Neuroscience Is Optimizing the Office

How a Molecular Biologist and an Architecture Firm Teamed up to Reimagine the Workplace

July 3, 2018

Partner, NBBJ

@ryanjmullenix

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published by the Wall Street Journal. It was co-authored by Ryan Mullenix, partner at the architecture firm NBBJ, and John Medina, developmental molecular biologist, author and affiliate professor of bioengineering at the University of Washington School of Medicine.

 

As competition for employees and ideas increases, employers are looking to office design to give them an edge. That’s why companies like Amazon, Google and Samsung have asked us to create spaces that directly affect how their employees think and feel. Our research over the past four years has shown how design affects human biology and experience, allowing us to maximize comfort and productivity. This means creating spaces with all five senses in mind and thinking about the impact of everything from diet to color theory. Here’s a look at how the office of the future could promote the health of the organization and the individual.

 

Keep It Down — Unless Brainstorming

Neuroscience tells us: The human voice evokes some of the most potent emotional responses in our auditory experience. Voices in excess of 55 decibels — roughly the sound of a loud phone call — cause measurable stress. Even more disruptive are overheard “halfversations,” in which the listener is privy to only one side of a dialogue; our brains automatically imagine the other.

How design can help: Sonically diverse environments — private phone booths, outdoor gardens and acoustically buffered spaces for activities like brainstorming and team-building exercises — keep noise away from traditional desk setups. Sounds found in nature, like moving water, can be particularly helpful for drowning out disruptions. At Amazon’s Spheres, an office for 800 employees that opened in Seattle this winter, a rushing brook and waterfall permeate the workspace with continuous, calming white noise.

 

Go Green

100876_02_Spheres_N17_mediumNeuroscience tells us: Exposure to plants makes us less emotionally volatile and error prone; even pictures of plants have a calming effect. As a bonus, certain plants give off antiviral, immune-boosting chemicals called phytoncides that promote office health.

How design can help: Amazon’s Spheres contains more than 40,000 plants and hundreds of species, but just one plant per square meter can benefit mental and physical health — while creating a more pleasant-smelling work environment.

 

Seek Visual Relief

Neuroscience tells us: Humans have an evolutionary need for private spaces that offer a sense of safety, but we also crave vistas for inspiration — a condition known as prospect refuge. Open spaces foster creative thinking, while close confines increase focus. Specific colors have been shown to enhance or hinder these abilities.

How design can help: Enclosed, comfortable booths promote focus, while open floor plans with low seating, high ceilings and outdoor views can aid in brainstorming and creative ideation. At Tencent’s headquarters in China, seating along the windows provides views of the surrounding hillsides, while benches in secluded outdoor garden spaces give employees private, peaceful retreats. Colors should be deployed wisely: blue for stimulation, green for focus, and orange for decision-making.

 

101014_00_Samsung_N9_mediumGet a Move On

Neuroscience tells us: Just 30 minutes of aerobic activity can boost executive function and reduce stress; outdoor exercise increases these effects. At just 1.8 miles an hour — a moderate walk — reaction time and quantitative skills improve.

How design can help: The layout of each floor should encourage physical activity, with elevators hidden in favor of stairs, indoor and outdoor workout spaces where possible, and designs to accommodate walking meetings. At Samsung’s North American headquarters, employees are no more than one floor away from an outdoor terrace, where they can attend yoga classes or walk through campus gardens for meetings.

 

Eat to Think

Neuroscience tells us: Mediterranean-type diets — rich in fruits, nuts and vegetables — have been shown to boost cognition, particularly executive function, which is responsible for problem-solving and impulse control.

How design can help: Our design for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation campus courtyard included blueberry plants, which employees can pick and enjoy.

 

Banner image courtesy of NBBJ.

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Every Hospital Can Be Modernized

How to Upgrade Aging Facilities to Accommodate State-of-the-Art Operating Rooms

June 12, 2018

Medical Planner, NBBJ

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published by Healthcare Design.

Operating rooms provide a critical component of a hospital’s continuum of care and constitute a substantial slice of annual revenue, not only in direct earnings from procedures, but also in their patients who fill hospital beds. It’s critical that hospital administrators maintain the productivity of their existing OR suites as well as provide procedural flexibility as market demands necessitate.

However, hospital administrators don’t always have the luxury of building new facilities when they need newer or larger ORs to support procedures that are increasingly more technologically complex and clinically demanding.

How can organizations find the space they need to meet these demands within their existing hospitals and avoid costly new construction? One strategy is to improve the productivity of existing surgery space by capturing and repurposing it, both horizontally and vertically.

 

Repurposing Space Horizontally

Most ORs in older hospitals are roughly 400 to 500 square feet. However, new technology demands, increases in the size of surgical teams, and the financial demands for ORs to be multipurpose—with the flexibility to support multiple specialties, such as cardiology, neurology, and oncology—have resulted in general ORs needing to be sized up to 600 to 650 square feet, with some specialty ORs requiring 750 square feet or more.

One way to increase OR square footage is to capture and renovate adjacent “soft” space, such as a clean core or storage space, which can add 100 to 300 square feet. The hospital project team then must develop new processes and operational models to replace the lost space and functional areas.

