A Shift in Paradigm in Commercial Window Design
Watching a legal drama on TV like ‘Suits’ or ‘The Good Wife’ makes me come away wanting to wear sunglasses. Have you noticed how the offices portrayed in the shows almost always sport curtain-wall windows or the building itself is made of glass, much like all the commercial buildings one sees in all big cities all over the world. Heavily tinted glass, no doubt, that affords building occupants the privacy I suppose they crave and to cut down on the intensity of the sun, but does it prevent heat loss? Research conducted by the Department of Design and Environmental Analysis at Cornell University shows that glass loses 20 times the heat that an adjacent insulated concrete/brick wall does, and double glazed windows lose 10 times as much. Imagine that?! I find it difficult to go with the privacy theory (even though buildings are seemingly made of glass, letting in massive amounts of natural light, especially in summer), as all lights are on even when the sun is at its zenith! This just doesn’t make sense to me. Why would well- lit buildings need so much of electric light when sunlight does a much better job of brightening interiors, especially with technological advances equipping us with shading systems that maximize the use of sunlight? Seeing as 30% of all commercial operating expenses constitute utilities, namely electricity and natural gas – what a waste!
Today, there seems to be a shift in the thinking, a change in paradigm, in law firms – the shift from the traditional, awe-inspiring corner offices to a more millennial mindset that calls for a more democratic, if not egalitarian appearance, as evinced by new law offices in New York and Washington D.C.
Open-Plan Office Spaces
This new design supported by the legal behemoths in all major cities of the world has a specific purpose – for junior lawyers to have first-hand opportunities to see how more experienced practitioners work and to engender a greater team feeling. However, partners have the choice between having their own office or joining the masses in the open plan section. This is apart from cost savings in reduced floor space and construction. But the drawbacks seem to be overwhelming – noise and distractions tend to lead to reduced concentration and productivity, compromised confidentiality and increased spread of diseases like the flu.
But the trend seems to be moving towards more tightly run operations in smaller places – making available common conference rooms of varying sizes for private meetings, client engagements, and presentations, rather than every name partner having private conference rooms; privacy booths for focused and creative work; and the possibility of working remotely a couple of days in a week, making for leaner and meaner operations
Providing Comfortable Work Environments
The physical and psychological well-being provided by a comfortable work environment is to employee productivity and satisfaction. The National Institute of Building Sciences recommends that building projects must include a comprehensive, integrated perspective that mainly seeks to –
1. Provide a superior acoustic environment – that seeks to limit the transmission of exterior noises and dampen sound from high sound areas within a building. Apart from using Sound Transmission Class walls in work areas, the use of automated Cellular Shades, the Sun-Up-Sun-Down Shades from Graber in particular, helps mute disturbing noises owing to the air trapped in the cellular structure that impedes the trajectory of sound waves. The Sun-Up-Sun-Down Shades come empanelled with a combination of light filtering and room darkening fabrics that allow control of the amount of light entering a workspace, serving to cut out unsavory sights when needed, too. Wood, Faux Wood, and Aluminum blinds with motorized vanes also aid in controlling natural light and the view.
2. Maintain Optimal Thermal Comfort – motorized exterior solar shades like the LightWeaves Solar Shades from Graber can be employed to block unwanted solar heat gain during cooling months. The benefits of exterior solar shades are many – they block the sun’s rays before they hit a glass window, letting in visual light based on the openness and the color of the shade fabric used. The higher the openness value and the lighter the color used, the more the visual light that would stream in, reducing the need for electric light while preventing the formation of hot spots that cause thermal discomfort.
3. Create a high-quality visual environment – providing ample natural light while blocking the glare of the sun that interferes with work effectiveness can boost employee comfort and morale. The use of dark colored solar shades ensures the view outside the office is unimpeded, at the same time cutting the glare and UV rays by 99%. If blinds were to be used, the glare can be controlled by controlling the position of its vanes to desirable angles that bends the light away from workers’ eye levels, creating visual comfort while still allowing a view of the exteriors.
4. Provide furniture and equipment that will enhance comfort and performance – adapt furniture to the work that needs to be done, taking into account the posture, body mechanics and work techniques for tasks that need to be accomplished.
5. Provide user controls – workstations that allow users to adjust seating, computer equipment placement, light levels, work surface heights, workspace layout, and ventilation go a long way in providing employee comforts.