United Consulting

Space Syntax Configures Workplace for Collaborative Interaction

Originally Posted at Tradeline

“Moving Encounters” Promoted with More Direct Paths and Intersections, Fewer Turns

Despite the considerable effort expended to incorporate inviting hallways and gathering spaces in the workplace, research shows that the most productive collaboration happens when at least one of the collaborators is sitting at a desk or conference table, says Margaret Gilchrist Serrato, Ph.D., senior workplace strategist for Herman Miller, Inc.

“Twenty years of research in all sorts of environments—corporate, educational, research laboratory, science settings—consistently shows that most informal interaction happens either between two people who are sitting next to each other, or more commonly, the drop-in, the doorway moment,” counters Serrato. “You hail a colleague coming past your desk and say, ‘Come here, let me show you this.’ Or I walk past your office door, look in, and say, ‘I have been meaning to ask you a question.’”

Informal interaction flourishes in this type of “moving encounter.” The vital design issue, therefore, lies in moving people within the space to ensure that they land where the interaction is most likely to occur—at a colleague’s desk or office doorway. Where there is meaningful interaction, true collaboration can occur.

Correcting Interaction Myths

It is widely accepted that collaboration is desirable in today’s workplace. Its contributions to organizational effectiveness have been clearly documented, says Serrato. Collaboration can take many forms, from meetings to emails to casual encounters among colleagues. Of these various activities, it is the last, commonly described as “informal interaction,” that has proven to be “the most robust for increasing performance and effectiveness,” she says.

“Informal interaction does so many important things for organizations. It is linked to enhanced performance for several reasons, from sparking innovation and problem-solving to socialization, enculturation, and employee engagement.”

In light of its benefits, informal interaction has become almost ubiquitous as a design priority. It is also the collaboration activity most sensitive to layout and physical space. Yet despite its popularity, misperceptions persist about the best ways to promote this type of contact.

Studies have shown that many of the interaction features incorporated by planners—the internal main street, atrium, coffee bar, or game area—fall short in achieving the intended engagement and sense of community.

“One of the biggest myths about informal interaction is where it happens,” says Serrato. “People don’t say, ‘Let’s go over to the beanbag chairs or ping pong tables and interact informally.’”

Nor does the desired contact occur most often in the corridor. Conversations between two colleagues pausing to chat during a chance meeting tend to dissipate quickly.

“In a hallway, you can stand for only so long before you have to reference more material,” she notes.

“Depending on the organization, as much as 75 percent of informal interaction happens right there at the desk, or the doorway to an office, or to a teaming or conference space where people are already working. One person normally doesn’t just go stand in a collaborative space and wait on the outside chance that someone else might come by and collaborate.”

Space Syntax

It follows that specific space characteristics in a building can facilitate the productive moving encounters so essential to informal interaction. Exploring the physical attributes that support this notion, Serrato cites three critical variables: layout (the configuration of space); distance (the average distance between people), and visibility (the number of people one can see at a time). The relationship among the three variables and the patterns of informal interaction are so well established as to be predictive, she says.

Focusing primarily on layout, Serrato advocates an approach known as “space syntax” to create floor plans with the circulation scheme most conducive to the desired employee movement. Space syntax is a tool borrowed from urban planners in London who sought to uncover why some developed areas of the city were successful at drawing crowds and others were not.

The practice was pioneered in the 1970s by professors at The Bartlett School of Architecture, University College London. Their space syntax analysis showed that the common denominator among successful areas was the presence and quantity of attractive circulation paths, or a multitude of linkages.

“There were many choices among streets, few dead ends, and all the street choices were equally desirable,” relates Serrato. “Areas that didn’t do as well had only one or two major streets, the main street. All the others that branched off terminated in dead ends.”

That same approach can be used when configuring interior layouts. To create more collaboration, planners can give occupants more choices for how and where they move around.

“Applying space syntax principles to the interior built environment—corporate, healthcare, public or civic places, like museums, galleries, and zoos—reveals that the connectedness and the hierarchy of paths within the spaces are related. Patterns of the movement encounter hold up across all of them.”

The only stipulation is that it must be a soft-program building, where occupants are free to move around once inside. Hard-program buildings like airports and courthouses deliberately offer minimal choices, so the principles don’t apply.

Providing the Most Options

Of the many space syntax tools available, Serrato’s preference is the Windows-based AJAX (Accessibility Analysis of Junctions and Axial Lines) software. With a diagram of a floor plan on screen, the user identifies all circulation routes by drawing lines that indicate “every place possible where people could walk”: corridors, hallways, aisles between workstations.

