Back to basics: what is the intrinsic value of Architecture?

Architecture and interaction. Two terms that are definitely not synonyms. Well, at least they haven’t been in as far as I know. For me personally, they can be nothing but linked. Now more than ever, the future of architecture and design belongs to the brave, to the visionary, to the boundary stretchers. It needs to be taken over by a new breed of change-makers, people who believe that Architecture’s purpose is not to create beautiful sculptures, but rather to create an invigorating context for people to interact on a daily basis. I have never believed the purpose of Architecture to be solely form and aesthetics. I don’t even think that form and function are enough. I believe that Architecture is form, function and – most importantly – flow. While beautiful architecture is necessary, it is not enough. Beauty is essential, but it cannot be the driving purpose.

Architecture is a service, not a product.

purpose of architecture

Have you ever felt uncomfortable in a certain space? Perhaps it was straight-up physical discomfort, but chances are you have also felt emotionally uncomfortable maybe even spiritually so. Perhaps you couldn’t exactly identify what it is that makes you feel that way, but you could definitely recognise a feeling of unease. For some ‘unknown’ reason for you, it just doesn’t feel right. In his foreword to my 2016 book Architecting Interactions, How to Innovate through interactions, Thomas Ermacora, Urbanist, Technologist & Futurist and a dear friend of mine captures ‘that little bit of magic spaces need’ perfectly:

“Imagine you enter a space, it is grey, the surfaces industrial, the ceiling low, the furniture hard, the hallways dark, would you want to stay there and share with others your best? The answer is probably no. We behave contextually. We are gregarious beings. We need an environment to create and bring out the truth in us”.

Thomas Ermacora, Urbanist, Technologist & Futurist in his foreword to Architecting Interactions, 2016

Several studies have shown that the spaces in which we live, work and relax influence not only our productivity but our overall well-being too. “Building design and architecture have been identified as significant factors in the wellness of the people who regularly occupy a building, either as their home or workplace, and if we want to truly embrace our most productive selves, this could be a vital factor,” writes James Hale, writer at Cantifix. So, the question then quickly becomes one of ‘How’. How can we make sure that the space surrounding us improves the quality of the work we do, the quality of the interactions we have with ourselves and others while making us feel better all at the same time? This question is exactly what drove and still drives our vision at AKKA Architects forward. We believe that our scope does not simply entail creating spaces and buildings, but it is really about creating meaningful interactions within those spaces. The conundrum here, of course, is that we can’t necessarily directly ‘create’ interactions, we can only encourage them, foster them, trigger them. The best way to foster interactions is to create the spaces and contexts that are fruitful for interactions to emerge in.

Architecture is for the people using it, not for the architects who designed it.

purpose of architecture

In almost every speech I give, the most recent being at the Recovery Summit organised by the Speakers Associates and the World Workplace Europe 2020 organised by the International Facilities Management Association IFMA, I get asked a simple but fundamental question: “How do you define interactions?”. While the concept is simple, it is not easy. The term Interaction is a wide term and that’s exactly why I use it. With it, I refer to a broad array of dynamics. Interaction basically ‘inter-action’, means the actions happening in between different entities. While the most common interactions are verbal between two or more people, interactions can also be silent, visual, olfactory and they can definitely be individual. While, in the workplace for example, interactions quickly make us think of brainstorms or coffee machine chats, one-person meditating is also a form of interaction. Interactions are at the core of our daily dynamics. Our mood, our physical wellbeing, our emotional and social wellbeing, our quality of life and actually our entire happiness comes down to the quality of our daily interactions. ‘What you do is who you become’ they say. Therefore, focusing on the interactions that the spaces and contexts we spend time in can create, is essential. This is why our entire team at AKKA believes that our responsibility does not end with the bricks and mortar, it does not end with us creating a sculpture to inhabit. Rather, we believe that the value of the architecture we create resides in the quality of the interactions it fosters. The value of something is not what it is, but what it does.

