by Sam Sudy - Designer at Propel Studio - 02.03.2015The architecture world is a savage beast. Pressures to find that next job, paying for the latest software updates, or design deadlines are only surpassed by the struggle of finding that unicorn of a “work-life balance.” It’s no wonder that the environment in which we work can be swept under the rug as a matter not pressing enough to be dealt with. How ironic, considering the importance of context and environment is one of the driving factors in architectural design. Although it is brief, the following is an attempt at scratching the surface of rediscovering architecture for architects.
The MonitorLess is not more
Architects love their pencils, pens, markers. Sadly, as the era of hand-drafting is retiring, computer modeling has refocused our attention towards our screens instead of our paper. With the monitor, came the dual-screen, and with that came the double monitor. Now, the new trend has emerged as the ultra-wide screen. It’s little wonder why two screens might be better than one. With more screen realty comes the less scrolling and zooming, multi-window options and ultimately higher productivity. What the ultra-wide screen brings to the table, however, is more than aesthetic appeal and simplicity. Say goodbye to the two monitor frames breaking up your view; and, yes there is more counter space with only one monitor stand instead of two. But, where ultra-wide screens thrive is in their ability to offer more flexibility and productivity. Not only do they offer the same benefits as the double monitors, with less scrolling and zooming; but, now resizing your windows to fit either screen is no longer necessary. One larger screen can be divided into thirds instead of just halves and quarters. Revit, arguably the most important and popular architecture software today, does not play nice across two screens. With that being said, Revit can easily and begs to fill up one large wide screen, allowing the model windows to get bigger and the extra width for accommodating properties panels, etc. Although some might argue that more screen can mean more distraction in a profession that does a lot of zooming and panning, bigger is better .
With that being said, there are a lot of options out there. Even as I type this, there might be a new ultra-wide monitor coming out, hopefully from Apple. For now, the best seems to be the LG 34UC97 34” Ultra-wide . Some might take their first look at this monitor and think, Really? A curved screen? What a pointless gimmick. I was a skeptic myself until I looked more into it. Although some people might argue its value, there is evidence that a curved screen, used by an individual and not shared by an audience, allows the viewers eyes to remain closer to the same distance from all surfaces of the screen. For example, if the same monitor were flat, there could be a 25% change in distance from the monitor’s surface to the user’s eyes. Why does it matter? Distance equals distortion. In a similar way to an IMAX movie, a curved screen will provide a more natural and undistorted viewing experience, potentially even alleviating neck and eye strain.
How does the LG Ultra-wide 34” compare to the ever popular and sleek iMac 27”, one of my office’s favorites? First, either would be a winner in my book. They are both clean in appearance and large in performance. Although the resolution quality of the iMac is higher, the LG makes up for it in size, having the same pixels in height, but even more in width than the iMac . Because the iMac is a computer and monitor in one, it is an appealing option for an office environment. But, where the LG excels is in its flexibility with the option of connecting to a portable laptop. Price-wise, an LG 34” ($1000 ) paired with a decent laptop (~$1000) is comparable to the iMac 27” ($1800 ). For $200 more, the flexibility of being able to take work wherever you want seems like a small price to pay.
- LG 34UC97 34" Ultra-wide Monitor + Laptop (we prefer Macbook Pros) - $1000 each 
- iMac 27" w/ Retina Display (monitor and computer in one, however it lacks mobility) - $1800 
The DeskTo each her own
Until everything is virtual and in the cloud, a desk does not work for an architect unless it has enough space to easily manage a 24”x36” or larger construction document set. Assuming you need additional space for your computer accessories, that means most desks are going to be following the same guidelines as monitor screens, more is more. That is, as long as everything you need most often is within arm’s reach it will work. L-shaped desks are also very convenient in that offer for usable space within arm’s reach. Other than size, the height of a desk is also an important factor for productivity and user comfort. Some are sitting, some are standing, others are over-achievers and can be adjusted to suit. Tall or short, it should fit the user, or be adjusted to do so. After that, it’s whatever strikes your fancy — just make sure it looks good.
- Stilvoll's Crescendo C2 Maximus (it's sexy and an over-achiever) - $Unknown 
- Bekant Corner Standing Desk by IKEA - $659 
- Tone Corner Base Desk by Knoll - $3705 
- Envelop Desk by Herman Miller - $1274 
- Renew Sit-To-Stand Desk by Herman Miller - $1499 
The Chair Shake your money maker
Similarly to the desk, a chair is an individual choice, but should be fit and adjusted to the user, with respect to the desired desk height. A properly adjusted chair is not only comfortable, it prevents fatigue and promotes good posture. But, a straight back is more than what we are after here. There is a strong link between posture and the human psyche. Slumping has been statistically linked to sadness; those that have good posture tend to be happier, as well as more confident and content at work . Other than correcting adjustments, what most office chairs seem to be missing a majority of the time is movement. Studies have shown that sitting still for upwards of eight hours a day has a detrimental impact on our health, energy, and even our productivity . Seats that offer a flexible range of seating options are also good promoters of switching it up and moving around. Chairs that not only support the body, but encourage movement will make us better for our own sake and for the sake of our work - if you’re your own boss, then this is a win-win.
- Aeron Chair by Herman Miller - $555 
- Generation Chair by Knoll - $499 
- Capisco Chair by HAG (saddled for the Equestrian) - $856 
- Activ Chair by Varier(amorphous for the Hipster) - $795 
- Balans Kneeling Chair by Varier (rocking for the Led Zeppelin) - $425 
- Move Stool by Varier (minimalist for the Mies van der Roh) - $520 
The Accessories It’s the little things
Wrist rests are often incorporated into the office setting because of wrist related and carpal tunnel issues. However, some studies suggest that wrist rests are only a bandaid for the problem, and can even make matters worse . Wrist strain seems to to stem from poorly adjusted desk heights, not solid versus soft surfaces. Of course, if the desk height is correct and wrist problems persist, a wrist rest might be the resulting option.
