or workspace and encourage its use.

Organisation

Working in a soothing and harmonious environment helps to lower stress hormone levels, blood pressure, anxiety levels and depression. Ensuring that your space is organised, arranged and functional for employees is part of making a space optimal for mental health. 

There is a need to strike a balance between simplicity and minimalism, and the colourful, casual “Google-esque” office.  What feels right will depend on your company, culture, employees, business and a host of other factors. Aim for engaging, fit-for-purpose and soothing versus cluttered and distracting.

Social Relations

A company where employees experience good communications and strong social support are perceived as being healthier, have higher job satisfaction, morale, lower absenteeism and a desire to leave. However, balancing the need for an individual to have space for themselves, a sense of community and togetherness and strong social support is key. People have varying needs to be alone, to be known and to know others. 

Ensuring that there are a good mixture of collaborative, social, private and quiet spaces will give employees options. It empowers them to get their work done in the way they like.

Health

Office designs have previously focused on time efficiency, putting everything at easy reach. In today’s thinking, the desire to enable incidental movement for employees is important in helping them with their health goals. 

Encourage staff to take the stairs, discourage eating at desks (by providing an alternative) and offer sit-stand desks. Provide mobile phones to allow people to move around rather than being tied to a desk and place amenities on the periphery so that people need to walk a bit further to access them. 

What to consider

  • Don’t make health and wellbeing a fad in your office or a bandaid to a problem. Options like sleep pods while helpful for mindfulness or a power nap, shouldn’t be used to replace healthy sleep patterns. If your employees are working too long or sleeping in the office, a different conversation is required.
  • Workforces are aging and there will be some who are less fit, well and able. Remember to include options for those who need it.

Fundamentally investing in the health and wellbeing of employees is good business. Staff treated well, with respect are more likely to be retained, be more innovative, and be happier and more productive at work. That in itself is worth making the change. 

Getting back into the office – the ‘new normal’ in office design

Over the past decade offices have become more and more open plan and high-density. Remote working was not part of many office cultures. In many companies, pre-pandemic, if you weren’t at work, then you probably weren’t working. 

In the past few months companies have had to reconfigure business models as Covid-19 lockdowns have required employees to work-from-home. Covid-19 has forced us to accelerate new ways of working, jumping forward a decade in a very short space of time. 

Back to the Office

The reality is that, at some point, we will have to go back to the office. For many, working from home is not a long-term solution. Either the job itself isn’t possible long-term from home or the home environment is not conducive to long-term working. Most importantly though, for many of us, work is a social, community-led activity. We miss being with our colleagues.  We miss those informal run-ins in at the coffee machine. We miss the separation between work and home lives. 

The likelihood is we will see a hybrid approach of remote and in-office working in the coming months. With employees expressing caution and a degree of fear at returning to the office, companies need to create a working environment that takes into account Covid-19 and employees’ well-being. Staff will need to not only feel safe coming into the office but feel that the space is compelling enough to come into and has the kinds of technology to support the new ways of working. It is important that companies engage with their people to get feedback but also to help allay fears. 

Designing for Coronavirus

Companies will need to consider new things in office design: How can staff circulate around the office without issues of contact? How does hot-desking work? How can digital methods allow staff to book desk space, track occupancy and potentially contact tracing? What are the potential changes to office materials like the use of bleach cleanable fabrics and the use of glass?

The “new normal” offices will need to be:

  • Driven by data insights 
  • Flexible and adaptable 
  • Technology enabled
  • Fit-for-purpose around the employee’s needs
  • Collaborative and enabling productivity
  • Designed around using space in different, creative ways
  • Focused on promoting community, the company culture, employee well-being and health

Flexible workspaces

Agile spaces will become more important as office areas need responds to changing space as needs and office populations. Putting wellbeing and health at the centre of office design will be key to creating an environment where people not only feel safe but where they want to be. 

