Placemaking

Twice last week the work 'Placemaking' came up. So is this a new buzzword and why hadn't I heard it before? OK – some small research confirms that it is definitely not a new buzzword. It's been used by architects and designers since the 1970's. My search for it on Grist "rassled up 265 results." (I think 'rassled' is a new word -yes if the fact that Google couldn't throw up a definition means it is a new word).

But 'placemaking' is new to me because I am not an architect or a designer of physical spaces. It just happens that I am now at a point in my work life when physical design and organizational design are intersecting. Office space is not just within the scope of the facilities manager but within the scope of the employees and organizational designers/developers such as myself.

Thus the explanation of 'placemaking' given by the Project for Public Spaces made perfect sense:

Placemaking is a multi-faceted approach to the planning, design and management of public spaces. Put simply, it involves looking at, listening to, and asking questions of the people who live, work and play in a particular space, to discover their needs and aspirations. This information is then used to create a common vision for that place. The vision can evolve quickly into an implementation strategy, beginning with small-scale, do-able improvements that can immediately bring benefits to public spaces and the people who use them.

Placemaking capitalizes on a local community's assets, inspiration, and potential, ultimately creating good public spaces that promote people's health, happiness, and well being …. this [participative] process is essential-even sacred-to people who truly care about the places in their lives.

The project that I'm involved in at work is designing office space for a largely mobile population. They'll use the building much more as they would use a hotel: booking space, coming in when face to face is required (see my blogs 'Aha Moments', and 'Face to Face or Not), and working in a space that is not 'theirs'. But this doesn't mean that they won't want to have either a say in what 'their' hotel looks and feels like, or a say in how 'their' hotel is operated by and for them. This means involving the workforce in helping design the space they will use.

Bill Heisler, Steelcase, makes the point that 'workplace is a social science question'. In his view it involves aligning elements of social life, spatial design, and informational access and this can only be done by involving employees in shaping what the space will be like. In an excellent case study on Radio Shack Heisler explains how the 'Ideas Lab' was set up:

Many businesses test products before buying them. Furniture mock-ups and small, short-term test spaces are not uncommon. Few companies take this strategy to the level of the Ideas Lab. A dedicated space of 8,000 sq. ft. (and another 2,000 sq. ft. for storage) the Ideas Lab included workstations, team spaces, common areas, quiet rooms, and more.

The Lab's purpose was to test the design and development of workplace concepts. In addition, a wide variety of possible architectural and furniture solutions were carefully tested: ceiling and lighting scenarios, full-height movable walls, raised flooring, under-floor air and voice and data distribution systems, whiteboards, worktools and more. Most important was how these products and applications supported RadioShack's work processes.

Collaboration and participation are not new methods in organization design/development work, but applying them to space design and use is something that I haven't come across much and it's good to know that there is a whole new area of expertise that can be shared between the organization behavior people and the space design people.

One of the thoughts that intrigued me was the notion of measuring the organizational productivity improvements against what PPS describes as the four key qualities of place:

they are accessible; people are engaged in activities there; the space is comfortable and has a good image; and finally, it is a sociable place:

And they provide a Place Diagram that suggests both qualitative and quantitative measures of place that could be adapted for organizational uses.

On measurement of place one of the Grist articles discusses a measure called the Jane Score:

[T]he Preservation Green Lab's Liz Dunn and Walkscore's Matt Lerner have recently been tossing around a cool idea: the JaneScore. It would be a metric that counts all the subtle features that make for a healthy urban neighborhood, as famously articulated by the late Jane Jacobs.

The key attribute is diversity. In my interpretation, the JaneScore would focus on measuring diversity in a wide range of elements, such as building width, height, condition, style, and age; commercial space use, size, and rent; housing unit type, cost, and tenant demographics. Metrics to rate the vitality of street life would help round out the score.

Again this approach could be useful in measuring workplace performance in relation to space and space use.

So lots of things to think about as I delve into the concept of 'placemaking' with the architects and designers I'm working with.

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