Recently, and obviously exacerbated but the global pandemic we all know too well, it has become clearer than ever that human interactions are at the heart of our daily lives, for better, for worse, in sickness and in health – literally. It has also become obvious how physical space can help or hinder our social interactions and with them our sickness and our health. As an architect, I take this renewed realisation very seriously. While my team and I have never believed the purpose of Architecture to be solely formed, function and aesthetics, we gain a new perspective from recent events. The purpose of Architecture is to create contexts that foster interactions. So, now more than ever, we call upon all our fellow architects and designers to rethink the purpose of Architecture.

At AKKA, we believe that space is a strategic tool that can foster interactions, and any added value or innovation, small or large, starts with interactions. Interactions are the seeds of innovation. At the intersection of the main forms of interaction creativity, collaboration and learning added value emerges. Are you interested in learning about our vision at AKKA and how it can support your workplace design? Download here the excerpt of the book The Power of Interactions.

Align and Engage your entire workforce to achieve massive growth in your Organisation.

How do we redesign a workplace focused on the three dimensions of well-being?

Are you asking yourself ‘How do we go back to normal?” or are you wondering ‘What new ‘normal’, better ‘normal’ can we create from here on?”

There is a major difference between those two questions. Thinking about the current situation as a deviation from the status quo and striving to establish the status-quo back is worlds apart from considering the silver lining and the opportunity in this situation to create a better reality and a better future. As I mentioned to Dr Steven MacGregor, Global expert in workplace health, well-being and performance, during our conversation on his podcast The Well-being Officer, I am very much in favour of the second perspective.

How do we create workplaces in times of Covid-19 that ensure the three-dimensional well-being of our workforce?

There are three timelines to consider: before COVID-19, during COVID-19 and after COVID-19. And besides the obvious question of health, i.e. physical health, we also need to consider mental health. Well-being has three dimensions: physical well-being, mental well-being and social well-being. And since prevention is better than cure, we should really start asking a more holistic question: How do we create workplaces in times of Covid-19 that ensure the three-dimensional well-being of our workforce?

People’s emotional and social well-being is extremely important. In fact, there is plenty of research that proves that mental, emotional and social well-being boost people’s physical health and even leads to success1. And it goes without saying that the health and success of your employees, is crucial for the success of your entire organisation and everyone in it.

Since Covid-19 has forced all of us to stop and redesign our lives and everyday interactions, Workplace Professionals too, find themselves at a crossroads: what is the workplace of today and tomorrow? what does it look like? how does it function? what is it supposed to be real?

Well-being starts with a conversation

Successfully answering these questions, in a way that ensures the well-being of your workforce, can only mean one thing: engaging your employees in the process. Not only is the result of these questions (i.e. the new workplace) responsible to ensure people’s physical, emotional and social well-being, the process of exploring these questions needs to do so as well. The well-being of your workforce starts by being involved and consulted in the process of creating their new workplace and their new ways of working. Their well-being really starts with a conversation with them. As Dr MacGregor stated in our podcast conversation, a lot of the value that workplace professionals can get from any creative or design-led process comes from involving the users in inventorying their needs and generating ideas that aim to satisfy their needs. So, we are talking here about nothing less than empowerment.

The trilogy of (work)-places

Of course, there is also a pragmatic side to this process of engagement. As I explain in previous articles here and here, ‘The workplace’ is not restricted to the office anymore. The workplace is now a combination of the office, people’s homes and potentially third places as well. So, if a Workplace Professional is to optimise the workplace, he/she is to look at the trilogy of places: the office, the home and the 3rd place. And how is a Workplace Professional meant to help people with their homes without the input of those very people? No one knows the home situation of every person better than the person themselves and trying to optimise working from home without people’s inputs is futile.

What is the workplace of today and tomorrow? What does it look like? How does it function? What is it supposed to be real?

