Inside Working & Learning Spaces

Spaces are physical manifestations of economic, demographic, technological and cultural forces. We moved through three stages of industrial revolution and are currently in the fourth stage. Through all these stages, workspace and learning spaces have always been two completely different space typologies. However in the fourth industrial revolution, we are seeing a trend where these space typologies are merging as technology is enabling people to work and learn anywhere and everywhere. Relationship-rich and work-integrated learning experiences are becoming a new norm. This has led workspace and learning spaces to inform each other’s design.

This curated section explores how workspaces evolved to incorporate learning while traditional learning spaces opened up to creating an environment for informal and social learning. Starting from Taylorism from the early 1900s, the section elaborates how workspace design trends evolved since then, creating entirely new space typologies like Coworking and Co-learning spaces.
Collection

Wright

Schnelle

PensonStudio

Snøhetta

Taylorism
By the start of the 20th century, offices had become a hub for administration and management. Workers were part of a scientifically managed organizational machine that was designed based on Winslow Taylor's idea of the mechanical, top-down, status-rich, alienated workplace. The idea was to create space that helps workers achieve maximum efficiency. Buildings were designed to have no outside views to avoid distracting workers from their to-do list. Open plan offices became the new norm, where the management principle of command and control dictated that people needed to be seen in order to be managed. Mass production prompted the emergence of new roles like accountants, wages clerk, typists and copyists etc. There was a strict hierarchy of spaces where central and busy areas were assigned to mid-level staff while dark and unappealing spaces were given to clerks and apprentices. People higher in the hierarchy had the right to private space and were usually provided with separate, comfortable offices.

Wright

Wright

Bürolandschaft & The Action Offices
In the post war period of 1950s-60s, office space evolved from being designed for hierarchy to flat open plan design. This spread style across Europe during this period. The idea was that the distribution of workplaces should be based on the patterns of communication between workers and between teams of workers, rather than the company organizational charts. This was first tried in Germany in early 1960s, then in United States in 1967 for the Freon division of E.I. duPont de Nemours in Wilmington and 1968 for the Kodak office in Rochester. These projects were a successful test of the value of design based on the demands of work instead of circumstances of rank.
The concept of "Bürolandschaft" was further developed by Robert Probst (working for Herman Miller) and it redefined the direction of furniture design. The open brief given to Propst was to find problems outside the furniture industry and to then find solutions for them. In a manner similar to the German developers of Burolandschaft and the Taylorist researchers of early 1900s, Propst examined the office from first principles. Mark Schurman, director of corporate communication at Herman Miller, said that "In the 60s when Propst began to analyse the office, he saw the manager in the corner room and the majority of workers at open desks that were arranged in static lines, with very little consideration for any form of privacy, storage or intrusion from telephones. Propst foresaw an explosion in white collar workers and realized that the workplace needed a better solution that would create a healthier, more innovative and more productive workforce." He defined the new office culture as a place where it was natural for people to seek responsibility and enjoy it. He believed that unique knowledge and skills lied at all levels in a healthy organization. Following these ideologies, his idea for office furniture was create a kit of parts responding to the varied tasks of office work and respected the privacy of the employees. Working with designer George Nelson, Propst produced 'Action Office' in 1964, which was followed by 'Action Office 2' in 1968.

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The PC Revolution & Plug and Play Model
The design of office furniture and layouts was revolutionized by the advent of Personal Computers (PC) in 1980. The workforce began to demand higher standards, greater personal identity and more privacy. Knowledge work and other creative forms of work began to take precedence. The possibilities of how space and time of the office could be used grew as the possibility of ubiquitous information technology grew. The workplace was required to cater to four major patterns of work - Individual process work, Concentrated study, Group work & Transactional knowledge work. Offices required more services and infrastructure like data network, telephone system and other types of connectivity. This gave rise to the Plug and Play model where space is available for rent with all the infrastructure and services required to run the office.

PensonStudio

Cuningham Group

The Coworking Space
As the number of remote and gig-economy workers rise, these workers are looking for a community of like-minded individuals and supporters to exchange thoughts and collaborate on projects in addition to requiring a physical space for work. This led to the emergence of coworking spaces, these spaces reduce financial burden on small to medium sized enterprises and independent workers of having to lease or buy office space. Professionals can access larger facilities like conference rooms, makerspaces, gym and cafeteria etc. These spaces counter loneliness that remote workers face by providing a community of similar workers. Communities also enhance informal learning opportunities for professionals that help them navigate new technologies and new ways of working.

University Working Spaces
As the future of work unfolds, the high education sector is finding creative solutions to merge the skills gap and equip students to prepare for the ‘21st century workplace’. One such way universities are enabling this is by creating entrepreneurship labs, incubators and makerspaces on campus to help students and alumni have access to space and resources they need to innovate and work as entrepreneurs and freelancers.

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Co-Learning - A merger of working & learning
As coworking spaces continue to grow, a new model of co-learning spaces are emerging. Instead of looking at remote workers, freelancers and entrepreneurs as individuals at work they are viewed as a part of a family unit with needs that go beyond a workspace. These spaces offer opportunities to bring families to work, where children can learn from professionals at work while also have a space to play and explore. This kind of informal learning enables families to co-create their own curricula and share their passions by teaching and learning together.
Another model of co-learning spaces is emerging in the workplace, where employees seek career growth opportunities by upskilling themselves while working simultaneously instead of leaving their jobs and pursuing traditional education. While this is made possible through peer-to-peer mentoring and online learning programs, space also plays a key role in creating the collaborative learning environment at the workplace. Offices once had distinct classrooms as spaces for training and development which are now being replaced by multipurpose areas that are meeting rooms one minute, brainstorming spaces the next and social areas another.

The Post COVID Working & Learning Spaces
Workspace

Workspaces and learning spaces have evolved to be more and more collaborative and open. The COVID crisis has however deflected further evolution in this direction and created new challenges and new opportunities in its design. As organizations are looking to open their offices once the economy reopens, the changes in design will happen in 3 phases, according to Steelcase’s report titled ‘The Post COVID Workspace’. The first phase will include retrofitting offices based on global health standards and safety measures. In the second wave, office layouts will be reconfigured to adhere to social distancing and enhance safety. Finally in the third phase, spaces will be reinvented to be more adaptable to unexpected economic, health or climate disruptions.

On the other hand, organizations like Twitter are letting its employees continue working from home permanently. Global Workplace Analytics, a research firm that studies the future of work says that about 30% of the workforce will be working-from-home multiple days a week post COVID. It also reported that expenditure on home-office furniture and supplies increased in the first half of March. People are either improving their existing home offices or wanting new ones. Hence, houses post pandemic need to be reevaluated and designed for increased flexibility and
optimum indoor air quality. Smaller details also need to be considered, like having laundry facilities and shoe/coat storage as close to the entrance as possible so that face masks and shoes can be immediately removed upon entrance.

Learning Space

Educators need to rethink physical classroom space design, their curriculum and operation and maintenance of the learning spaces. Research articles and reports by organizations like Gensler & Steelcase offer solutions like ‘Rolling occupancy’ which limit the number of students occupying a classroom in a given time. Curriculum is also being revised to support as much ‘Remote Learning’ as possible, creating hybrid digital and in-person learning experiences. All these changes point to a scenario where learning and working can happen hand in hand and become accessible to more number of students and employees. Working and learning spaces need to come together to facilitate lifelong learning.

Furthermore, the common attribute between workspace and learning spaces is that they need to be adaptable and have to retain a sense of community that these spaces offer while creating the separation that people need to feel safe.