Other new innovations to consider include:

  • Contactless solutions to minimise touch at high-touch areas like doors and elevators but also to potentially measure contamination or show how recently something was cleaned. 
  • Hygiene stations – sanitiser and handwashing basins 
  • Furniture solutions that minimise contact but maintain the sense of community and culture
  • Airflow measures and air quality devices and monitors
  • AV, IT and unified communications and collaboration solutions that help to connect remote workers with those in the office
  • Versatile versus built furniture options to allow for flexibility and agility 

It is still unclear what the post-Covid-19 working world will look like but there will need to be a rebalance of working practices between remote working and office-based working. Technology will lead the way and automation will play a big part in making this the ‘new normal’. If this situation has taught us anything it is that things change and we can adapt and adapt quickly when we need to. 

Sweet smell of success – using scent in the workplace

There is no doubt that smell has a tremendous pull on human beings. Scent has the ability to transport us, move us and motivate us. Different industries have used smell to promote sales for decades – from the basic of the smell of baking bread or roasting coffee when showing your home when it is for sale to Shanghai Tang who famously use a signature scent in their stores.

The use of smell has evolved beyond this, with individuals and offices now looking at how to use aromatherapy techniques to create positive environments where staff can be motivated depending on their task. Research has shown that using an appropriate aromatherapy oil can improve an individual’s mood up to 40%.

How can scents be used in the workplace?

Stress

Some essential oils can help workers relax and focus during stressful situations. Stress is not only unhealthy but it can negatively affect how employees perform at work. Lavender and rosemary have been scientifically proven to significantly decrease levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) in the brain. Linalool, a substance found in lemons, reduces our ‘fight or flight’ response.

Increase Performance and Promote Creativity

Workers seeking to reduce fatigue, improve mental clarity and be task-focussed can use scents to help them with their performance. A study showed that the smell of lemons, jasmine and lavender reduced typing errors by 54%, 33% and 20% respectively. Peppermint also improved performance when doing tasks that require speed and accuracy. Choosing the right smell can also help boost creativity and innovation. 

 

Some specific scents worth considering for the office:

  • Lemon – promotes concentration, calms and is useful if you are feeling anger, anxiety or are stressed and run down. Lemon also has some antiviral and antibacterial properties. 
  • Lavender – calms and controls emotional stress. It soothes nerves, relieves tension and depression.
  • Jasmine – calms nerves, is uplifting and is an anti-depressant promoting feelings of confidence, optimism and positive energy.
  • Rosemary – excellent for improving memory, fights physical exhaustion and mental fatigue and increases alertness. 
  • Cinnamon – stimulates, improving concentration and focus while combating fatigue.
  • Peppermint – useful for creative activities or when brainstorming. It increases energy, stimulates the mind, promotes concentration and helps with clear thinking.
  • Coffee – enhances analytical reasoning and task-based activities. Obviously, it is good at keeping you alert and awake and ready to solve problems
  • Vetiver – boosts brain patterns, improves focus and attentiveness leading to better concentration.

 

How to deploy scent in the office

It is important to remember that the use of aromatherapy in the office is contentious. Some people are allergic, others may find the scent unsettling or simply unpleasant. Some scents are not appropriate for those who have medical issues or are pregnant. It is also important to consider spillage and technical equipment interference.

Companies should decide if they will allow individuals to use their own scents. There are some channels that work well for office-based environments like scented stress balls, roller balls, scented hot/cold packs and essential oil diffuser clips that have refillable scent pads.

Overall it important to consider scents as part of a holistic approach to workplace enhancement and wellbeing. Ensuring that there are clear guidelines, objectives and engagement to deploy scent into the office can mean that you can successfully use smell to change how your workforce acts, feels and performs.

Peak fitness in the tech age

It used to be the most technical a gym got was the heart-monitor in the handle bars of bikes and treadmills. Now, the age of technology has not just entered the world of gyms but is being fully embraced – and it is not just classes on Zoom.

Today’s breed of machines for both home and professional gyms are embracing apps, sensors, video and streaming services to give you the best workout.

