Beyond the Five-Foot Grid: Age-Neutral Design in the 21st-Century Workplace

Susan S. Szenasy leads a panel discussion on the challenges and benefits of creating age-neutral office spaces for today’s employees.

Gabrielle Rubin Deveaux from Buzzfeed, pictured above at the Buzzfeed offices, explains that research indicates employees are looking for variety and choice in the workplace setting.

Photo Credit Buzzfeed New York

On June 23, Metropolis publisher and editor in chief Susan S. Szenasy moderated State of Design: Where We Work, a panel discussion hosted by Meadows Office Interiors in their Manhattan showroom. The panel featured Tom Krizmanic, principal of STUDIOS Architecture; Simon Speak, business development director of Haworth, Inc.; and Gabrielle Rubin Deveaux, senior director of real estate at BuzzFeed. The group discussed the challenges and benefits of creating age-neutral office spaces for today’s employees.

The group acknowledged that some older workers are resistant to drastic changes in the traditional work environment: the key is to try and balance individual concerns with the needs of the business. Said Krizmanic, “You look at the decisions through the lens of what the organization is trying to do so that everybody, from the youngest person to the oldest person, should be on board with that, and then peel off the slight variations that may make the acceptance of the design more palatable.”

Deveaux noted that it is important to keep corporate identity at the forefront. As she explained, “At some point it’s about the brand. We don’t care what age you are. The majority of our employees are in their twenties, but we definitely have people up into their sixties. But everybody has the same understanding that this is our brand, and our space kind of matches that.”

Speak described gathering data as a starting point, noting, “Research informs our product development. The research was suggesting that people didn’t want to just stay in a cube all day long. They were looking for variety and choice, and technology was allowing people to be more mobile and choose where to work.”

The panel of publisher and editor in chief Susan S. Szenasy, Gabrielle Rubin Deveaux from Buzzfeed, Simon Speak from Haworth Inc., and Tom Krizmanic from STUDIOS Architecture offered insight into successful, age-neutral workplace design at the Meadows Office Interiors Manhattan showroom.

Photo Credit Madeline Kennedy

Indeed, mobility is a key factor in developing camaraderie among co-workers. Deveaux remarked, “The People at BuzzFeed move around; the furniture doesn’t need to move. We want to move, and I think that is better for our creativity. We really celebrate the collaboration.”

Deveaux noted that focus on trendy items for the office leads to distraction, and is not valuable in the long term. “A lot of companies have a lot of kitschy components to their spaces, and I am not a fan of that. It is fun at first, but it is not sustainable. We have spaces that are practical: we have couches, we have stand-up tables, we have pods. Everywhere you go is different, we don’t repeat any of that.”

The panelists agreed that key age-neutral elements include natural light, open spaces, and traditional home furnishings. Deveaux also described how the interiors at BuzzFeed were designed with an emphasis on creating a comfortable atmosphere, rather than just ordering one-size-fits-all office furniture from a catalog. “We wanted elements of home in the workplace, because you do spend more time there than you do at home.”

Krizmanic added that his clients are looking beyond interiors to the surrounding urban neighborhoods for a fresh perspective. “I find organizations now are less likely to build cafeterias or fitness rooms or nurse practitioner offices like they used to because they allow the city to do some of that work for them — which makes the  burden of what has to happen in the space more focused just on the work of getting the business done, and not catering necessarily to the employees.”

As the next generation enters the workforce, designers and manufacturers will continue to change the look of the work arena, always with an eye toward longevity. It is clear, however, that drab, cold cubicles are a thing of the past. As Speak explained, “We have to try to create spaces where people want to go to work, and not where they have to go, because that helps to foster a culture and community.”

This was the second in a series of four conversations that tackle all aspects of designing for business, workspaces, and wellness. The first event took place in March earlier this year, exploring what it means to “hack” design. The next event will take place in September and will focus on Distraction-Free Design. In the next few months, look for announcements of topics and times from Meadows and Metropolis.

Categories: Sponsored, Workplace Architecture