Bashing the open office is all the rage these days, with everyone complaining in comments that "coders and people with high-focus jobs should have their own space." I always considered architecture a high focus job and never saw an architects office that wasn't open. But I have never seen one as big and open as the new offices of KieranTimberlake, the talented Philadelphia firm that is now building the controversial American Embassy in London and also designed one of my favorite houses ever.
Now they have moved into new offices that they converted from a former brewery bottling house. Witold Rybcznski visits it for Architect magazine and is is impressed.
No partitions or cubicles interrupt the sea of work tables, and the initial impression is of a Bloombergian bullpen, the sort of open office embraced by Silicon Valley firms such as Facebook, Google, and Yahoo. This impression is misleading. For one thing, the layout is not static. “Everything is movable,” says Kieran.
All those metal rolling desks, hard surfaces, clattering keyboards, you would think it would be noisy. Rybcznski says it's not;
The 30-foot-tall space is exceptionally quiet, and its sheer volume appears to absorb sound, so that the background noise of multiple conversations rarely rises above a murmur. “It produces a church-like atmosphere,” says Kieran. “You tend not to raise your voice. Sometimes I wish someone would occasionally shout out.”
Come summer, it may also be smelly; there is no air conditioning. Instead they rely on older tech such as opening windows, high ceilings with opening monitor windows on top, exhaust fans and "supplying night-cooled air via the floor plenum." Fortunately the dress code allows for shorts.
It's all a grand experiment, which will be closely monitored using hundreds of wireless sensors measuring temperature and humidity, collecting data so that they can tune the building. Rybcznski concludes:
James Timberlake has described the firm’s new home as “the model of a 21st-century office space.” This is not hyperbole. However much LEED ratings are touted, the most effective way to reduce carbon emissions is not by building new buildings—no matter how energy-efficient—but by repurposing old ones instead. And real energy conservation, as opposed to greenwashing, requires more than fancy gadgets. It requires actual data on how buildings function environmentally and, equally important, real-life data on how their occupants behave: opening and closing windows, turning lights on and off, or even wearing shorts.
I am totally in agreement with the intent, but the photograph still looks jarring. I think photographer Jason Fulford has used a long lens to foreshorten it a bit and make it look more crowded than it is. Witold Rybczynski describes this all as a "daring experiment." What do you think?