Smart mirrors are full-length mirrors that are actually LCD screens. They act as a normal mirror when not engaged so can be used for checking out your outfit or form. Turn them on though and you have access to a wealth of options. Most offer online classes from yoga to strength exercises and cardio – both on-demand and live. You can even train one-on-one with a personal trainer who can correct your form via a video link up through the  built-in camera. They also frequently come with a Bluetooth heart monitor so you can keep track of your statistics.

The new generation of high-tech bikes and treadmills take the experience of biking and running to a new level. They bring features that make feel like you are running or biking outside following an actual trainer. Their touchscreens don’t just show Netflix or moving graphics, they offer classes that are both live and on-demand that will help you achieve your fitness goals. You can join guided classes for beginners to run a 5K or run with other participants in a high-intensity work out. Some models also auto-adjust the incline and speed that is set by the class’ trainer so your workout challenges you and builds fitness.

If you are looking for all-over body fitness smart technology, the new generation of smart boxing gloves come with sensors built into the wraps worn under the glove. They provide data back to the app so you can not only track how many times you hit the bag but how hard, all in real-time. These often come with on-demand or live classes too, though at an extra cost.

For those wanting to build strength there are digital weights. These systems are essentially a full-size weight room packed into a machine that is barely the size of a TV. One model on the market features giant arms that extend out at the push of a button and offers 200lbs of resistance. This makes them suitable for those looking for strength or resistance training rather than a full weights work out. Many offer real-time feedback and will adjust settings automatically if they sense a weight or rep count is too easy or too hard. Continuing the trend they also offer online coaching.

Smart, interactive and providing real-time feedback, new tech-enabled gym equipment  for home or professional gyms bring the worlds of technology and physical fitness together in a way never seen before. All of this comes at a price. None of this equipment is cheap. However, in this new era, there is a class, course or experience for every who wants to achieve their fitness goals, be it at home or at the gym.

Building an oasis of calm

Our modern homes with open-plan layouts don’t always lend themselves to finding a place of peace to work or to get away from the family. How many of us have tried to do a conference call or video while trying to drown out the sound of the dog, the washing machine, someone’s piano lesson or an overly-enthusiastic board game? Or tried to sit at a cluttered dining table to write a report?

Creating pockets of calm and quiet in your home is becoming more critical. How do we go about building that space to concentrate or relax?

1 – Change your mood with colour. Colours affect humans. For your area of calm, pick restful, neutral colours that speak to you in a soothing way. Consider accents to promote specific feelings. For example, yellow makes people feel optimistic and happy while blue promotes creativity.

2 – Think texture. Using different textures gives people a richer experience of a space. It gives the eyes different areas of textural focus and engages multiple senses. Think about replicating some of the textural elements throughout the space, like wooden bowls to match a wooden shelf. Or white tiles on a fire-surround to pick up on a white tiled floor. Adding plants brings texture and oxygen into your space.

3 – Use negative space. This is the space between things. Hanging too many pictures or putting out too many design pieces excites and confuses the eye. Make sure there is space in your room so that your eye has places to “rest”.

4 – Light up. Humans react to light in a space. Think about how you can either maximise the light in your space or bring in more light. Place a mirror to reflect existing light or get advice on a good lighting plan. Think about the space at different times of day. How will it look and feel in the morning versus the afternoon? Consider layering your lighting with both standing and table lamps, or even incorporating dimmer switches to set the mood.

5 – Think of sound as a liquid. What steps can you take to control, channel or dampen the sound that travels through your home? Can you use bookcases or soft furnishings like rugs, cushions or upholstered furniture to dampen the sound? Refurbishments like lowering a ceiling where the TV is or putting in wide doorways to disrupt sound can help keep designated areas calm and quiet.

6 – Cull the clutter. Clutter is the enemy of calm. Think about what is necessary in your lifestyle. Does it have a place? It may be a cliché but “a place for everything and everything in its place” goes a long way to helping create a feeling of calm.

To make your home an oasis of calm you want to create spaces that function well, work together and flow seamlessly. The most beautifully designed home still needs to feel like you,  be practical for your lifestyle and circumstances and reflect your personality. It is a lot easier to find zen if your home is working with you, not against you.