Another way to create space horizontally is by converting two substandard operating rooms into one highly functional one, which usually gains additional support space, as well. While reducing the number of ORs might seem counterintuitive, it can increase utilization, as one functional OR is preferable to two obsolescent ones. It can also expand a facilities services by making it possible to accommodate multiple specialties and procedures, which can maximize revenue as well as enhance recruitment and retention of the surgical staff.

 

Creating Space Vertically

New equipment competes for space not only in the room but also in the service space above the ceiling. The typical floor-to-floor height in a new facility is 16 to 18 feet, which allows room for changes in the necessary structural and mechanical systems. However, many existing buildings may have as little as 12 feet between each floor.

One strategy to address this issue is to replace large mechanical air ducts with more, smaller-sized ducts. This solution reduces the height of space required above the ceiling, however one tradeoff is that the increased number of ducts can congest overhead space, making it more difficult to arrange other equipment like electrical connections, lighting, boom mounts, and access panels.

A hybrid OR with integrated ceiling, at the University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle. © Sean Airhart/NBBJ

Hybrid OR with integrated ceiling, University of Washington Medical Center. © Sean Airhart/NBBJ

Another option is to use an integrated ceiling in which some or all components are prefabricated and coordinated systematically before being built into the room. Because prefabricated systems can be engineered more precisely than individual systems installed in the field, they yield a more compact, efficient design that can be accommodated in tighter floor-to-floor heights.

Different levels of integrated ceiling systems are available, from units that have all major and minor components integrated and prefabricated as an entire piece of equipment to others that include only the major structural and mechanical systems with space for the smaller components to be added in later.

An integrated ceiling can also be installed on-site quickly and easily, which can shorten construction and installation timelines.

 

Planning Steps

Operating rooms are complex spaces that require meticulous planning and design to successfully add space that will allow for more efficiency. Older hospitals considering updating their ORs need to evaluate their current state and determine which strategy to pursue.

For some facilities, their rooms may have enough square footage, but their ceilings and equipment may be outdated and inflexible. In these cases, innovations like an integrated ceiling can make it possible to update equipment and create flexibility for future technology within the existing walls.

Other facilities seeking to expand their ORs will need to determine which rooms are in a position to be merged to create the right square footage. Some steps to consider in this process include:

  • Understand the needs of surgical staff and the hospital’s surgery business plan.
  • Evaluate the physical plant, from the square footage of standard ORs to floor-to-floor heights and ceiling system infrastructure.
  • Assess room utilization and productivity.
  • Understand departmental support procedures.
  • Get input and involve surgeons in the planning and design process.

Once a facility determines that an upgrade is needed, the design team can develop a strategy to shift an aging group of ORs into high gear with the right amount of space to support the care needs of its patients and staff.

Banner image courtesy Russ Ward/Unsplash.

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How Can Healthcare Institutions Become Disaster-Ready?

A Conversation About Healthcare Resiliency and Design in Seattle

September 6, 2017

Healthcare Partner, NBBJ

The Pacific Northwest is a beautiful place to live and work. But with that beauty comes the potential for natural disasters — everything from earthquakes to volcanic eruptions. Combined with the uncertainty associated with climate change, how should local healthcare systems address these issues to protect their patients, safeguard their assets and conserve resources?

We decided to convene a “Disaster Ready” series of panel discussions, design workshops, articles and papers to address this important topic of resiliency. This summer in Seattle, Puget Sound Business Journal healthcare reporter Coral Garnick moderated a lively discussion on the importance of resilient healthcare facilities.

The panelists — John Hooper (Magnusson Klemencic Associates), Christine Kiefer (Harborview Medical Center), Onora Lien (Northwest Healthcare Response Network) and Mackenzie Skene (NBBJ) — shared their expertise, including resiliency best practices from healthcare projects located in areas vulnerable to natural disasters.

The following is an edited recording of that discussion. From designing “upside-down hospitals” that protect against rising sea levels, to advocating for policies that require more from critical care facilities, learn what healthcare systems can do locally and beyond to withstand the unknowns of a changing environment.

 

 

Here are a few highlights from the conversation:

The definition of resiliency
“I’ve also had the chance to work in New Orleans, following up on Katrina and replacing the hospital damaged by Katrina, and it changed my whole view of resiliency at that point, because it was less about buildings, and it was more about the people, and the operations, and the continuity of the mission.”
—Mackenzie Skene

The importance of practice — and community
“The drilling, the practice, the scenarios and learning the communication… I can’t say enough: it shouldn’t just be us practicing in isolation, but the system practicing together.”
—Christine Kiefer

Who’s responsible
“I worry a lot that the work of preparedness often lives with one champion within an organization, one emergency manager or part-time facility person who’s tasked to do a lot of this. While I recognize there’s a lot of competing demands, in order for us to really move the needle, there has to be a more inclusive strategy within the organizations, and the accountability and the responsibility needs to live much broader than just an emergency manager.”
—Onora Lien

What we can fix, today
“There’s one or two [older buildings] on a campus … that the infrastructure may go through, the medical gasses, the power, the water, et cetera. That’s what I worry about. It’s that small percentage that, if you fix that one or two buildings, you’ve improved your resiliency by a factor of two or three. If you’re going to pick a low-hanging fruit, do those.”
—John Hooper

 

Image courtesy of Wikimedia.

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