Information technology has changed—and continues to change—how we work in the 21st century. What does this mean for office design? Andrew Laing has an idea. The managing director of design consultancy DEGW North America has partnered with office product manufacturer Humanscale for a traveling seminar series, "Directions for Change in the Design of the Workplace." What's it all about? Laing—whose next presentation will be at the New York Humanscale showroom on Nov. 10.—spoke with ARCHITECT about it.
Humanscale invited you to lecture in their showrooms in cities across the country. Why?
They want to create a knowledge environment in which their product makes sense. Even though [the seminar] is not product-specific, it speaks to emerging demands in the workplace.
How does a changing workplace translate to a changing role for architects?
We're not doing design delivery. We're doing the front-end thinking. This is working strategically at a higher level. Design isn't just about space—it is about technology, protocol, behavior, culture, and meaning. This way of thinking gives architects a way of reclaiming a higher-level version of what architecture should be.
You say "reclaiming" that version of architecture?
Look what Frank Lloyd Wright did for the Larkin organization. That was a total organizational solution. Larkin was the Google of its day. It was a super-innovative business, and it used a building to define how it worked. Palladio invented a new idea of the villa as a farmhouse. He was inventing a new way of living and working.
But can anyone afford to redesign their offices right now?
The financial crisis is actually compelling [businesses] to think about the workplace in a new way. We are all mobile. Office space can become smaller. But it's very important for designers not to see this as a reduction in design. You have to rethink what the purpose of the office is and how to use that smaller amount of space more effectively.
OK. Then why will this matter when the recession ends?
If you look back at the—for lack of a better word—stupidity of so much office design in the boom times, it didn't work from a sustainability point of view, and it didn't work from a business point of view. There was just too much space. I hope in the recovery we can think more intelligently about how we provide space—to avoid these cycles of boom and bust—and create a more sustainable approach, in the complete sense of the word "sustainable."