Five reasons your office refurbishment really needs an architect

Refurbishing a property is an exciting prospect but one that can feel daunting and fraught with challenges. A refurbishment gives you the opportunity to redesign, update or even expand your current space so it is fit-for-purpose for your current and future needs.

Some might consider the option of doing a refurbishment without an architect. They think by hiring one they prolong the project and potentially could lose control over the outcomes. These are myths. An Architects is a professional like a doctor or a lawyer and they act as expert consultants. They use their professional know-how to help you achieve what you truly want, sometimes things you didn’t even know how to think of. But ultimately it is your project.

From a practical point of view, there are some key reasons to engage an architect when considering an office refurbishment:

1 – Architects think about more than making a space just look good. They ensure that the new rooms and space will fit the purpose they are intended for as well as the lifestyle (or workstyle) of the people of will be using it.

2 – They can anticipate where you may have issues, find solutions to any problems or even see options to improve your plans. It is always best to involve an architect at the beginning of the project. They can help cost it out, do any drafting of plans that may be needed, select the best materials and can even project manage the work. It is easier and cheaper to fix an issue on a plan than when it is half-built.

3 – While you have some permitted development rights that allow you to go up and out to a certain height or length, an architect can make sure you don’t face liability issues for any problems with the plans or planning permission. They will be able to advise you on the art of the possible, what needs planning permission, what doesn’t and how to go about it.

4 – If you are planning something a little “out of the norm” then an architect can help you apply for planning permission. They can advise on what is likely to be approved and will help you to explain what you are proposing in the best possible way. They have tools like 3D modelling that can display to a planning permission committee exactly what it is you are proposing.

5 – Having an architect review your plans means that you can be sure that they are 100% compliant to the latest building codes and planning requirements. They can take into account elements like health and safety best practices and carbon footprint. They will also ensure that your plans follow the most up-to-date and efficient ways of designing a modern and future-proof home or office

Fundamentally, an architect has one goal in a refurbishment project, to make sure you get the best refurbishment possible, with as little hassle as possible and helps you budget and keep on track. What could be more useful than that?

 

Form and Function – innovators in Architectural design

From the sails of the Sydney Opera House, the curves of the Empire State Building, the soaring spire of the Oriental Pearl Tower in Shanghai or the uplifting dome of St Paul’s Cathedral, the world is full of iconic buildings that broke moulds, drove innovation and inspired new buildings around the world. Great names like Foster, Gehry, Utzon, Wren and Eisenman are at the forefront of architectural design for their time, changing the way we live and the buildings we live in.

There are many architects that have inspired, innovated and changed the landscapes of cities around the world. Here are three that innovated by developing structures where form followed function.

I.M.Pei

Pei was born in China, raised in Hong Kong and educated in the US. He adapted the famous adage “form follows function” and made it his own. He believed form follows intention and intention incorporates function.

Pei came to prominence when he won the commission to design the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum not long after Kennedy’s assassination. He is probably best known globally for the glass pyramid that sits at the entrance to the Louvre Museum in Paris. Other notable Pei works include the East Building of the National Gallery in Washington D.C. and the Museum of Islamic Art in Qatar. His style is characterised by geometric shapes (famously pyramids), plain surfaces and natural light.

Zaha Hadid

Born in Baghdad, Iraq but spending much of her life in London, Zaha Hadid was the first woman to win the Pritzker Prize (https://www.pritzkerprize.com/ ) in 2003.

Dubbed the “Queen of the Curve,” Hadid used curving facades, sharp angles and unbending materials like concrete and steel to create structures that appear soft and sturdy at the same time. The Guardian said that she had “liberated architectural geometry, giving it a whole new expressive identity”.

Many of her projects transform shape depending on the viewer’s perspective. This includes her Heydar Aliyeve Cultural Centre in Baku, Azerbaijan with its swooping façade that undulates like a sheet of graph paper.

