brainybirdz co-founder Ros Pomeroy reflects on her recent build project in Sri Lanka and on the lessons this throws up for workplace design.
I am fortunate. I know that. I co-own a 5 acre tea estate in Sri Lanka. I have fallen in love with the country; the country where my husband was born. I spent most of this August there. Lucky indeed.
Luckier still to be able to embark on a new build project on the estate and engage the massively talented Sri Lankan architect, Channa Daswatte, who like me is a graduate of the architectural studies masters degree at The Bartlett at UCL that taught me the science of ‘connectivity’.
This is the deal. The design of the new pavilion more than met the brief for the accommodation we wanted – an additional two bedrooms and an air-conditioned lounge area that allowed us a view through the trees and over the tea bushes. There was already an attractive old style, spacious, three bedroomed house with adjoining swimming pool, so wasn’t there a risk that an annexe elsewhere on the estate would go largely unused, especially if there weren’t enough people staying to fill the extra bedrooms? How could we make sure this wouldn’t happen? It was the choice of location within the estate that determined that an conspicuously beautiful building was also going to be a destination in its own right.
Our original estate layout felt wrong. There was a part of it that nobody bothered to go to and in some places there were some very convoluted routes to get anywhere. When I mapped the paths around the estate in what is known as an axial line map (using space syntax methodology) and ran a connectivity analysis in the software tool developed at UCL, DepthMapX, it was obvious what was happening.
There was a clear point of disconnect in the way the paths were laid out or what technically we would call the ‘system of potential movement’. There was a path from the house that just ended and it was a clamber from there through the tea bushes to get to the next nearest path. It was a path to nowhere.
Additionally, there was a destination – a viewing platform – that people should have wanted to go to (marked at the bottom of the PRE map shown), but it was a long way round to get there and the analysis of the plan shows why. The colour scale shows the degree of integration of the system and its individual parts. The warmer the colours (orange and red) the more integrated the route and academic research shows that, all other things being equal, the busier the route will be. Conversely the blue and green routes are going to be naturally quiet. The viewing platform was on the end of a blue route.
The great thing about DepthMapX is that it is possible to model modifications to a movement system and predict what will happen in terms of integration. The second map (POST) shows the additional routes we created and what difference these made to the overall movement system. Average integration of the whole system went up by 44%, the existing viewing platform became much more connected and crucially the most integrated route shifted from across the front of the house to the new route which became the route in front of the lower ground floor of the new building. This means that getting around the estate routinely means passing by the pavilion. The whole balance has changed. The swimming pool is now situated in a relatively much more segregated area which works better for us. This is the power of paying attention to movement routes first.
Lovely though it is to be able to write about a build project in Sri Lanka, that means a lot to me for many personal reasons, there is a serious point to be made here and it does relate to office design. As we at brainybirdz have banged on about many times before, in workplace design, the configuration of the building makes a massive difference to how it will be used. The connections that are possible within floors and between floors as well as the shape of the floorplates will influence movement patterns and therefore utilisation as much if not more than the choice of work settings deployed. We normally use a technique known as visibility graph analysis, again using DepthMapX, when it comes to buildings (we recently wrote another blog about this), but it is also possible to use axial lines just as successfully and sometimes even more so. The trick is to create a connected workplace that you understand how it will function and only then think about what accommodation to place where. I even worked on a workplace project once where there was a swimming pool, so using a holiday villa in Sri Lanka as an illustration of good workplace design may not be as far-fetched as you first thought 😉