Working from home isn’t one size fits all

Keep in mind though, that the ‘future of work’ is imminent and may not be as long term as you would imagine or hope. As the Covid-19 situation develops, as people’s situations change, the ‘best bits’ will change as well. The focus is not on the answer (of how we need to work today, tomorrow, next week) but rather on the question; how do we figure out what is the best way to work with our physical as well as mental, emotional and social well-being in mind?

An HR manager, a Facility Manager, or any role you may hold as a Workplace Professional, your responsibility is not to find the answers, but rather to facilitate the process for people to find their answers, today and again tomorrow and again next week. Your most powerful tool is the engagement process you can put in place for your teams, a process that can ensure you ask the right questions, together, every time.

The true power of a participatory process – the way we do it at AKKA and advise our clients to do it – comes when it is done iteratively. The process needs to be designed as an iterative process from the get-go, one that is designed to be repeated and adapted, for a continuous learning by doing journey. This is extremely important in relation to Covid-19 and how we are responding to the pandemic now.

While we might be calling our present time ‘post-pandemic’, we do need to be careful. There are many sources that point to the possibility of a second and third waves. Our current post-pandemic period could quickly become a pre-pandemic period, to another wave of infections. This means that even when we successfully engage our workforce to create the ideal workplace in times of Covid-19, the definition of that ideal will need to change as circumstances change. As the situation evolves, Workplace professionals and all employees, have to be ready to quickly convene and design the next generation of the Covid-19 workplace.

Are you interested in redesigning your new workplace in order to enhance your employee’s well-being? Are you looking for practical ways to engage them in the process? Not sure where to start? Over the years, we have developed a 4 phased process to engage just about any group of people, around just about any set of questions. Download here our proprietary step by step process to engage your people in redesigning the workplace of tomorrow.

Your guide to aligning and engaging your entire workforce around any transformation.

This week join our CEO Stephanie Akkaoui Hughes in the conversation with Dr. Steven MacGregor on his podcast Chief Wellbeing Officer.

In this conversation, Stephanie Akkaoui Hughes discusses with Dr. Steven MacGregor our progressive view of architecture and the need for participatory design to customise workspaces that keep us safe and help drive trust and performance.

How do we improve human interactions to recover in our work, our organisations and our society?

When I speak at conferences and summits – digitally nowadays of course – I often ask the audience this question: “Imagine you have in your hands a group of pillows that you need to get to the other side of the room without walking there, without moving. What would you do?” Most people often say “Throw them across the room”, which is perfectly feasible. Then I ask “Imagine now that instead of pillows, you have in your hands a group of birds, how would you get the birds across the room without moving?” The sensible answer here would not be ‘throw them across the room’, because the birds will fly in all different directions. Instead, you might think of throwing food and encouraging the birds to follow.

For more stories, metaphor and examples about facilitating leadership download your free copy of The Power of Interactions.

Leadership is about facilitating interactions.

To lead or not to lead

Leadership is not directing, forcing or dictating. Leadership is instead guiding, encouraging, facilitating1. Facilitating is simply just about creating the right contexts that encourage the fruitful interactions you are looking for. Leadership is about facilitating interactions. In fact, as Tom Smith states “Leadership is the ability to facilitate movement in the needed direction and have people feel good about it.2

"Leadership is the ability to facilitate movement in the needed direction and have people feel good about it."

Shifting from dictating to facilitating is a mind-shift. In order to be the leaders that facilitate, we need to embrace a whole new mindset. The question then is how can we facilitate and improve human interactions? In fact, before we facilitate them, how do we define improving human interactions? Think of every organisation as a community, companies are communities of people. Improving interactions then has to start with how we define interactions. ‘Interactions’ is a broad term that englobes a number of different dynamics happening with one person or between people. So it is important to define what interactions mean to a certain community within an organization. We need to start by actually defining what interactions mean to that community and moreover what good, positive and fruitful interactions would mean.

While this is an important exercise to go through in an organisation, the real essence is not in the interactions themselves but rather in the value that the interactions create. It would be a missed opportunity to define interactions in terms of nouns, in terms of what they are. Instead, we need to try and define interactions in terms of what they can create for the different people involved.

