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Where You Live and Work... Does It Really Matter?

Tuesday, June 13, 2017
Written by: Matt Sutter, AIA, LEED AP, NCARB - Chief Operating Officer

Observing the Grand Canyon and hiking into it are two entirely different experiences. I had that revelation several years ago on a trip to Arizona. The Grand Canyon was wonderful to look at, very large and beautiful.  After going to the railing at the edge of the canyon at the visitor's center, I thought to myself , "OK I have seen it, and it resembles the pictures that I have seen." This was an emotional letdown. I had hoped for more. The next morning I took a hike down into the canyon. I started the hike at 6:00am, as I was apparently still on east coast time and it was very easy to get up early. As I descended into the canyon on the South Kaibab Train, something changed. The Grand Canyon came alive. The place became awe inspiring. The more I walked down into the canyon, the stronger the pull became. The details, the layers of rock, were amazing. Being down inside the space of the canyon gave me a sense of the spectacular size of it. The further down the trail I went, the greater the sense of awe I felt in God's creation. The Grand Canyon elicited many wonderful emotions within me, emotions not made possible by just looking at a picture or observing The Canyon from above.
 
In the same way, the difference between being a guest in a new building and working in a great building is a bit like my story of the Grand Canyon. Being in someone else's building is nice, hearing their story is great, but it is hard to capture the true emotion and the deep satisfaction of working in a building that inspires people to feel great about what they are doing and where they are working. 
 
There is a lot of thought, time, money and risk in developing a new or renovated building. The financing, the risk, the multitudes of decisions can keep you up at night wondering "Is the space the right size?" "Did we forget anything?" "Can we really afford this?" "Is it a good investment?" "How will the employees react to change?" These questions can be paralyzing. Is it really worth it to do this? 
 
I often struggled with the question of whether buildings were anything more than aesthetics and a product that was a source of pride for those who built the building. Did the architecture really affect the people and inspire their work? I came to realize after we at SoL Harris/Day designed, built and moved into our new building about 5 years ago that this space creates an atmosphere of inspiration. It is a building which inspires and delivers a very humane space. The change from small windows and many closed in workstations at our old office to an open, collaborative, light filled space was so dramatic a change that it caused an employee to post on Facebook "Our new office rocks".  This building has caused potential employees to seek out jobs at our office, it is a space where clients feel comfortable enough to stop by to work if they are in the area. Team communication has increased significantly and it has established an identity for our brand.
 
Employees have reported that the building has great benefits:
  • - Natural light has an impact on alertness and a general sense of well being
  • - Connection to other team members has greatly increased
  • - Windows make the small space feel bigger and uncrowded
  • - Work desks are designed to make the tasks easier
  • - Amenities such as a casual living room and ping pong table create a culture of teamwork
  • - There is a sense of pride in where we work. Employees talk about the space that they enjoy. This correlates to a great team marketing effort.

I have been fortunate to have this experience twice and am going through it for a third time at the moment. My wife and I are both architects, and we designed and built our first house in 1998. In 2012, SoL Harris/Day designed and built our own office, and we are currently renovating and adding on to a new home. The experience of living and working in interesting, well thought out, light filled spaces has been linked to many benefits, some of which are chronicled in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine - June 15, 2013. The type of space where you work and where you live really does matter.

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