The program then analyzes the plan, returning a value for every path and intersection on a scale from 0 to 1, with 1 being the most positive. It also color-codes each line according to the number of linkages it offers. Most favorable to interaction are red and orange lines, which signify many linkages, and thus many choices of where to go. Blue lines signal few options to connect, often cul-de-sacs or locations that don’t get much traffic as people make their way to another destination.

The data are useful for several purposes, for example uncovering less-traveled areas to assign space for people who, for one reason or another, need to be off the beaten track. They also highlight the high-traffic spaces ideal for thriving social hearts and hubs.

“The spaces that show up as red, orange, and yellow should be the most exciting, wonderful, social spaces where people will come together and learn about the organization and see cool stuff. That is the most important spot on the floor.”

Minimal Turns, Open Perimeters

Serrato finds the analysis most helpful in designing the layout to increase the number of routes and ensuring that all those routes are equally desirable. A key statistic is the path-to-intersection ratio, which reveals how efficient the space plan is at creating multiple opportunities for movement and encounters.

“The benchmark that I use, based on many years of doing this, is to have at least two intersections for every path,” she says. For instance, a plan with 15 paths and 23 intersections would fall short when it comes to fostering collaboration.

Another data point provided by the software is the number of turns required to reach a destination. While a high number of route choices and intersections is desirable, a high frequency of turns is a discouragement, imposing too much of a burden on an individual’s memory.

“What we know from human psychology is that people don’t like to turn too much, especially if they are not sure where they are going,” says Serrato. “In the workplace, when people have to make more than three or four turns to get between places, the level of interaction diminishes.”

Her goal is to keep the average number of turns at less than three.

Similarly unfavorable is a scheme that blocks perimeter circulation by locating workstations directly along the exterior wall, a design tendency that has escalated with the emphasis on placing enclosed offices on the interior to maximize access to natural light.

“People walking down a main circulation path have no reason to go down little aisles to workstations pushed up against the perimeter. Dead ends like that are the death of collaboration in the workplace. The design is also bad for having a flexible and efficient team environment,” says Serrato.

Perimeter circulation, on the other hand, creates a more balanced grid. Years of experience confirm that the goal should be a plethora of equally desirable choices to see and be seen.

“The closer your plan approaches a balanced grid, the more opportunities there will be for movement and encounter, and all the lines will be more integrated. A plan with a main street approach, with hundreds of dead ends, will not create movement and encounter.”

Using a generic floor plan as an example, Serrato demonstrates how a simple redesign that elongates paths will boost the number of intersections, producing a quantum impact on the number of desirable routes. The original floor plan has 15 paths with many dead ends, and only 23 intersections:

(Courtesy of Margaret Serrato)

When those paths are extended, the number of intersections almost doubles to 41—well over the recommended ratio of two intersections per path. The number of routes skyrockets, from 55 to 208:

(Courtesy of Margaret Serrato)

“People have a choice to move around and see and be seen and do all those cool things that informal interaction does by a power of four,” she says. The process has been accomplished through space planning alone, without changing any other design elements like furniture or color scheme.

She concedes it might be necessary to reduce headcount slightly to clear perimeters of workstations, but the decrease in available square footage generally can be offset by smaller systems.

“My theory is that the difference between an 8-by-8 workstation and a 7-by-7 workstation is one foot. It can’t possibly change the way people work in them.”

However, the additional 3 feet at the perimeter can dramatically strengthen the culture of the organization, increasing the level of collaboration, socialization, enculturation, visibility, mentoring, retention, and engagement among employees.

“You can put in coffee bars and beanbag chairs and ping pong tables to your heart’s content. But what is going to create collaboration in the workplace is getting people moving around, seeing each other, getting to know each other, calling on each other for help, feeling like they are part of something bigger than themselves,” she concludes.

By Nicole Zaro Stahl

This report is based on a presentation Serrato made at Tradeline’s Space Strategies 2013 conference.

Next-Gen Lobbies

Originally Posted by Interiors & Sources

To attract a new generation of knowledge workers and their tech company employers, commercial owners are investing in new lobby designs to reposition and rebrand. How can the buildings of yesterday become buildings for tomorrow?

By Haril Pandya, AIA, LEED AP  |  Photography by Anton Grassl + Andy Ryan

Downtown office buildings, once the domain of buttoned-down financiers, executives and attorneys, face a seismic demographic shift as tenants radically change. By 2020, generation Y employees born between 1979 and 1994 will be roughly 50 percent of the U.S. workforce. By 2030, their presence will grow to 75 percent of the global workforce.

