What's Next 2012


Your Office, Your Future

In this extensive interactive package, our second-annual “What’s Next” exploration, we look at the future of the architectural workplace.

By Eric Wills

Focus » The nature of architectural practice and workplace behavior is becoming ever more collaborative—something impossible to achieve when the boss is sequestered in the corner office and team members are scattered every which way. As architects have been telling clients for years, good office design can foster productivity and innovation. Now architects should apply the lesson to themselves.
Nurture » Architecture’s nonstop-charrette, sweatshop-style office culture is no longer sustainable. Taskmaster bosses, faced with an epidemic of staff burnout, declining retention rates, and a shrinking talent pool, will be forced to acknowledge that a business can only succeed to the extent that its employees flourish. The office culture of old, hierarchical to a fault, will be replaced by a new, employee-centered workplace that caters to staff happiness and encourages collaboration.
Research » Say goodbye to the traditional, Howard Roark model of the architect as unchallenged creative visionary. The firms that will succeed will do so in part because they can effectively capture data from their projects and demonstrate the value of design using hard numbers. Building on an ever-increasing knowledge base will ensure that their architecture remains cutting-edge.
Grow » In the face of never-ending work pressure, is it possible to lead a well-rounded life? Architects are rejecting the old-school model of advancement and finding new paths to a healthy life/work balance. Everyone’s situation is different, so flexbility is essential. Smart bosses will start stretching.
Meet » New technologies are transforming the way we interact at work. Architects will never stop meeting clients in person and securing projects through old-fashioned, face-to-face networking. But the rise of social media has given firms new tools to market their services and forge industry connections, while telecommunications technologies are making it easier to connect regularly, across great distances. In the office of the future, architects will need to master new technologies and collaborate with clients in the virtual world.
Nourish » Amid the relentless hassles of work life—looming deadlines, dropped calls, flight delays—architects need to find the time to take care of themselves. A healthy diet, regular exercise, and socializing are key to meeting the creative challenges posed by the practice of the future.

If there has ever been a moment when architecture firms would like nothing more than to push a giant Staples-style reset button, this may well be it. For all the momentary reverie that comes at the start of a New Year, it’s impossible to escape the specter of the flailing economy. You may have more free time than you’d like as you search for new clients. Or you may find that your workload doubled because a colleague got the pink slip.

The Staples button may just be an ad campaign, but back in the real world, there’s no better time than the present to reinvent your practice. The Empire State Building rose as the nation plunged into the Great Depression. John Jakob Raskob, the building’s financier, was hardly dissuaded by the economic climate of the time; indeed, he never wavered from his bold and ambitious plan, even as the economy grew worse. So, too, can firms view the current financial malaise as an opportunity—to rethink, even in small, managable ways, their approach to office culture, social media, or business development.

In this, our second annual “What’s Next” package, we explore the future of the architectural workplace. Here, you'll find everything we ran in the January 2012 print issue plus additional stories in the form of additional case studies and interviews. Also in our new, weekly “What’s Next” video series, which you can find here leaders from within and around the profession share their own ideas, in 60 seconds or less.

The conversation will culminate at the 2012 AIA National Convention and Design Exposition in Washington, D.C. The 2011 AIA Architecture Firm Award recipient, BNIM, is designing an exhibit, “The Open-Source Office,” that will serve as the centerpiece of the expo hall and spark dialogue around the future of architectural practice and workplaces. In developing the exhibit content, BNIM has identified six areas of critical development for the office of the future—nurture, meet, research, focus, nourish, and grow—which serve as the organizational structure for this issue. BNIM also contributed a manifesto ("A Natural Manifesto") about how the natural world should inform the design and function of the architectural workplace.

At first glance, some of the suggestions in the following pages may seem absurd. Your firm should cultivate a vegetable garden. Employees shouldn’t have to work fixed hours. Your next client will find you via Twitter. Five percent of the bottom line should be dedicated to research.

Outlandish, you say? In truth, ideas such as these are already the reality at many firms around the country. And those firms are seeing the benefit.

Return on investment. You’ll find those words often in this package. Ditto for collaboration, flexibility, speed, and data. As the profession changes and becomes more of an interdisciplinary pursuit, as client expectations grow more complex, as technology continues to evolve at warp speed, firms will need to consider where they want to be in five years, in a decade. These are challenging times, yes, but this is also an era of great opportunity.



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