Have Your Cake and Eat It: SCUP 52, Washington DC

July 26, 2017

I was very happy to be in Washington, DC on July 10 for the SCUP 52 International Conference and present a case study for a new model of faculty office space planning and design with two terrific colleagues from the University of Washington Bothell (UWB) Campus. This was apparently a hot topic, and our session describing one small tenant improvement space at UWB of just a few thousand square feet ending up filling our session’s room to standing room capacity. I was overwhelmed by the response and interest.

Our session was called Have Your Cake and Eat it: Combining Private Faculty Offices With Collaboration Space. This model was about a unique way to house interdisciplinary faculty into collaboration groups, but it was also about dealing with a shortage of space on a fast-growing campus. Private faculty offices are often underutilized areas on a campus, and typical office space models may not always foster interdisciplinary thinking. A fast-growing campus can’t provide all the faculty offices needed at a typically expected size while also providing new spaces for shared collaboration. Essentially, it’s 10 pounds of potatoes and a 5-pound sack.

Our new model presents an alternative of significantly reduced office sizes paired with shared collaboration spaces. It is a test case to see if one could have the best of both worlds – where privacy and collaboration are not mutually exclusive.

During the session, we described our process to prioritize workspace based on qualitative attributes that provide a comfortable work environment, allows for privacy, and fosters teamwork. These attributes were boiled down into four themes:

  • Maximize access to available daylight for all occupants
  • Maximize the usefulness of the primary faculty workspace
  • Provide variety and functionality in shared group spaces
  • Allow for access to shared technology and tools

We worked with our client team to brainstorm a variety of spaces and configurations in a portion of existing building space on campus to try and mix together:

  • Primary work spaces/offices for each faculty member
  • Refuge spaces for privacy and confidentiality, ideal for 1-2 people
  • Enclaves for somewhat private 3-4 person meetings
  • Team meeting spaces to discuss projects for 5-6 people - some open, some enclosed
  • Assembly space for a group of 10 or more people
  • Community and lounge spaces for serendipitous interaction

If we maintained typical 120-140 square foot private offices, there would be inequitable daylight access, and we would not be able to fit in desirable collaborative spaces. The team experimented with showing an open-office desk layout that would ensure equal access to light, but without space for enclosed offices - competition for a few enclosed rooms became a concern. Faculty wanted and understood the need for collaboration space, but were leery to not have an enclosed space of their own. At this point - we all asked, “Why are we fighting against enclosed offices? Just how small could a single private office be?”

The balance was struck with quite small enclosed offices of approximately 80 square feet. With this size, we could include enclosed offices and secure storage, plus a variety of shared group spaces and equal access to daylight. No office has a direct window, but the entire suite is bright and equally full of daylight.

We utilized feedback from the faculty and engaged them throughout the design process, and took some post occupancy review after about a year of using the space. Survey results showed that having a private, enclosed office space remained a top priority for faculty, but the small size was not overly constricting. Access to daylight and equity of work station furniture was also important. In general, whiteboard surfaces in private offices and overall size was less important than circulation between spaces, access to shared technology, and overall usefulness of the various spaces. We have learned that when faculty members have the shared space to collaborate, they will use it. In the end, we also discussed how to implement a new planning metric of “square footage per faculty member” rather than “square footage per private office” for future projects.

Thank you so much to my co-presenters from UWB who were responsible for reaching out to campus faculty and discovering the affinity groups of related disciplines that wanted to find new collaboration opportunities and worked with us to develop this new type of academic workplace.

It was also a great side benefit to be in the Baltimore/Washington area and see some old friends and some old haunts from a time (that seems very long ago) when I lived in Baltimore and was a graduate student at the University of Maryland School of Architecture. (Shout out to UMD architecture program - it was great to be on campus again!) The highlight of some of the local sites was a trip to see the the National Museum of African American History and Culture. An amazing building and amazing content. This a must-see on any trip to DC.

Some work, some learning, some fun – truly got to have my cake and eat it in DC!

Barney Mansavage