10 Pointers to Space Planning

Carrying on with a favourite topic, Strategic Space Planning, I came across an interesting paper recently, Physical Space and Social Interaction by: Jay L. Brand, Ph.D.


In it he says that this topic demands an interdisciplinary focus by bring together at least the fields of architecture and interior design, psychology, sociology, anthropology, and geography.


First, the physical environment can influence the social and task interactions among the people in it.


Second, the physical environment can interfere with the frequency and quality of social interaction.


Third, social interaction and the layout of space reciprocally influence each other. It is thus important to consider the nature and function of work processes within and between groups or teams when designing work areas to support them.


Finally, whether or not the physical environment, in addition to encouraging social interaction, can augment its efficiency remains somewhat controversial.


However, there is little doubt that proximity and ease and availability of social exchange can be affected by the structure of the environment; open spaces, particularly open spaces incorporating symbolic focus points or other directing elements, can facilitate and coordinate the communication so necessary for efficient collaboration within the office.



Image from: Virtual Organization Management Institute

Specifically, Dr Brand offers these 10 recommendations

  1. 1.     Having windows (as opposed to no windows) in a room increases its social desirability; the bigger they are (between ceiling and floor) the better. Whether windows enhance task efficiency for a room’s occupants remains controversial, although moods and emotional tone can be improved by natural light. Of course, the nature of the task is important when considering windows; for example, intimate behaviour is usually not encouraged by windows.

2.     Typically, if the room is well lit (ideally with natural light), a high (or sloping) ceiling encourages social interaction.


3.     Furniture can support and encourage social interaction if its arrangement removes any barriers between and among people (e. g., a circle of chairs would be preferable to lines of desks). The most “unfriendly” arrangement for office furniture involves the traditional “two-dimorphic-chairs-facing-a desk-between-them” configuration. Of course, how many people need to interact must inform furniture configurations as well, and the broader culture influences what individuals consider “friendly” or “unfriendly.”


4.     With some exceptions, couches are less formal than chairs, but their advantages may be mitigated if the group is not acquainted. Furthermore, ergonomic seating considerations become important if tasks involve long time periods.


5.     To maximise social exchange, furniture should provide no cues to relative status within the group.




6.     How people are dressed may interact with what types of furniture and furniture configurations they will find most acceptable. For example, lying around on a big rug may not be comfortable for women wearing miniskirts; they might prefer the group sit around a table facing each other.


7.     Configurations that allow open, essentially face-to-face orientations with every other member of the group (allowing for individual adjustments) encourage social interaction more than those that do not.


8.     In addition to supporting individual work with personal workspaces, work areas should be purposefully organised around the social and collaborative functions occurring in the work place. Efficient communication within teams and coordination/collaboration between teams can be enhanced by a properly configured environment.


9.     Group areas may even need more attention paid to social “channeling” and other symbolic details than personal work areas, since 60 percent of what people learn occurs informally, and much of this happens within teams. 


10.     The arrangement and configuration of individual workspaces in relation to larger aggregations of work areas for group and macro-level communication can be informed by a systematic analysis of task and skill coordination needs. At the very least, wise designers and facilities managers will create work areas that focus on human performance at all levels of the organisation, specifically addressing work group and team needs in addition to possible privacy needs and other individual-level concerns.


Finally, the psychological, sociological, cultural, and symbolic features of group processes, group dynamics, and social interaction may be even more important than the structure of the environment in determining the nature of social exchanges.


Individual-, group-, and macro-level factors have been identified that constrain the nature of conversations between people, and the general efficiency and maintenance of communication.


Discovering precisely how best to support rewarding and productive social interaction with the physical environment may require more knowledge of how complex, reciprocally determined systems develop and maintain themselves.


Self-organising systems—and modern offices no doubt must be of this type— can produce emergent phenomena that depend critically on initial conditions. Such realities suggest that even small facilities accommodations and flexibility at the level of furniture, components, and configurations may have profound organisational effects.


Dr. Brand served as Chair of the Department of Psychology and Social Work at La Sierra University. As Associate Professor of Psychology, he helped develop PhD and PsyD programs at Loma Linda University, both now accredited by the American Psychological Association (APA). Dr. Brand also served as Corporate Ergonomist, Organisational Behavior Specialist, and Cognitive Psychologist for Haworth, an international supplier of office work environments.

You can access the full paper here: https://www.google.co.uk/url?




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