How do you design a wise space?

On Saturday I went to Australia’s first ever coworking conference held in the start-up community space Inspire9. Listening to the talks and speaking with the participants made me think of what makes a space ‘wise’.

How do you design and develop an optimal space for people to create great stuff?

A couple of years ago I wrote a short paper on how to design an integral office. I have now done a Jonah Lehrer for this blog post, i.e. recycled and plagiarised myself with some minor tweaks.

(Side note: I don’t really get the big fuss over Lehrer’s plagiarism and Dylan quote fabrications. He hacked science and believes that imagination is as important as truth. He challenged the monopoly that scientists have on truth. That’s all.)

Anyway, my question here is;

What could an integral coworking or creation space look like?

This is a brief overview of how one could use an integral framework to design a creation space. Taking an integral perspective of an issue is basically to take an all-inclusive viewpoint, where all ways of knowing and being are considered.

Inner and outer dimensions for both the individual and collective

It’s not enough to design a space only with a focus on the external physical environment. Such a design would only be partially suitable or successful to accommodate people. To create a better space we must also think about the mental environment, i.e. the psychological, philosophical and cultural aspects of the space.

An integral approach to creation space design would take into consideration both the ‘inner’ and the ‘outer’ dimensions for both the individual coworker and for the community.

What do these altogether four dimensions mean in practice?

First, the ‘outer world’ of the collective, must be respected when designing a space. This is for example the societal, political and economic realities such as budgets, Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) laws, building restrictions, real estate prices and environmental sustainability. Another influential external factor which drives interior design is technology. The current trend of screens moving from permanent desks to hand-held tablets has for example changed the idea of how a space is planned.

Second, the external aspects for an individual coworker must be considered. These are physical and biological matters like ergonomics, lighting conditions, air quality and temperature. All these factors can be measured and adjusted with scientific means to be optimal for each individual. A simple technological device can for instance today measure whether the noise levels are acceptable at a workstation.

But it’s not only the physical body of the coworker that needs comfort and nurturing. An integral solution would also make sure that a third dimension – each individual staff member’s ‘inner world’, i.e. mind and spirit – is stimulated and developed properly. The mind requires appropriate and inspiring space for thinking and creating in order to thrive. On a spiritual level the individual might have access to private space for deep reflection, prayer and meditation according to their beliefs and needs.

It might be tricky to fulfil the aesthetic needs and wishes for each coworker. Even if there often seems to be consensus around beauty among most interior designers (Eames lounge chair, Herman Miller Aeron etc), this might not reflect each individual’s way of appreciating things. Personalized work spaces within the space, where each individual can choose their own aesthetic might be a solution. 

Lastly, the fourth dimension; culture or the ‘inner world’ of the coworkers must also be taken into consideration. Wise design of communal spaces, areas for socializing, eating and interacting is key to building a great organisational culture and to create a sense of belonging. Conference rooms, break-out rooms, kitchens, and things like table-tennis or pool tables are all important to build a collaborative, thriving culture.

Human development, personality types and different states

A truly integral perspective on creation space design would acknowledge that humans develop through their lifetime. A teenage social media expert who skateboards to the space on Friday afternoons to do Pinterest work is different from a 63-year old accountant who goes to church every Sunday. Both are very different to the entrepreneur who works 80-hour weeks to be able to launch her venture before it’s too late.

They all have different needs, values and ways of seeing the world. The integral coworking space might acknowledge this and aim to accommodate them all. Or not.

People also have different personality types. Many organisations worldwide use the Myers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator (MBTI) for team building and conflict resolution. Types could also be considered when designing a wise space. One of the dichotomies of MBTI is for instance introvert vs. extrovert. An integral space would work both for extroverts (open plan design) and introverts (places where you can close your door). Similarly, the other dimensions of personality types should be considered.

Finally, different states would be respected. States are for example awake, asleep or dreaming but they can also be altered states such as under the influence of alcohol. The integral creation space architect would understand that different people sleep at different hours, and to optimize performance, a coworking space could for instance have beds for quick naps.

So to sum up, a wise space would consider the inner and outer dimensions for both the individuals and the collective of coworkers. It would also acknowledge that humans develop, have different personality types and are at different states.

And yet it feels like I have missed many things.

Some coworking spaces understand the importance of taking an integral perspective when designing and allowing their space to emerge.

It’ll be interesting to see whether traditional organisations will get this as well.


2 thoughts on “How do you design a wise space?

  1. 'm happy to see consideration of personality/personology in the context of organising a makerspace.
    Some people can't create unless they have ownership of part of the real-estate; they need a desk, sometimes with a roll-top and a big combination lock.
    Others only need an old tea chest lid to work on, 24 hour access and to be left the H*ll alone to get their muse off their back. (Will you just shut the H*ll up for a minute — can't you see I'm writing here?!)
    Working across this i/e dichotomy has been one of my lifelong challenges/frustrations. The introverted philosopher trying to piece together small clues to discover a larger truth; the extroverted engineer using a rough guide to what is (or is thought by others to be) to build a teetering structure that achieves a specific task for a budget.
    As Tony would probably underline, things get can get complicated fast. 🙂
    But to take a… er… leaf from complex systems, if they're complex enough they will, themselves strive to come into existence, will fight to be born and when born, will struggle and mutate and learn to play dirty in order to survive and grow.
    It's our job to make sure the resulting growth is or can be made useful to each of us for a time, and not dead-end as a pure parasite or tumor.
    Work from the paradigm of a seed rather than a rosebush that must spring fully-formed into the world.
    Everything doesn't have to be right at the start.
    Not everything needs to be foreseen at the start (nor, of course, can it be).
    Be sensible (in one sense) and flexible.
    Take what you see forming before your eyes and gentry lop off some of the ugly bits to encourage it in the direction you want.
    Take what you see and push it in +ve usefulness direction.
    Be a hacker. 🙂

  2. Good point Russell. Ownership of the space is another factor which plays an important role in development (or emergence) of a great space. And I agree with the seed/rosebush analogy as no one can know what a space will be (the future cannot be predicted). Flexibility and a hacker ethos might be good starting principles. And creative simplicity…

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