Findings from a Knoll research initiative, “Generational Preferences: a Glimpse into the Future Office,” reveal two key characteristics of these next-gen knowledge workers:

  • Generation Y views work as an “experience” and seeks an engaging work environment supporting a wide choice of work styles, regardless of location.
  • This generation seeks connection to others, especially their peers. They value group work and learning, and have a deep desire for teamwork and collaboration.

They are also increasingly interested in working in the city, lured by the promise of diverse career experiences and the opportunity to connect with others. Consequently, a new wave of enterprising companies is moving into urban office buildings, in large part to recruit and retain these next-gen employees. Traditional tenant companies already downtown are competing to hire the same demographic: young, highly educated and digitally savvy.

In a race to attract the right tenants, building owners are investing precious capital into existing building stock, updating lobbies, plazas and tenant amenities. These repositioning and rebranding initiatives should be done strategically, securing the best “bang for the buck” with an understanding of what can and should be done. First-phase improvements should be based on evaluating market conditions and defining the results for future revenue, occupancy and tenant satisfaction.

The central objective of any repositioning, large or small, is to add value for the tenants, and in doing so, add to the asset value and appeal of the building. We at CBT Architects begin repositioning projects by asking a series of questions to help our client identify clear goals and gain consensus on competing aspirations. Proper scenario planning, done with key decision makers at the table, provides the owner with a range of budget projections and options, allowing them to weigh the project’s scale versus the expected return on dollars spent.

A recent example of this process can be found in 53 State Street, a LEED Gold, Class A office building in the heart of Boston’s financial district where the owner had a strong anchor tenant desiring a building upgrade. The building includes a blend of old and new Boston. It integrates a modern, 40-story glass tower built in the mid-‘80s and the adjacent granite and marble Boston Stock Exchange built in 1896.

Facing upcoming lease renewals for major tenants and a need to attract new companies coming into the city, owners UBS Realty Investors began to explore options for repositioning.

Working with UBS and its real estate advisory group, the design team reviewed multiple scenarios. The selected design option involved a rebranding of 11,000 square feet of underused street-level space. Surveying tenants, an overwhelming consensus emerged to convert these passive spaces into a more active destination.

“Our tenants were definitely looking for a comfortable touchdown area for their guests, more spaces to meet and a more social environment in the lobby,” says James Zilora, director of asset management for UBS Realty Investment, advisors to the building’s ownership. “The composition of our tenant companies was changing dramatically, with more tech-oriented and socially-conscious firms and a younger demographic.”

The opportunity within 53 State was to create something new: an inviting workspace and meeting hub at the lobby level, with spaces designed to serve as an extension of the offices upstairs. “With so many companies going to an open office layout with higher densities, having access to functional and comfortable common space in the building is becoming more important,” Zilora notes.

The design team was able to transform the underused lobby into a new “great room” for tenants and visitors—a central hub for social interaction, dining and people watching. The design translation feels more like the lobby of a cool boutique hotel than an office building. The lobby now features meeting spaces, curved walls, Wi-Fi connections, a media bar and a café.

The tenant response to the new spaces and lobby amenities has made the project an unqualified success, according to Zilora. “The seating in the lobby is in use all day long, and there’s always an informal meeting taking place,” he says. “The design solution perfectly brought together the old and the new, preserving the high-quality finishes that were in place and adding exactly the right elements to warm up the space and soften it so it appeals to today’s tenants.”PageBreak

Integrating indoor and outdoor space is another repositioning strategy applied in both urban and suburban locations. At One Rogers Street, a Class A office building in tech-centric Cambridge, Mass., an ambitious rebranding program transformed a former corporate headquarters into a multi-tenant technology center.

“The building had a serious identity crisis in the broker community and with potential tenants,” recalls Kevin Stubbs, director of architecture and engineering for Principal Real Estate Investors, the building’s owners. “We had a property known only as a former headquarters. It was seen as two separate buildings and had two addresses. The lobby and courtyard were underutilized and dated, to say the least.”

Principal and CBT undertook a comprehensive strategic plan to evaluate the market opportunities and review options for a repositioning program that would help attract the target demographic: life science, R&D, technology and consulting firms. From this planning, a big idea emerged: By treating the large courtyard space as an integral extension of the lobby, the brand identity could be dramatically changed by creating a destination filled with life, color and light.

Today, the interiors at One Rogers are flooded with daylight. A reflective back-painted glass wall and a nature-inspired, LED-lit wood feature combine to increase the lobby’s depth and height while mirroring the external elevations of the building. A popular café and fitness center extend to the east connecting all key public spaces. Exterior courtyard seating expands the lobby experience outdoors.

“CBT tailored the program to meet the demographic future by providing an edgier look and feel with simple, clean lines and a green-oriented image. It’s a home run for us,” Stubbs says. The repositioning has elevated the building among its competition, generated positive broker feedback, improved energy efficiency and increased the occupancy of technology-based companies.

