Post -by Gautam Shah
The space planning as a space efficiency method emerged in later part of the Industrial Revolution period (1800s). This was an age when number of gadgets for kitchens, toilets, craft areas, offices, industry, etc., began to be available. These initiated ‘systems planning’ thinking. The gadgets were conceived as fitments into a space, with planned connectivity and inter gadget relationships. Approach to ‘comprehensive planning’ later became ‘Space Planning’. Women’s hobby magazines of the time took it further, and helped in creating work efficiency layouts (home productivity) with behavioural considerations. For example, a window over a cooking range and sink were as a result of these attitudes. At industrial level the line production layouts were carefully planned and regularly updated. The ‘mega foot print’ or extensive spaces of new commercial offices required major re-haul of layouts when illumination and heating-cooling were electrified, telephony and better document storage systems became common. The new departmental stores of 1950s required very frequent space re-planning because of the fast changing brands and their packing formats.
At domestic level the house which had highly room specific spaces began to be open plan layouts with minimal of walls and partitions. It offered large unhindered space for various tasks. This was also due to smaller or one person family. The gadgets that were bulky requiring structural bearing were now multi tasking, miniatures, mobile or easily relocatable and affordable. This freed lot of space and need for compulsive siting.
It was now clear that anthropometric data or ergonomics was not the only consideration, but behaviour of the human beings was the key to space planning. The definition of spatial and occupancy requirements were important. Other thoughts related to flexibility of accommodating the future growth, access for the disabled, safety, security, etc. Homes, offices, industrial plants, jails, educational institutions, research facilities, wherever growth or rationalization was conceived, it was through space planning. Corporate organizations began replacing the layered system to team or department-based structures which favour classless, transparent or open layouts.
Early offices had peripheral siting, that is along the wall work tables and cabins. This gradually gave way to half height partitioned or ‘compartmental office spaces’. But today, according to the International Facility Management Association, 68% of North American employees work in offices with an open floor plan or open seating. Open offices are space-inefficient due to larger per employee area, and are less clustered.
- Older employees and traditional businesses like, law, finance and other professionals, who have worked from cubicles, cabins and corner offices, find it difficult to adopt open offices. Open offices are blamed for affecting privacy, client relationships, employee productivity, loss of sense of belonging, and even compromising the morale.
Open offices provided a visual cohesiveness and spatial continuity. Open office plan also incorporated the concept of compact personal work module -a work station. Computers had work stations as dedicated utility for multi tasking. Earlier craft’s people like watch repairer, engravers, gold smith had such facilities, to reduce the movement.
- Offices during and immediately after world war-II period had as much 50 % of the total space devoted to storage. These were separated from work areas, and manned by store keepers. The store room volume and traffic to it were reduced with several technologies such as document facsimile systems, telecommunication, automated file access including the mechanical card-index sorting machines. Digital documents with computerization solved the problems of file storage, access and transfer. Now the offices were nearly fully ‘human occupied spaces’.
- Wireless technology and cloud storage software make it easier for companies to embrace nomadic workstations, says Frank Rexach, a Shanghai-based vice president and general manager at Haworth Rexach says ‘People don’t want to feel handcuffed to their desk, especially the Millennials’ (= young people who were between the ages of 10 and 20 on September 11, 2001 defined as per Newsweek magazine).
Laptop and tablet computers linked to remote servers reduced the location bound dependence. Wireless telecommunication, mobility and flexible work schedules allowed employees to work from location of their choice. The office space now remained a location for interaction. Of course this function too was met by video conferencing. Now the office space has become an unassigned seating place. Yet the need to personally interact remained as acute, perhaps emerged stronger. The meeting rooms are common or rented facilities. Its interior space has high efficiency ambience but does not match the corporate aspirations of a ‘personal space’. In a different perspective, something similar is happening on educational campuses. The teacher-student relationship is missing on personal contacts. The lecture hall is partly replaced by seminar or workshop rooms.