Designing Social Architecture

With advancements in technology and major shifts in our culture, we’re finding ourselves more and more removed from those around us almost by default. Which can’t be seen any clearer than in our workplaces. And while refining the architecture of these workspaces certainly isn’t a cure-all, designing more socially conscious architecture will make an impact.

This sort of architecture is commonly referred to as “Social Architecture.”

Architecture that Matches Your Culture

Open workspaces with experimental furnishings may seem like little more than an aesthetic nod to trendy tech culture. But they actually represent much more than that. They are physical​ ​manifestations​ ​of the flat organizational charts that characterize many of the world’s most innovative companies. Armed with this paradigm, it may be worth your time to consider what your architecture says about your culture. Does it match, or is it dissonant?

Even your furniture can indicate a more egalitarian culture. For example, if​ ​you’re​ ​designing​ ​for collaboration you may want to avoid ​L-shaped​ ​desks and instead consider desks that have co-workers ​sitting side by side; regardless of their position in the organization’s hierarchy. This is both​ ​symbolic of an inclusive culture​ ​​and often leads to increased collaboration and positive social interaction.

While different organizations use a variety of different design solutions to encourage collaboration, this emphasis on increased collaboration reflects a new way of working for everyone—the shift from a linear mode of production to a more dynamic, digital one. This doesn’t exclude solo work; it embraces new ways of interacting in the workspace.

The Purpose of Purpose-Free Spaces

Purpose-free spaces such as lounges will encourage workers​ ​to​ ​do​ ​their​ ​thinking​ ​in​ ​the​ ​presence​ ​of​ ​other​ ​people, rather​ ​than​ ​alone. This is​ ​precisely​ ​the sort of​ ​behavioral​ ​transformation that architects​ aim for​ ​when​ ​designing​ ​communal​ ​spaces.​ ​In​ ​addition​ ​to​ ​enabling​ ​impromptu interactions​ ​that​ ​can​ ​change​ ​the​ ​dynamic​ between​ ​workers,​ they ​serve​ ​as​ ​a​ ​kind​ ​of​ ​blank​ ​slate, or​ ​a​ subtle invitation​ ​to​ ​create​ ​something​ ​new​ ​and​ ​different.​ ​They push​ for innovation.

Too Much of a Good Thing…

Although increasing collaboration has become a universal goal for many forward-thinking companies, you have to be careful not to be overly invasive in encouraging it. Architecture is nuanced and you don’t want too much of a good thing.

Companies should create workspaces​ ​that support​ ​a​ diverse range of ​working styles​ ​throughout the day. This balance between “me” vs. “we” space is one of the biggest issues that arise for companies as they seek to encourage more collaboration. This particular topic is something we discussed in more depth in a previous post titled, “Designing for Introverts & Extraverts.

What’s your take? Do you see the importance of designing more Social Architecture in the workplace?