Equity Office, with a portfolio that includes 70 million square feet of Class A office space in the United States, recently invested in a repositioning of 60 State Street, one of Boston’s most prominent office towers. Built in the 1970s, the lobby suffered from its small size and lack of natural light.

“We invited input from tenants on what they wanted to see, and learned how important the lobby image is when they decide to lease or renew,” says John Conley, senior vice president of asset management for Equity. “Our goal was to attract more tech companies who can appreciate the building, plus keep the tried-and-true companies that have always been downtown. Today we have a broad range of tenants looking at the building, including everyone from digital advertising firms to traditional financial service companies.”

As collaboration and social experience become more important to tenants, office buildings can finally unbutton those starched collars and become beloved destinations for all generations. By taking a strategic approach to implementing high-impact renovations, designers can provide solutions that alter perceptions, advance brand identity, and improve a building’s revenue and market value.


Haril Pandya, AIA, LEED AP is a principal at CBT Architects in Boston with two decades of experience planning and designing corporate, hospitality, mixed-use and retail projects. He specializes in the strategic rebranding, repurposing and repositioning of urban and suburban commercial buildings.

What Comes After Y?

Check out this new report from Knoll


What Comes After Y?

Generation Z: Arriving to the Office Soon

A Few Key Take-Aways from the report…

The children of Generation X, Generation Z kids are in grade school and high school today. They will enter the professional workforce by the end of this decade. They value structure and predictability and “get” the online world, yet are easily distracted, and will be challenged navigating face-to-face work relationships. These characteristics suggest they will have different workspace needs than other generations.

Knoll proposes three key workspace opportunities to support Generation Z’s needs:

  • A sense of structure through clear layout and making obvious the purpose of spaces
  • “Enclave” spaces that support blended face-to-face/online meetings
  • “Refuge” spaces that offer space for real-time coaching, and a place that minimizes distractions and encourages focus work when needed1


Read More Here

Why you should redesign your office for introverts

Originally posted by Fast Company


Susan Cain is not depressed. She’s deep in thought, with her elbow on her desk, head resting on her hands. Yet colleagues would regularly come up to her and ask if she was okay. She was fine, she’d explain, just very focused. “For people to work best, they need choice,” says Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.

Employees work best when they can move freely back and forth between quiet and more social spaces, she says. Cain cites psychologist Russell Geen’s research that gave introverts and extroverts math problems to complete with varying levels of noise in the background. The groundbreaking study found introverts performed better with soft background noise while extroverts did better with louder background noise.

Here are three reasons Cain says business owners should consider changing their workspace design to accommodate introverts:


“Introverts like being around people, [but] they want to do a deep dive in their work,” Cain says. “[They want to] focus, get in a state of flow, with deep thoughts.” In an open workspace, you’re subject to interruption, such as a tap on the shoulder, which breaks your concentration, Cain notes. Having a workspace that allows introverts to go into a private, quiet room is a social signal, letting others know the person doesn’t wish to be interrupted, she says.


Traditional open office space is difficult because conversations can be overheard, Cain says. In order to speak candidly, people need to have some degree of privacy, she says. In her book, Cain suggests friendships are formed in these moments. Having a space where one or two people can work quietly, yet have some privacy, is important, Cain says.


In 2011, the Huffington Post made news when it installed two nap rooms (Napquest I and Napquest II) in its offices to allow writers and editors a quiet, private place to recharge. (Due to popular demand, a third’s been added.) People may have been intimidated to use them at first, but once Arianna Huffington and her team used them, that signaled it was okay, and other employees signed up, Cain notes.

As for a downside, Cain says there isn’t one. “I don’t see any drawbacks to a workspace that gives people choice,” she says.

In her earlier example, a furrowed brow or frown would imply anger as opposed to deep thought. Having a workspace where you didn’t have to worry about managing others’ perceptions based on your facial expressions allows people to focus on their work, Cain says.

So, how does a company go about creating these spaces? It doesn’t require a full-scale remodel, Cain says. Most businesses can find spaces within their general layout.

The key is to create nooks and crannies for employees to transition into and out of, Cain says. A cozy, inviting environment where you have permission to be yourself, she explains. The spaces can be personalized with various seating options (table and chairs, couch, benches, depending on the space) and lighting.

In June, Cain is teaming up with furniture manufacturer Steelcase to introduce a series of workspace solutions tailored to introverts.

Introverts are often stigmatized, and Cain’s working to set the record straight. “[There’s a] myth of what a team player is–introverts want to do great work for the greater good, but they need a place to have uninterrupted thought,” she says.