Downtown Atlanta map-Cox & Company

What office decision-makers can learn from urban planners

This thought-provoking article about the dark side to urban beautification highlights the ways that well-intentioned efforts to make urban spaces more welcoming and functional can backfire. Many of these insights can be applied to the communities within our office buildings, which have functional similarities to cities on a much smaller scale. Both require a balance of public and private space, and public space must meet the needs of the community at large. People and ideas need to be able to move around freely and efficiently. Here’s what we learned – and how you can apply it in your own space.

Create shared spaces based on people’s activities and needs.

The biggest mistake urban planners make when “improving” a public space is ignoring what residents need from the space. Urban planners who are disconnected from residents may instead focus on how they think the space should look and function. When planning a new or improved office project, make sure you understand how space is currently being utilized. Then, seek out input from office users to learn how the new space can better meet their needs while preserving what works.

When planning a new or improved office project, make sure you understand how space is currently being utilized

Oversized spaces can create a sense of isolation and discomfort.

While a spacious atrium or lobby can make a powerful first impression, urban planners have learned that very large, open spaces often make people feel uneasy and disconnected. For areas where people will be spending a lot of time, opt for smaller, more enclosed spaces, or create a similar effect using dividers, furniture, and even plants.

To increase the “livability” of your space, ensure that everyone in the office can easily access amenities

Consider how people will move throughout the space.

The most livable cities are designed on a pedestrian scale, with restaurants, parks, and retail located within walking distance from housing and office buildings. To increase the “livability” of your space, ensure that everyone in the office can easily access amenities such as collaborative spaces, relaxation areas, and dining. In a large office, this may mean creating multiple “neighborhoods,” each with its own amenity spaces. This can pair well with an [link to our article about ABW – in progress]activity-based work model[/link], with each neighborhood customized to the work activities of its residents. In an office of any size, ensure that amenity spaces are conveniently located to encourage people to take advantage of them.

The main takeaway is simple: design for people first. An office designed for ideals and aesthetics will make employees feel like an afterthought – but a functional, inviting office can foster the kind of environment that makes people excited to come to work.