Companies are communities.

To lead alongside Covid-19

What we went through over the last 4 to 6 months across the globe, has been … ‘interesting’, to say the least. A lot has been said about the different aspects of Covid-19, the lockdown and working from home. What I want to highlight here is one specific aspect: extremes. Consider this; a few weeks to months into the lockdown, we couldn’t wait to get back to the office, children started begging to go back to school. While it may sound funny and unheard of, this is typical of an extreme situation. While before, we may have longed to work leisurely from home and kids may have begged not to go to school some mornings, we now couldn’t wait to go back. You can have too much of a good thing. This is because it’s all about extremes and people eventually crave balance.

Considering the wide range of personality types, behavioural tendencies, ages, cultures and all diverse aspects in an organisation, ‘balance’ is not a one answer fits all. So what is a leader to do? In the spirit of facilitating, we need to shift from trying to accommodate and cater for all different types of people, to instead try to create the context around them and for them. One thing we can learn from the pandemic lockdown is that people adapt. We were forced into new situations – such as working from home full time for a lot of us. However, as the lockdown eases, we are less forced and more able to choose. The extreme situation that was forced upon us is now a choice we can make if it suits us. Our spectrum of possibilities is expanded. As business leaders, you have an opportunity to trust the ability of your employees to make the choices that will suit them. Your role then will need to focus on ensuring that the individual choices do not create drawbacks and risks for others. While you can trust that most employees will make their own choices and choose what’s best for their productivity and well-being, the most important thing will be to ensure that the individual choices also work for the team and the organisation as a whole.

Making sure the choices that are best for each individual in your organisation also work well for the team as a whole is important. This is focused on the ways or working of your workforce. And while it is a good place to start, it is important to remember the other less obvious aspects of going back to work after the lockdown. Among those are the question around meaning and the one around mental health and well-being. The question about meaning has been triggered by the sudden all-important question we were all faced with “am I in an essential profession” or the more likely realisation that we are not. This is an important question to discuss with employees and reframe to find the meaning and purpose of every profession. The question about mental wellbeing and health is one that we need to anticipate. The question is what are the consequences of all the physical distancing measures – that we need in our workplaces to protect our physical health -, on our mental health?

Are you wondering what’s next for your workplace and employees? Are you struggling to get your employees back to work and boost their interactions and well-being in these difficult times? Check here how we have been helping organisations worldwide transition to the new normal.

Do you have a question about your workplace? Request your FREE PERSONAL ADVICE now, by asking our very own CEO your most burning question. Fill in the form below with your question and Stephanie will get back to you with her thoughts.

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This week, we have rounded up some of the most pertinent questions we have received from you: our clients, partners and community. In this article, AKKA Architect’s CEO, Stephanie Akkaoui Hughes answers some of your most pertinent questions!

If you have a question you would like answered, ask it here.

Question: Early 2020, you – at AKKA Architects – published a report highlighting the imminent trends that were to affect Human Resources and the world of work in 2020 and beyond. With the Covid-19 pandemic, how have these trends changed?

Early 2020, we indeed issued a report entitled “HUMAN RESOURCES TRENDS 2020 & BEYOND: The top 6 imminent trends of 2020 & beyond”. In it, we highlighted the 6 imminent trends that we saw affecting the world of work and Human Resources (HR) for the year, with an eye on the following few years too. The six trends are: Technology, Generational Changes, Appreciation of Complexity, Inclusive Leadership and Professional Development, Employee Branding and Global Recruitment and Establishing Work-Life Balance as the Norm. Over the last two weeks, we looked at the first four trends, Technology, Generational Changes, Appreciation of Complexity and Inclusive Leadership & Professional Development. This week, we dive into the third and last pair.

Trend #5: Employee Branding and Global Recruitment

“In order to attract the best talent and retain them in the organization; the organization is looking for ways to keep their employees motivated by taking stock of their employer’s brand. These are qualities and attributes that set the employers aside from others. Through this, the company is focusing on various attributes that include being committed to corporate social responsibility as well as offering flexible work programs and attractive benefits. Those are other have played a critical role in enhancing the company’s value proposition and thus, attracting and retaining talented employees.”

