Re-educating ourselves about space for staff

The interior design of office space within educational buildings is starting to become more innovative. Joel Barker, designer at Hunter Patel Creative Group, argues that architects, schools, colleges and universities increasingly need to be imaginative when it comes to creating staff areas.

Office space design for educational buildings is undergoing a revolution. As the way we work becomes more mobile and our ‘paperwork’ paper-less, the practical ergonomics are becoming less important and instead the psychology behind the design is considered.
With the practicalities that have previously hindered creativity gone, isn’t it time we started to inject some much needed innovation into the design of educational office spaces? Gone is the need for floor to ceiling filing cabinets or designated desk spaces with furniture acquired from the classroom or surplus stock, and instead carefully planned, multifunctional areas are home to bright, comfortable furnishings that aim to encourage creativity and dispel any hierarchical formalities.
The overall concept can be thought of as a non-uniform day; it’s designed to make you feel less like you’re at school, and more like you’ve entered into an informal, relaxed space that is designed to put you at ease and, in turn, stimulate productivity and conserve morale. The area should take inspiration from its own design brief, rather than take elements from educational areas; there’s no room for orange plastic chairs or laminated chipboard tables.
I recently saw a great design feature, which used swings around the conference table and in our own design of ‘The Hive’, the student union offices at Plymouth University, we installed seating pods to replace the traditional meeting space and used artificial grass as the flooring finish. These elements mirror the psychological shift from the formal office space to a comfortable, fun working environment.
As designers, we are no longer hampered by practicality or conservative ideals, and we need to alter our perception of what is needed from a work space. Over the last five years, the wide use of laptops, iPads, and other portable devices mean people are no longer attached to their desk space, allowing us to stretch our creative muscle and develop ways of using the space in a different, more radical way.
Google was one of the first companies to start the revolt against conventional office design, and the use of colourful finishes and pockets of comfy relaxation areas has certainly had an influence on our own designs. The welfare and morale of the workforce is now being considered, with climate control settings and bags of natural light, and design is more aesthetically driven. This mentality is starting to infiltrate into mainstream workplaces, and universities are perhaps the ideal champions for the education sector. Their staff are often made up of students, who challenge traditions and have a modern work ethic that promotes enjoyment and creativity at work, and they have more freedom over their budget, whereas schools are advised by their Local Education Authorities. However, it will only be a matter of time before modern office design techniques, which have proven to improve productivity and staff retention, infiltrate through to schools and colleges.
The response to the forward-thinking finish may divide opinion, but design is subjective, so it should encourage debate and create conversation. Once the dust has settled and normal service resumes, the impact of the design concept should reflect on the overall efficiency and wellbeing of the workforce, something that interior design has been allowed to have little impact on in the past.