Early Adaptors: SelgasCano
Long before the pandemic hit, SelgasCano, the Spanish architecture studio led by Jose Selgas and Lucia Cano, made waves with designs that pushed the proverbial envelope. Their own studio, nestled in the woods of Madrid, created quite some waves and was featured in magazines, architecture blogs, and sites worldwide. The - very photogenic - design allowed SelgasCano personnel to work under the trees, literally. In a more recent design, the Spanish studio went to Hollywood, where they created the first US location of the British co-working company Second Home. A former parking lot was turned into a co-working complex with oval-shaped pods, their bright yellow rooftops standing out against the green backdrop, not unlike lily pads in a pond. The site’s design reflects Second Home’s values, says COO Jamie Apostolou: “Biophilic design has always been a part of the Second Home DNA. This concept supports creativity, productivity, and mental health, among many other positive attributes.”
Apostolou said the design brief was simple: “Bring our biophilic design and the architecture by SelgasCano together and scale it across a two-acre footprint. Second Home Hollywood offered us a unique opportunity to apply this design approach to a campus format.” On-site, about 60% of the space is hosted outdoors, surrounded by over 100 species of plants, which some 250 companies enjoy. Apostolou: “Our members represent a broad range of industries, and with that diversity, we see teams reimagine the space in various ways we didn’t envision. The possibilities are endless, from creating classrooms to grouping several studios to form private campuses.”
A former parking lot was turned into a co-working complex with oval-shaped pods, their bright yellow rooftops standing out against the green backdrop, not unlike lily pads in a pond.
Psychologist and social entrepreneur Ioana Biris’s interest in the outdoors predates COVID-19. Biris connects nature, work, and well-being with her company, Nature Desks. She also initiated Outdoor Office Day, which inspires people to take their work outdoors. “The idea came to me about 6 or 7 years ago. I wanted to see how we could improve people’s working lives. Sitting in an office for 9 hours a day didn’t seem very healthy or productive. So I wanted to take people outside so they could experience the benefits of stepping away from their computer.”
Working remotely or meeting outside is easier for some than others. And the office culture also plays an important part. Biris: “For some people, going outside and meeting on a bench in the sun feels like playing hooky. We must break that taboo and tell company owners and managers that listening to a podcast or taking a stroll for some much-needed thinking time is still work.”
Studies have shown that when in nature, people’s stress levels go down, and their sense of well-being increases. Spending time outdoors and being surrounded by nature can improve health and well-being. When we’re outside, we tend to move around more. Outdoor air quality also tends to be better than indoor quality. Spending half an hour in nature is known to lower pulse and blood pressure, but it is also therapeutic: being in nature decreases levels of stress and depression. In short, we feel better after spending time outdoors.
Hard data about the positive effect of nature on people’s productivity or creativity are sometimes debated, although Biris has seen firsthand what going outside does to people. “At the first Outdoor Office Day in Utrecht, we saw people coming together from different companies and walks of life. Men in suits pulled up a chair, took off their shoes, and relaxed in the sun while meeting with the janitor of another company. These people normally never meet one another and get exposed to new ideas and ways of thinking. Going outside creates this water cooler effect but on a larger scale. And so we urge companies to facilitate these kinds of meetings by turning parking spaces on their industrial plot into an outdoor meeting room and include some benches and plants.”
Biris is passionate about ensuring outdoor offices aren’t just enjoyed by the happy few or people whose job allows for flexibility but also those working in urban environments or office parks: “I’m not a real estate person, and there’s not some big agency pushing for this change. So I’m doing this in my spare time. It’s a labor of love. But it’s important. With simple adjustments, we can make life a little better and more beautiful: we can’t just spend our days sitting in some office, stuck behind a computer. We can do better than that.”
Sweden Leads the Way
One company that is helping to change the way we work is Nola. This Stockholm-based company is known for creating sustainable design furniture for urban environments and was another early adopter of the outdoor office movement. The company has created anything from park benches to modular outdoor furniture systems but also works closely with architects, designers, landscape architects, and city planners to make urban spaces more accessible. For instance, they worked with Charlotte Persson Troije, whose Ph.D. dissertation included a study on outdoor office work. Troije’s study gave “new insights into how outdoor office work may be done—what works well versus less well; how employees experience outdoor work – benefits and obstacles; and what conditions need to be met in order to make it happen.” The collaboration led to the development of the outdoor office Work Lounge Chair: a workstation with a swivel dry-foam seat, laptop-adjusted table, and transparent backrest to create some privacy.
Studies have shown that when in nature, people’s stress levels go down, and their sense of well-being increases. Spending time outdoors and being surrounded by nature can improve health and well-being.
“We started designing outdoor offices in 2016,” says Henrik Edlund, Nola’s CEO, “We saw an increasing demand and willingness for people to work outdoors. Of course, there are a few challenges when working outdoors, think sunlight and strong wind, but overall, there are enormous benefits to both body and health. That’s something we identified early on. And the pandemic was an accelerator and validation of the need to work outdoors.”
The Swedish environmental certification systems for buildings also helped the push for change and transforming cities. Edlund: “Every new build has to have as low a carbon footprint as possible, be well isolated to keep energy cost low, and include solar panels. But if you want to receive the highest certifications, your project also needs to include areas that benefit the health of the people working or living in the building. And that is boosting the transformation of our city: going green isn’t just someone’s idea or pet project; it is a formal requirement.” Watch and learn, people. Watch and learn.
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NOOK is the official magazine of the Dutch and Belgian professional associations for interior architecture, BNI and AINB. The magazine offers in-depth content, inspiration, and opinions. NOOK is published quarterly in English.
The above article was first published in NOOK, the Symbiosis issue (2023 / #2).