Manufacturers are rising to the challenge and meeting the needs of today’s work-environment designers.
By Elisabeth Post-Marner, AIA, and Christopher Gutierrez, Spacesmith
Expectations are rapidly changing in American work and study spaces. These changes involve often surprising improvements to commonly used products alongside radically new concepts that better serve the ways people study and work. What follows are some of the products and trends that are providing the solutions and flexibility architects require:
• Sustainability means you: There has been a wholesale change in what sustainability means. While green products still focus on environmental impact, today’s sustainability is equal parts ecology and occupant health. In fact, human wellness informs a number of standards meant to protect people, such as the BIFMA standards (Business and Institutional Furniture Manufacturers Association, Grand Rapids, MI (bifma.org) and GreenGuard, Marietta, GA (greenguard.org), as well as the newer five petals of the Living Product Challenge, Seattle (living-future.org) and the WELL certifications (International WELL Building Institute, New York City, wellcertified.com). The overall message is that health and happiness are just as important as material toxicity.
• Affordability matters: More than ever before, price is foremost on the buyer’s mind. While many manufacturers have reduced initial costs, others are selling life-cycle value, which means their product is more durable, resilient, energy-efficient, and adaptable. A good example is the Benjamin Moore, Montvale, NJ (benjaminmoore.com), Scuff-X paint line for high-traffic applications. The paint is said to be so durable that even high school football teams can’t scratch the walls.
• DIY for the commercial world: For good and for bad (and often for free), a number of new products push assembly and customization tasks to the end-user. Many of these solutions are technology-based, too. The signage suite created by Takeform, Medina, NY (takeform.net), for example, lets users choose fonts, colors, and background graphics to make their own facility’s signs and wayfinding devices. Also, from Mohawk Industries Inc., Atlanta (mohawkind.com), a new app helps users custom-colorize their carpets and then walk through their proposed designs with virtual-reality headgear.
• Think global, buy local: We’re still more likely to specify and buy products from overseas, and the economy is truly global. But we’ve seen more action and product introductions from local companies and regional makers than ever before. In our markets, we have new products from New York State such as USAI Lighting, Windsor, NY (usailighting.com), whose products are more reliable and design-forward than many of the less-expensive imports.
• Humans thrive with active lives: Sit-stand working is here to stay and manufacturers are upping their game. Instead of merely adjustable furniture and customizable products, we’re intrigued by new offerings that seem to morph dynamically as the end-users and building occupants change. Watson, Poulsbo, WA (watsonfurniture.com) offers mobile, adjustable, and scalable solutions for benches, conference tables and work surfaces. These elegant and contoured products also have invited better solutions for mobile privacy and noise reduction, two issues raised in settings such as open offices and flexible classrooms. Also, product ideas from Inscape Corp., Falconer, NY (inscapesolutions.com), offer low-cost, highly reconfigurable workstations.
• It’s not just what you see that matters: For end-user wellness and a delightful ambience, more interior architects are focused on acoustics. Serving this need is a handy software app called Snowsound, which shows you how to use baffles, drapes, and other sound-attenuation devices to reduce reverberation and echoes. Just type in the kind of room and what hard surfaces are used on walls and floors, and Snowsound USA, Santa Fe Springs, CA (snowsoundusa.com) shows you how to achieve a range of acoustic ratings, measured as STC or NRC, from the merely acceptable to the ideal.
Architect and designer Elisabeth Post-Marner, AIA, LEED AP, is a principal with Spacesmith, the firm based in New York City and Hudson, NY. Christopher Gutierrez is director of resource management for the School of Visual Arts in New York City.