As the way we work begins to shift, with increased mobility and a greater emphasis on collaboration, there is also a trend for more public spaces within our workplaces. As described by Kristian Kloeckl and Bryan Shiles in their thought-provoking presentation “The Future of Where We Work” at Design Museum Mornings a few weeks ago, this isn’t just a desire for open collaborative spaces within the firm or company, but a desire for workplaces that engage with the wider ranging public. This research is echoed in a recent paper issued by the Brookings Institution’s Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Initiative on Innovation and Placemaking entitled “Innovation Spaces: The New Design of Work”. The authors Julie Wagner and Dan Watch cite that “the imperative for face-to-face communication is no longer an isolated act deep inside buildings. As firms and disciplines converge, public spaces are now an important locus for people to mix and mingle… Today, a growing number of architects are viewing public spaces as a means to breed innovation.” A natural place to look for such public spaces is through a re-envisioning of the architecture and programming of the ground floor of various office, incubator, and co-working buildings.
Looking at this from the other side of the coin, this approach becomes an exciting opportunity for public spaces in our cities. In places like Boston, with its long inclement winters, having a series of such interior spaces would expand the city’s public open space that is accessible all year long. Examples of such programs can be found in other cities like San Francisco’s POPOS (privately-owned public open spaces) where the planning code requires developments in the downtown commercial districts to provide publicly accessible “open space in sufficient quantity and variety to meet the needs of downtown workers, residents and visitors”. Closer to home, the Bolling Municipal Building in Dudley Square, with its publicly accessible ground floor that offers café seating and gathering areas in an open two-story space flanked by eateries and other retail, is a wonderful precedent for such interior public gathering spaces. In Boston’s downtown district, the lobby at Atlantic Wharf 290 Congress Street provides another example by housing rotating art exhibits programmed by the Fort Point Arts Community as well as offering space reservable by outside groups for public events and performances. With such additions to the open space typology, one begins to envision a Nolli map of Boston and a series of exterior and interior spaces creating our public gathering spaces.
This new trend in working, with its increased desire for public spaces, holds an exciting and productive synergy between our public institutions and our private workplaces and the potential to create an expanded ecology of public spaces within our city.