Another famous structure is the London Aquatics Center, designed for the 2012 Summer Olympics. Demonstrating her signature undulating form, the roof also has cut-outs that allow natural light to filter in and shine across the pool.

Highlights of her work include the Michigan State University’s Broad Art Museum in the US; the MAXXI Museum in Rome; the Riverside Museum, part of the Glasgow Museum of Transport, the Beijing Daxing International Airport in China and the Al Wakrah Stadium in Qatar.

Ole Scheeren:

German-born Ole Scheeren’s work is challenging how we see residential blocks. He says that he designs with “out of the box thinking while confronted with constraints”.

Scheeren’s work includes the Interlace in Singapore, a 1000 apartment project that was limited by land size and height restrictions. His answer was to build a series of 24 straight buildings that were stacked on top of each other like a Jenga game.  The project ultimately created more green space than it used up.

Scheeren believes that architecture is about storytelling. “Good Architecture should be able to narrate stories” he believes. The Interlace represents Singapore, a city-state that has solved problems with innovative thinking and works together in a collaborative way for mutual success.

His other famous works include the CCTV Headquarters, dà kùchǎ (or the Big Boxer Shorts) in Beijing, and the MahaNakhon, Thailand’s tallest tower.

 

All three of these architects pushed the envelope of form while delivering buildings that are functional, intentional and in some cases seem to challenge gravity. While both Hadid and Pei have gone, the torch has been passed to a new generation of architects and their buildings stand testament to resilience, form and function.

 

Not just up – Skyscrapers of the future

The United Nations predicts that by 2050, 68% of people will be living in a city. With land increasingly precious and expensive, the natural alternative is to look at what living in a vertical world would look like.

Some cities around the world have embraced the skyscraper world, with spectacular skylines to match – Seoul, Moscow, Hong Kong, Mumbai and São Paolo feature the most skyscrapers.

The UK is no exception to this trend with famous new buildings such as the Shard in London and Manchester’s City Tower.

50 years ahead of its time

One great global example ahead of its time, was conceived in the 1970’s by Norman Foster and built in the 1980’s. The HSBC office “One Queens Road” was designed help people move around the building in a more lateral way, bypassing lifts as the primary carrier of people in the building. Lifts access certain floors while a web of escalators connect the remaining floors. Its most famous feature is how it maximises natural sunlight as a major source of lighting inside the building. At the top of the multi-level internal atrium (enabled by the buildings lack of internal supporting structure), mirrors reflect natural light down through the atrium into the plaza on the ground floor. External sun-shades control the amount of sunshine that goes into the building, important for climate control, especially in such a hot climate. In an early nod to green energy, the air-conditioning units are cooled by sea water, an abundant resource in the region.

Going green around the world

Breaking ground in 2020 is the Southbank by Belulah in Melbourne Australia. Decided by competition, the design includes biophilic design elements. The two towers (102 stories and 59 stories respectively, making Tower 1 the tallest building in Australia on completion) are designed to twist around a green spine of vertically networked platforms and outdoor areas like terraces and verandas. It should result in not only amazing city views and internal light but improves the contextual links within and between the two buildings.

Green skyscrapers have proliferated around the world: from the Park Royal on Pickering Hotel in Singapore, to Milan’s Bosco Verticale, to Shanghai’s Shanghai Tower and even Hemel Hempstead.

The Bosco Verticale has green plants that will grow up the building over time. These are not only ascetically appealing but trap dust, absorb CO2, act as a cooling agent and release oxygen. This is an element that is being increasingly included in skyscraper design.

The Shanghai Tower meanwhile uses green technology to future-proof itself, with rooftop wind turbines, rainwater collection and grey-water systems, dual-layered insulation and many energy-saving features.

The Beacon in Hemel Hempstead, a residential property, is being designed to use less than 80% of heat and electricity of a standard residential block. Each level of the building has a “solar-ledge” of solar panels. The power generated from these combined with energy derived from the heat of the building should lead to residents of the building getting free electricity and hot water for up to five years. Further innovations such as harvesting heat from shower water, collecting grey water and rain water for clothes washing and flushing toilets as well as automated parking that will be seen in this building seem to be the way of the future for skyscrapers, indeed buildings of all kinds.

