NeoCon 2019: Seminars That Caught Our Eye – Part 4

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Elise Shapiro
Elise Shapiro
Elise Shapiro is a contributing editor. Little did she know that her first job, in the facilities department at Ralston Purina, while obtaining her M. Arch at Washington University, in St. Louis would foreshadow where her career would lead. She has always been a strong advocate for providing the best possible spaces for people to work – where aesthetics meet function and drive business success.

The NeoCon 2019 proposals offered an incredible array of topics from all sectors of the industry. Here are a few of the seminars that caught our eye. Check out part one here; part two here; and part three here.

We wrap up our NeoCon seminar previews with EYP’s Managing Principal, DC Office, Leigh Stringer and Teknion’s VP of A&D, Jennifer Busch who weigh in on some of the most relevant topics and trends in our industry. If your learning agenda is to learn more about the latest thinking, you’ll want register for these hot topics!

From Mindfulness to #MeToo: How a Consolidated University Wellness Center Can Reduce Stress and Anxiety
Tuesday, June 11 1:00 PM – 2:00 PM

Colleges and universities today face an unprecedented demand for student health services. To respond, college counselors and wellness directors are ramping up their health and wellness programming. In this session, you will learn about the story of the College of William and Mary’s new wellness center (opened Fall 2018). Specifically, our discussion will include the drivers behind its design, specific building strategies used, as well as pre- and post-occupancy data collected by research partners at the University of Virginia. By participating this session, attendees will better understand the intersection between student health issues and wellness programs, as well as how the physical environment can better support students and their care providers.

Leigh Stringer, EYP Architecture and Engineering, Managing Principal, DC office
Antoinette Ayers, EYP Architecture and Engineering, Lead Interior Designer
Dr. R. Kelly Crace, Associate Vice President, Health and Wellness, College of William & Mary

The College of William and Mary health and wellness
The College of William and Mary’s Integrative Wellness Center, designed by EYP, incorporates many design elements using natural elements to enhance health and wellbeing. – Photo by ESTO/David Sundberg

WDM: There was a lot of coverage of the LL Bean working outdoors campaign last year. How did that affect awareness of the value of working outside and in what way? Are clients now asking for more avenues to have inside and outside spaces?

LS: The reach of the L.L.Bean’s “Be an Outsider at Work” campaign has been incredible. It received a shocking amount of press coverage and social media spreading. I think a big reason the campaign was so successful (besides excellent marketing and PR) was that the message really hit a nerve. Humans have only been working indoors for the last 200-300 years in our history. We were born to be “free range” and to be immersed in the sights, sounds and smells of nature. With our recent technology addiction, we’ve gotten a lower and lower dose of outdoor exposure, which is noticeably impacting our stress levels and resilience.

It’s possible my clients have seen L.L.Bean’s campaign, but my general sense is that most of them are already aware of the fact that they are nature deprived. Interestingly, they haven’t typically outright asked for outdoor space, or a green wall, or the use of natural, non-toxic materials in their space – the design team must bring it up first. When we do, they jump on it! I think this is because most people only know the environment they sit in today. We’ve had great success touring clients through other healthy, green spaces and helping them visualize how to work outside or in a way that integrates nature. They understand the ROI almost immediately but need to see examples to know what’s possible.

WDM: Your seminar is about how one client utilized the concept as a design element of their wellness center. I am curious as to how this came about. Did they bring this up as a design criterion or was it the result of “educating” the client as the design was planned?

LS: In the case of the College of William and Mary, our client is incredibly enlightened about the benefits of nature and mental health. Kelly Crace, who will be speaking with us at Neocon, is William & Mary’s Associate Vice President for Health and Wellness. Crace oversees the school’s Student Health Center, Counseling Center, Campus Recreation, Health Promotion and the Center for Mindfulness and Authentic Excellence (CMAX). He also has an adjunct appointment in the W&M Department of Psychology. Crace drove us to consider more fully the impact of the built environment on the students and staff who use the facility. We leveraged strategies from standards like WELL and Fitwel, but Kelly helped us take these strategies to the next level. For example, he encouraged us to “overlap” different dimensions of wellness in spaces wherever possible in order to positively impact multiple dimensions of health at once (i.e. emotional, social and spiritual). A social space might have a biophilic wall, offer healthy food and serve as a trailhead for a nature path.

WDM: There is research aligning how the design of educational and learning spaces does have alignment with how workplace designers can think about planning their projects. Again, health and wellness are now considerations as companies are realizing the value of their physical space as a recruitment and retainment factor in hiring and employee engagement. Can you make some suggestions as to how/where attendees can learn more about this – in addition to attending your seminar?

