Designing Open Plan Offices

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Friday, March 14th, 2014
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8 Chifley Square Office Plan
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The recently completed 8 Chifley Square office tower, designed by Lippmann Partnership in association with Richard Rogers and Stirk, Harbour and Partners, highlights the possibilities when it comes to design of commercial office towers.

The question many forward thinking organisations are asking is, “What should the design of open plan offices look like in 2014 and into the future?”

From recent personal experience, where showers and change rooms were provided throughout a large open plan office building, so many office workers took up the opportunity to ride, or walk to work that there was a queue every morning to use change rooms and showers. Where gymnasiums are provided in close proximity to the office, these are heavily patronised. Local councils are spending billions on upgrading bikeways and separating pedestrians and bikes from vehicles. Healthy cities are about healthy citizens.

8 Chifley Square Office Tower

8 Chifley Square office tower

Employers have a responsibility to ensure people don’t get lower limb blood clots from being stationary for long periods. They have a responsibility to ensure a healthy environment, one that includes lighting which doesn’t damage employees’ eyes, seating which does not damage employees’ spines, floor coverings that reduce slippage, sanitary fixtures which prevent build up of bacteria, and appliances which do not burn, scald or freeze users.

Then there are questions of employees’ emotional well being and visual relief. Do office spaces include some visual relief and planting, or are they predicated on cramming as many work cubicles into the smallest space. Does overcrowding increase the propensity for diseases such as the cold or flu to spread? Do larger volume spaces with good air circulation and ventilation provide superior health for the occupants?

Many office workers will spend at least eight hours a day at work; should they be provided a work environment which includes the opportunity for employees to move around and stretch, or to occasionally stand at a monitor rather than sit? Does the modern office provide a positively charged energy for  healthy activities, for exercise and for the emotional and mental health of occupants?

Diabetes is a growing concern to office workers, as is heart disease, which now kills more people than smoking. People who sit in poor chairs often suffer from spinal and posture problems. Open plan offices have in the past been designed so that managers can quickly oversee of  their employees, and the open plan has often been designed to control workers’ productivity, with glass partitions, little privacy, noisy and reflective surfaces, and little scope to communicate with colleagues.

8 Chifley Square Office First Look

8 Chifley Square office

 As a public health issue, it is about time these issues were considered. Employers pay a high price for the poor health of their workforce. Is there a way to design a working office that includes encouraging people to move around, to interact with their colleagues?

 Chifley Lippmann Partnership and RSHP used the concept of the office “Village” to enhance the interaction of tenants over three level modules.

Ed Lippmann worked for a short time in the office of Marcel Brauer in his American studio. Lippmann has been true to the philosophical underpinnings of the modernist movement in his extensive portfolio of completed projects. He has utilised the Corbusian ideas of the vertical street, sky gardens and balconies, transparent glass facades, lifting the base of a building on a podium to bring in light to the base of the building, a village in the sky, the use of a lift and services core, and column-free open plan office space.

Whilst Lippmann himself did not work with Harry Seidler, he has long been an admirer of his work and knew Seidler from the Sydney architectural circles. A partner in Lippmann’s studio, Tim O’Sullivan, worked with Seidler in his student years. O’Sullivan also worked with Nicholas Grimshaw in London, Renzo Piano in Paris, and Sir Richard Rogers who has collaborated on the 8 Chifley Square project.

Like many of those architectural luminaries, Lippmann’s design expresses the structure of the building within the facade so that the forces which are being transferred through the structure are apparent to the observer. Steel, aluminium, glass, polished natural stone – the palette of materials is simple and without extraneous adornment.

8 Chifley Square Office Plan

8 Chifley Square office plan

Lippmann has created exceptional spaces filled with light and transparency, unlike many office spaces which feel claustrophobic and anaemic in comparison.

With Lippmann and project architect O’Sullivan at the helm, the studio has been true to the philosophies of the modernist movement and of the “High Tech” masters who followed them in Europe and the US.

The 8 Chifley Square project has achieved a 5 star NABERS rating and includes a high tech energy saving fit out.

The building fits the current zeitgeist and is a design icon in a dense urban setting, hemmed in on three sides at ground level.

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