Selecting a mouse that feels right can also aid in preventing wrist strain. However, it is interesting to note, in a profession that got its start with pen and paper that the architecture industry has not switched to a pen and graphics tablet in lieu of a mouse. Not only does working with a pen more natural feeling, and thus more comfortable, but it also offers the user more control . As our profession turns more and more digital, mastering a pen and tablet could eventually lead to an easier transition from paper to digital sketching as well.
Good lighting can help the fight against eye strain and also increase productivity. LED and full-spectrum light bulbs have been proven to be more pleasing and can even combat the negative psychological effects of being in darker spaces, especially during the winter months.
Foot rests and floor mats are great options depending on desk selected. If desks are higher or even at standing height, foot rests can help align the user’s legs correctly with the floor and floor mats can help with fatigue while adjusting to a standing height desk.
Screens or desk dividers can provide privacy and functionality in an open floor plan office layout. As is mentioned more in the next section, an wide and expansive office layout is not conducive to productivity and comfortability for everyone. Desk screens are a great option that do not stifle the creative and collaborative benefits of an open office. They also offer, depending on the material: magnetic, tackable, dry-erase, space to pin up business tasks and personal items that can make a space feel more personal. Most manufacturers carry module designs that can fit a variety of desks, like LOFTwall .
- Intuos Pro Pen & Touch Tablet by Wacom - $230 
- VX Nano Mouse by Logitech - $124 
- Flute Personal Light by Herman Miller - $259 
- Copeland Light by Knoll - $209 
- Humanscale Foot Machine by STI - $99 
- Topo Standing Desk Mat by Ergo Depot- $119 
- Desk Dividers by LOFTwall - $varies 
- BuzziWings by BuzziSpace - $varies 
The EnvironmentOptions over form + function
With the plethora of introvert and extrovert personality traits out there, it is impossible to design one space that will be the perfect fit for everyone. Yes the open-floor layout is trending right now because of its presumed creative and collaborative benefits. However, there is a reason why the cubicle or closed-office layout still exists. Sometimes space and openness can lead to distractions and a lack of focus. The best environment is therefore the one with the most options. If there is an open-floor layout, then provide smaller nooks or enclosed work spaces that can be utilized when workers are feeling more private or need to focus. If there is a cubicle or closed-office layout, then make sure to provide comfortable lounges or communal spaces that allow for co-mingling and socialization during breaks.
Light is another rising star in office importance. Natural light is always a plus, but too much leads to glare and makes for a fairly hard to read screen, especially if monitors are the modern glossy type. Dark spaces are also depressing, stale, and spells nap-time. An ideal balance would be to have soft indirect natural light, accomplished with window orientation or soft window shades, as well as interior artificial light, mixed with brighter task lights that can be turned on or off based on user preferences.
(Extra tip: Plants help reflect light throughout spaces and can liven-up even seemingly hopeless spaces. They also contribute to good indoor air quality and other health benefits.)
- Weiden + Kennedy Headquarters designed by WORKac
- Biodiversity Lab designed by TEN Arquitectos
- Phone Booth sold by Docklands
- http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/20/technology/personaltech/surviving-and-thriving-in-a-one-monitor-world .html?_r=0
- http://www.allsteeloffice.com/SynergyDocuments/Allsteel_ ErgonomicsMovementInTheWorkplace.pdf
- 13. http://www.madisonseating.com/aeron-chair-by-herman-miller-loaded-lumbar-carbon.html?gclid=CMCk-sDakc oCFYU9aQodyCsFqw
- http://store.hermanmiller.com/store/servlet/dynamicKit__10151_-1_10051_1755?adpos=1o2&creative= 40756415617&device=c&matchtype=&network=g&gclid=CKHSs5DakcoCFYMDaQodC4IP-g
- http://backcarebasics.com/products/varier-active-multi-purpose-office-chair?utm_medium=cpc&utm_source= googlepla&variant=376326903&gclid=CI70uqzckcoCFUiBfgodb-0Isw
- http://www.thehumansolution.com/varier-move-standing-stool.html?gdftrk=gdfV2929_a_7c132_a_7c5187_a_ 7cVAR953&gclid=CJPf1dTckcoCFY17fgod4yUIGQ
- http://www.buydig.com/shop/product.aspx?sku=WCPTH451&ref=PLA&omid=103&utm_source=GooglePLA& utm_medium=CSE&utm_item=WCPTH451&CAWELAID=230005120000252100&catargetid=23000512000078998 0&cadevice=c&gclid=CKXR_enjkcoCFVBlfgodF6kGdQ
- http://www.bonanza.com/listings/New-Logitech-VX-Nano-Wireless-Laser-Mouse-USB-Reciever-for-Notebooks /310870753?gpid=68416460341&gpkwd=&goog_pla=1&gclid=CPyo2rTRm8oCFcZbfgod1OEAuA
- http://store.hermanmiller.com/store/servlet/dynamicKit__10151_-1_10051_1755?adpos=1o2&creative=407564 15617&device=c&matchtype=&network=g&gclid=CKHSs5DakcoCFYMDaQodC4IP-g
- http://www.stiusainc.com/miva/merchant.mvc?Screen=PROD&Product_Code=FM300&Category_Code=Human scale-Foot-Rests&Store_Code=S&gclid=CLn6_oPnkcoCFQuLaQod5BsEig