All of these buildings prove that going up doesn’t always lead to isolation or linear, vertical living and working spaces. Interconnectivity, green and climate saving features and a connection to nature are still possible, even spaces in the sky.

Making Happiness Happen in the Workplace – Why Design Matters

Everyone has lived or worked in a place that simply doesn’t feel ‘right.’ It can have an enormous impact on an individual’s wellbeing and happiness, which then has a knock-on effect to their productivity and possibly their longevity. According to Gallup’s 2019 “State of the Global Workplace” report (https://www.gallup.com/workplace/257552/state-global-workplace-2017.aspx), just 10% of adults working full-time in Western Europe are considered “engaged”, (ie both involved and enthusiastic about their work and workplace). Engaged employees in Gallup’s report are likely to be 17% more productive and their company 21% more profitable than those who are not.

While many elements go into this, dissatisfaction with the physical working environment is certainly a key element. Shifts from cubicle-farm style offices to hot-desking and back, and offices that don’t take into account the needs a multi-generational workforce, mean companies have to look at what it means to build and design a happy office.

Significant research has been done into the impact of workplaces designed for or reconfigured to maximise well-being and happiness. There are some basic fundamentals that come out through most research.

Physical elements

There are some environmental elements that instantly increase happiness:

  • Delivering adequate natural light for all users of the space, not just the lucky few with a corner office;
  • Ensuring acoustics are appropriate to the use of the space – so sound carries if needed or is dampened in other areas;
  • Building a mixture of collaborative as well as private space – while collaboration is ideal, recognising that sometimes individuals need somewhere that is quiet or private;
  • Providing lighting, air and temperature are appropriate and fit-for-purpose.

All of these are simple but vital elements of a happy workspace.

Movement and wellness

Given medical experts regard sitting as the new health threat, the workplace needs to be designed to encourage users to move around. For example, ensuring stairwells are accessible and attractive so that people are more likely to walk and take the stairs rather than the lift. Employees are more likely to collaborate, take breaks and have positive interactions if they are encouraged to move around. This can be as simple as offering standing desks to employees but Google’s Headquarters in Colorado took this to a new level, literally, with a giant rock-climbing wall.

Ambience

Consider the ambience of your space. Does it have colours that inspire productivity and creativity or beautiful, interesting and natural interior design? Although not new, incorporating elements in an office design that provide visual complexity can impart a sense of comfort, ease and potentially mitigate stress. Give your office a sense of balance and proportion, as well as using colour and texture to improve the richness of the environment.

Flexibility

This is not about adding a yoga room but ensuring that spaces can be adapted to the changing needs of the day-to-day as well as the future. Adding flexibility to your design can help a company not only expand as its staffing levels change but to repurpose spaces as the company grows. With the average office cost per square foot in London the highest in Europe (GBP112.5 per square foot (Q1-2020) for the West End), giving companies the ability to maximise their office space is of paramount importance as well as fostering a more harmonious environment. Opened in 2016, Google’s 6 Pancras Square offers modular meeting rooms. Known internally as Project Jack, each plywood pod is mass-produced and can be customised on-site into different sized spaces and different levels of privacy.

Nature

It is not a new concept to bring nature indoors. However, Biophilic design puts our interaction and connection to nature at its forefront. Research has shown that by simply including more nature and natural materials in a workspace, productivity can be increased by up to 15%. Among other recommendations, the Well Building Institute recommends one one-foot plant for every 100 square feet. This is more than a pot-plant on every desk, but the ability for users of the space to connect with their surroundings seasonally, during the day and night and even react to the weather.

 

Fundamentally, as the saying goes, home is where the heart is. By creating a space in which the users feel at home, inspired and creative, and where they can connect and collaborate with others, is a space which engenders a feeling of “home” and well-being. That feeling helps employees be more productive, creative and innovative, fosters respect and ultimately delivers happier employees.