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Workspace design morphs, reflects corporate culture

Rochester Business Journal
March 14, 2014

Though the nap pods, treadmill desks and climbing wall found at Google Inc.’s headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., have yet to be replicated at offices in the Rochester area, local workspace has changed in recent years.

Environments that reflect employers’ corporate cultures are increasingly in demand, as are sustainable or repurposed interior materials and components. More employers also want to strike a balance between encouraging employee collaboration and addressing the need for quiet time and privacy in the workplace, architects say.

Once seen as a barrier to creativity, cubicles have gotten a facelift. Instead of cocooning workers, today’s versions often have translucent and sound-absorbing panels that come in varying heights.

Not all local employers want wide-open office space, says Nancy Jendryaszek, managing partner at Pathfinder Engineers & Architects LLP. In her experience, some clients still request more enclosed cubicles or a more compact layout.

“That really depends on the functions of the staff and also what they’re trying to do space-wise,” she says.

Richard Bald, senior architect at T.Y. Lin International, agrees that clients’ visions for workspaces run the gamut.

“Whenever we go in to do any kind of office development work, there’s some folks that are still on the more conservative high-cubicle approach, and then there are other folks that are interested in more collaborative spaces,” he says.

Most Rochester-area employers are not opting to mothball their cubicles, but they have moved away from 72-inch panels, says David Beinetti, president of SWBR Architecture, Engineering & Landscape Architecture P.C.

The surrounding spaces are becoming important, he says.

Coffee areas, huddle rooms and WiFi centers with plush chairs encourage employees to move more freely throughout the workday. Though clients’ approaches to office design range from traditional to modern, accommodations for technology are the common thread.

One office project completed recently by T.Y. Lin entailed the renovation of 17,000 square feet at Exelis Inc.’s Geospatial Systems in Rochester. The project made way for five conference rooms equipped with smart tables and sophisticated audio-visual systems as well as an executive office. Construction on the project wrapped up roughly two months ago, says Peter Brin-cka, associate vice president and manager of mechanical, electrical and plumbing services at T.Y. Lin.

Another recent office project at T.Y. Lin was a 10,000-square-foot renovation for Ontario County in Canandaigua. Slated for occupancy later this month, the space will be used by a 30-person finance team.

“So they wanted to have a little bit of contact between people, but they were very concerned about anybody seeing (computer) screens and information and those kinds of things,” Bald says. “So privacy was certainly an issue that we had to be aware of.”

He adds: “They recognized that they needed to be more efficient with the use of space, and so making offices and ‘cubes’ a little smaller was something that they were interested in.”

Another office project at T.Y. Lin, for a client the architecture and engineering firm declined to name, is in a historic downtown Rochester building and typifies the trend toward open and collaborative workspaces.

“The wall heights are just six inches above the desk surface,” Brincka says. “There are a number of what are called flexible work centers within the space, where furniture can be moved around either to be able to work solely or as a group.”

To minimize visual barriers among employees and maximize daylighting, office walls are made of glass.

“One big trend that we’re seeing is incorporation of LED lighting for basically all lighting fixtures now, getting away from traditional fluorescents,” Brincka adds.

Space efficiency and the resulting cost savings are priorities for many clients if there is adequate surface area and support with all office equipment, Bald says.

Telecommuting, once considered a harbinger of the 21st-century office, has not shaped local office design as much as people anticipated, though companies that host traveling employees from other offices usually need small workstations where those people can stay in touch with their home base, Bald says.

In terms of office decor, colors are trending to be lighter, Brincka says. White surfaces are even making a comeback.

Some local clients are interested in giving office space an industrial look. Softer cubicle panels or white noise systems often need to be present to absorb the sound bouncing off concrete floors and exposed brick, Bald says.

At Pathfinder Engineers & Architects, one ongoing office renovation for an undisclosed client involves an effort to maximize the space’s footprint, Jendryaszek says. The client also plans to use the space to strengthen ties between the company’s two divisions.

Green building trends also have influenced local office design, she adds. When her own firm relocated from Monroe Avenue to South Fitzhugh Street in 2009, office furniture components salvaged from a bank several years ago also made the move.

For some clients, creating office space that reflects their corporate culture ends up being a high priority.

When Nixon Peabody LLP chose SWBR for the renovation of its offices at Clinton Square in Rochester a few years ago, among the goals was to allow daylighting in common spaces and create a conference center, phone booths for private conversations and small seating areas for impromptu collaborations.

Because the law firm has a global presence, “there was a desire to bring the look (and) feel up to a standard which is not typical for Rochester,” Beinetti says.

Employers, in general, are making their “real estate work harder for them,” adds Cathy Dobrowal, interiors department manager at SWBR. “For instance, the floor that Nixon has for their main reception area/conference area also is very spacious, and they use it for client entertaining.”

While companies like Google are setting the benchmarks for the office of the future, SWBR has handled some bold workplace designs in the Rochester area.

A decade ago, SWBR worked on Saatchi & Saatchi’s office in Perinton, which featured multiple “neighborhoods” with a piazza, a city park, a group of beach cabanas and a mountain-inspired venue. The advertising firm, which no longer has a local office, repurposed a 1960s Airstream trailer parked inside the office for its conference room and scattered futons throughout the space for lounging.

“Not everybody is interested in that, frankly, but they wanted to go in that direction,” Beinetti says.

Employers’ openness to innovations in office design often boils down to how they do business, he adds.

“Things are changing, for sure, but certain things aren’t going to change that quickly,” Beinetti says.

Sheila Livadas is a Rochester-area freelance writer.

3/14/14 (c) 2014 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email service@rbj.net.


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