RESOURCES TRENDS 2020 & BEYOND: The top 6 imminent trends of 2020 & beyond, AKKA Architects, 2020.                   

Organisations across the world are realising that their employees are their biggest asset. They also realise, now more than ever, that their people’s well-being is the starting point of their performance and the entire company’s bottom line. Covid-19 has placed the spotlight on people’s health. The recent wave of infections made it very clear that the well-being of employees, starting with their physical health, is essential for the company’s survival, let alone success. As health and wellbeing take centre stage in employers’ brands, global recruitment is likely to heavily depend on the attention given to employees’ physical health, and moreover psychological, emotional and social well-being. So, in these times more than ever before, you as a Workplace Professional need to support the multi-dimensional well-being of your employees. To find out how you can nurture their psychological wellbeing, support their emotional wellbeing and cultivate their social wellbeing, refer to this previous blog exploring this very question.

Trend #6: Establishing Work-Life Balance as the Norm

“Due to overall tougher economic times, people are working more in this decade than ever before. This has caused friction to develop between work life and personal life and consequently, a considerable number of employees are reporting burnouts across the western world.”

RESOURCES TRENDS 2020 & BEYOND: The top 6 imminent trends of 2020 & beyond, AKKA Architects, 2020.

The world of work and the workplace have been going through quite an evolution over the last few decades. We have definitely been enjoying more flexibility at work than previous generations, however in the grand scheme of things, this flexibility was still within a limited spectrum, until Covid-19 hit. Working from home 5 days a week for example, was never an option pre-Corona. When Covid-19 hit, we found ourselves forced in an extreme situation where (almost) everyone started working from home (almost) all the time. While, this situation did not offer much choice either, it did expand the spectrum of possibilities. As we go back to a more relaxed and balanced day to day, we have an opportunity to find a new balance between life and work, one that we may have never dreamed of or even believed possible before this pandemic. Establishing work-life balance as the norm has never been more relevant and more possible than with the new experiences and the new perspectives that we have gained from an otherwise tragic situation. As an HR manager, a Facilities Management professional, a Corporate Real Estate Manager or any Workplace professional, this could be a priceless opportunity to study the learnings from this crisis and hopefully expand the possibilities and options available to your workforce. To find out more about how you can consider doing that, read this recent blog post.

Employee Branding & Global Recruitment and Establishing Work-Life Balance as the Norm are the third and last two of six imminent trends that are set to shape HR this year and for the next few years. With the Covid-19 pandemic sweeping the world for over 6 months now, those trends have been affected themselves and will therefore affect HR and our organisations at large differently now than they might have before the pandemic was a reality. While the way these trends may affect the practice of HR in all organisations will be different as the pandemic – and other global events – develop, the seed of these trends and the principle of these trends will always be relevant, it may just be strengthened or weakened by the different dynamics happening around the world. Indeed, we, as Workplace Professionals, are better off not trying to recreate the old normal, but rather striving to create a new normal, that improves on our past and present and aims at creating a better future.

To find out what are the latest trends now and beyond 2020, download here Human Resources Trends report, which contains the top 6 imminent trends of 2020 and beyond.

Explore the latest trends and how they impact HR.

Do you have a question about your workplace? Request your FREE PERSONAL ADVICE now, by asking our very own CEO your most burning question. Fill in the form below with your question and Stephanie will get back to you with her thoughts.
 
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“We would like to express our gratitude for the time you invested in helping us get to a clear picture.  Anna and I really appreciated the call we had with you, your responsiveness, and the great empathy that you exhibited throughout – we certainly felt very “well taken care of” when engaging with you.  On the practical side, we especially appreciated that there was the option to obtain robust bottom-up cost estimates for the construction itself (not every design architect offers this).”

-Private Client of AKKA

 

 

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