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Finding Your Place in Community as Strategy

April 8, 2019
  • A&D

Traveling from point A to B in the modern world is mix of flight delays, wild rides with hired drivers, and an odd assortment of traveler points and membership cards from hotels, rental cars and airlines. You meet a dizzying array of people from all over the nation and world who are like you, traveling from city to city, always on the move.

Wanted, or unwanted, it’s not uncommon to have a multi-hour conversation – or even just chatter – with the person sitting next to you in a regional jet or in the airport boarding area. Sure, they’re strangers, but they’re looking for a connection - a connection with another human being and the (at times transient) world in which they live.

They’re looking for community.

People want spaces where they feel connected to each other and the environment around them. With rising real estate costs, areas able to serve multiple users and functions is carrying more weight with clients.

Cheryl Durst, IIDA’s executive vice president and chief executive officer, agrees. She says community is one of the top issues people in the profession are talking about in 2019.

What does that mean for the design industry? What does that mean when designing the workplace? How do we connect people with place?

We thought it would be timely to dive further into this topic of discussion. So, KI has partnered with IIDA to find out what “Community as Strategy” means to the design industry – and the wider world – through a six-city tour featuring expert panelists discussing the idea of changing spaces to places and designing for multiple groups of people.

We recently began the discussion February 27 in St. Louis at the beautiful and historic St. Louis Public Library. Cheryl moderated the panel, which included: Grace Crews Corbin, Senior Design Associate at Christner; Darlene Davison, IDEC Interior Design Program Director/Design + Visual Art Program, Maryville University; Aimee Rowbottom, Director of Architecture and Interiors at Jacobs in St. Louis; Professor Henry S. Webber, Executive Vice Chancellor and Chief Administrative Officer, Washington University in St. Louis. They shared real-world examples of how they incorporate community into their work.

Following the St. Louis event, KI had an opportunity for a deeper conversation with panelist Aimee Rowbottom. We wanted to take some of the higher-level discussion and find out more about connecting people with place.

Q. Community as Strategy is an idea Jacobs has embraced for some time and is centered around offering people variety in how, and where, they work in everything from school to business. Why is this concept important today?

A. Choice is so integral to well-being. If users feel in control, that they can go to alternate locations or they are part of the decision-making process, they’re going to be happier and have a sense of well-being about themselves. That overlays itself on their experience with the company.

Spaces have to reflect what a business or organization is trying to do but be flexible enough to change with the people who come into them. Over the past couple of years, there’s a lot more emphasis on providing meeting spaces. That’s reflected in data we’ve collected showing a 20 percent increase in places where people can connect with each other.

Q. Is there an example where these design principles had measurable results?

A. We did a project for a healthcare client, obviously they were strong in their values for employee wellness and innovation, but they had a very specific need to increase space efficiency and flexibility. We worked with them to provide a wider range of work settings with different degrees of openness and privacy to address various constituents in their building.

We did a post-occupancy evaluation (Workplace Health and Wellness through Choice and Control) which showed improvements in work and wellness along with space efficiency. This was done in 2018 and with this one client we reported a 17 percent increase in space efficiency. But there was also a 46 percent increase for collaboration, a 35 percent increase in focus and a 32 percent increase in socialization. All by having choice-based design.

Q. Leadership is a huge dynamic of change for any company, regardless of what industry they’re in. You could design the best space with a wide range of settings, but if the culture doesn’t support that, it’s for naught. As you’re having that workplace evaluation, what are discussions you may have to have?

A. Leaders of an organization may have recognized there’s a need for change but sometimes don’t know how to move forward with the process. Initial surveys to staff or users of the facility are important to understanding their key drivers. Then, it’s interpreting that data to come up with some specific strategies.

Before you roll out a wholesale change, do some piloting programs with the idea “We want to try this out.” Then come back and ask, “Was this successful?” By using an approach where the user is part of the process, there’s buy-in along the way and it’s not suddenly people coming into an unfamiliar space and not knowing how to use it.

Q. How important is involvement with the manufacturing sector – from lighting, to flooring, to furniture – to creating connected work and learning spaces?

A. Having a dialogue with manufacturers is key as these bigger ideas are synthesizing in the design process. I don’t know that it’s specifically product driven. It may be a series of discussions about how products are paired together, or how they are placed within a space, that helps provide some interesting opportunities for arranging space and providing choice.

Q. Are you looking at more customization or one-off product solutions?

A. It’s not the bulk of the furniture solutions. Manufacturers are much more sophisticated than they were many years ago and are adapting very quickly to what the market is suggesting. I think there’s a lot that can be done with options in product lines.

I see some integration of more residential-type components to either help breakdown scale or offer a more human feel to certain things. Lighting is huge. Even how you specify the color temperature of the lighting plays a key role in how the space feels and is perceived to your users.

Q. People want community spaces to feel like home, but there’s more wear and tear on furnishings in these areas? What options are available to designers?

A. If there’s a certain look and feel that’s desired as you’re creating certain spaces, I think our designers really need to reach out to our manufacturer and vendor base. That can help them understand available products that may have a similar look and feel that can meet the performance and safety criteria needed in a commercial application.

Then pull different ideas around. Vendors may offer up different options. “We have this. Have you thought about that?” Or, they may be able to offer a tweak or a change to a product to create the mood or vignette the designer is looking for.

Q. That goes hand in hand with the textiles. Some environments have become more casual with people bringing coffee, food and items that can cause dirt, debris and destruction to a piece of furniture.

A. We’re seeing our textile manufacturers coming up with more and more patterns and weaves. Stain-blocking properties are being integrated in different ways, so we have more options in what we offer clients.

Q. You talked about the power of control – as we design around the sense of community and a desire for people to connect with one another and with the space they are working in, how do designers support that?

A. I see more need to really craft the experiences of spaces – retail is going that way. You’re selling an experience. People have so many choices, why do they come to you? It’s going to be about the experience you give them.

A key requirement is also having an engaged client who is willing to take on change and not do the same things they’ve done before.


We look forward to more of these one-on-one conversations following each tour stop. You can follow our journey as Cheryl sparks conversations with leaders from design, architecture, facilities and academia from coast to coast. KI will blog about new insights coming out of each city. At the end of the tour, we look forward to sharing our executive summary with you. In the meantime, you can follow KI on TwitterInstagramLinkedIn and Facebook for real-time insights from the panels.

by KI Furniture 

KI manufactures innovative furniture and wall system solutions for education, workplace, healthcare and government markets.


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