LS: For those who will be at Neocon, we are excited to present fresh research that was conducted pre- and post-move on William and Mary’s new integrative wellness center. Our research engaged the student body and staff who occupy the building – and we think both perspectives will be highly useful. We partnered with researchers from the University of Virginia to conduct the research and to make sure our methodology was solid. We also leveraged some work we had done previously with Harvard University’s School of Public Health on the Health and Human Performance Index. Some of our key research questions were:

  • Does the building’s design and wellness programming help shift student thinking towards “integrative” wellness (holistic and preventative)?
  • Does this building’s shared space better support health and wellness services and resources?
  • Do the strategies used address issues of flourishing and resilience to better serve students?
  • Does the building improve operational needs of care providers?

For those who cannot attend Neocon, we will be publishing what we learn on EYP’s website and other magazines and journals – stay tuned! I also recommend finding spaces that are WELL or Fitwel certified near you and visiting them. Reading about a healthy strategy or a healthy building is one thing, seeing it “in real life” is a completely different story. It takes on a whole new meaning and you are more likely to remember it and adopt it into your work.

The New Face of Collaboration in the Tech Enabled Office
Tuesday June 11 9:30 AM – 10:30 AM

As technology continues to transform and enhance our lives, how can our workspaces adapt to meet consumer’s expectations of how a technology-enabled office should function? Advancements in technology create opportunities for collaboration in the digital space, and employees are increasingly opting to connect with their teams from their individual desks, utilizing web-based platforms for communication. This new scenario challenges our assumptions of what individual-focused work and collaborative teamwork look like, as well as how technology and space can provide support. Focused workspace demands furnishings that mimic those found in collaborative zones: pieces that provide superior ergonomics and functions with a softer, warmer look than standard office furniture.

  • Jennifer Busch, Vice-President A&D, Teknion
  • Charlton Hutton, Associate Director of Design, M. Moser Associates, New York, NY
  • Natasha Thexton, Workplace Strategy Design Lead, The Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto, CA
  • Julia Kapoor, Senior Account Executive, Enterprise at Slack Technologies, New York, NY
Image courtesy of Teknion

WDM: In a multi-generational workforce, there are different perceptions of how technology can enhance the work experience. How much does this influence what your design team looks for when planning new product?

JB: Technology agnostic and human-centered are our guiding principles. Ever more rapid advances in technology make it implausible (if not impossible) to design furniture products to accommodate any given technology or perspective on our technological future. But we can say with some certainty that the office will be a hub of agile, flexible working enabled by intelligent machines and design. Teknion designs its furniture products to support people—through a range of benefits and features that address well-being from both a physiological and emotional standpoint—and be agile and flexible enough to accommodate present and future technologies in the workplace. For example:

  • Furniture suited to modular, adaptable office landscapes
  • Furniture that supports activity-based design of spaces of all different sizes, shapes, resources and levels of privacy
  • Application of “loose fit” products that flex to accommodate different kinds of work and provide unrestricted access to people and spaces, technologies and experiences.

WDM: Who is driving the bus when it comes to integrating new technologies into workspace design? Are clients bringing options for new tech to the designers or do the architects/designers need to stay on top of things and bring options to their clients?

JB: Technology companies are driving the integration of new technologies in workplace design, but it is always the responsibility of the architecture and interior design community—as well as the manufacturing community—to stay on top of trends that affect work in order to engage in informed discussions and make recommendations to their clients about how these new technologies will influence the physical space. Industry research, technology consultants, design/technology/popular media, technology company representatives and conferences focused on the future of work are all good sources of information on technology trends.

WDM: There is a huge shift in the types of products the we are seeing at trade shows, and that are being specified for new workplaces. Where do you think the most creative solutions lie?

JB: The most creative solutions emerge when we focus on design that catalyzes and amplifies the unique qualities and powers that make us human—starting with the acknowledgement that there is no “one size fits all solution” in office design. Human diversity (physical and behavioral) dictates a great deal of flexibility and adaptability in the ideal workplace.

Elise Shapiro
Elise Shapiro
Elise Shapiro is a contributing editor. Little did she know that her first job, in the facilities department at Ralston Purina, while obtaining her M. Arch at Washington University, in St. Louis would foreshadow where her career would lead. She has always been a strong advocate for providing the best possible spaces for people to work – where aesthetics meet function and drive business success.
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