Yearly Archive for 2016
I sometimes ask myself why do some enterprises last and others just survive for a season. Is it key personnel? Is it expertise? Is it timing? Perhaps it is a combination of these and other factors that combine to form a business culture that becomes an identity that gives rise to a reputation that sustains the organization. Companies sometimes start businesses that their offspring continue but often the continuity of these companies is dependent on the loyalty of their best employees.
In architecture it is not that different. Gillespie and Steel has been in operation for over 40 years and during that time many people have come and gone. Those who stayed for some time have helped to shape the image of the company. While the architects might be considered the face of the company there are several in the engine room who have given yeoman service to keep the wheels turning and the well oiled engine running. This blog is a tribute to them.
This 1985 photo shows the staff of Gillespie and Steel. Vincent Greenidge is still a full time member of staff. Clive Bullard served Gillespie and Steel for over 30 years.
Over 25 years:
Vincent Greenidge, Arthur Giles and Rudolph Sealy have been associated with Gillespie and Steel for over 25 years. They began in the era of hand drawings, blue prints, T-squares, parallel lines and razor blades. Drafting was very much an art and though the aim was to make the drawings uniform each draftsman’s had his own distinctive style.
They saw the transition from hand drawings to computers and have continued to hone their craft mastering both 2D and 3D computer aided design. The photograph below shows Arthur on the left at one of the early computers with architect David Spink looking on and Vincent at the drawing board.
Vincent, Arthur and Rudy have helped to nurture many in the field who have passed through the office and those who have stayed. Indeed they have bolstered the development of both technicians and architects. They have worked on such projects as Oistins Fishing Complex, the Samuel Jackson Prescod Polytechnic, Barbados Light and Power Restoration, the early and final designs of the Judicial Centre, Flower Forest, the Elsie Payne Complex, the Government Buildings and Governor’s Residence in Montserrat. St. Gabriel’s School, Tyrol Cot and many others.
Over 16 years:
Shane Jones, Gregory Lowe and Dawn Hinkson have been at Gillespie and Steel for over 15 years. Shane and Greg worked with Luke Architecture Inc. and joined the office when the two companies merged in 2000 while Dawn joined that year just months after the merger. They all arrived in the computer age when the drafting office would have been fully computerized. They thrive in the 2D and 3D CAD environment and have worked in both the interiors and architectural sectors contributing to projects like Bayshore, Barbados Academy of Golf at Balls, Barbados City of Bridgetown Co-operative Credit Union, the Judicial Centre, Marina Village, Marigot Bay St. Lucia, Harrisons Cave Redevelopment.
All of our technicians are reliable, loyal and hard working they help to make the architects designs become reality. These technicians are committed to their craft and have all continued their education both formally and informally - on and away from the job. While there have been others to who graced the engine room each one of these staff members mentioned above has contributed over 16 years of service to Gillespie and Steel and while they may not all be the face of the company it would be very difficult for the company to function without them. With this calibre of staff Gillespie and Steel has been able to stay at the forefront of architecture and design for the past 40 years.
What is Design?
Many people think that design is just making things look good on the outside, but design is more than what it looks like. Design is a conceptualization of an idea, transformed into an outline, which helps to achieve an intended purpose, whether it's a building, a car, a watch, a picture, or any other product for that matter. It is an approach to making thoughtful decisions about all functional aspects of any given project. Steve Jobs said “Design is a funny word. Some people think design means how it looks. But, of course, if you dig deeper, it’s how it really works.” It shouldn't be an afterthought, like slapping on a coat of paint or some other superficial exercise - it should be intrinsic.
The Nautilus - www.oliverwrightphotography.com
Design is generally considered unimportant among most people, particularly in our society, where rudimentary cost benefit analysis triumphs over and negates any intangibles that astute design offers. But good design usually accrues realized benefits, in the long term, that are well exploited by visionary individuals.
Good Design Is…
Innovative - Design doesn't occur in a straight line. Innovation is messy and design breakthroughs occur where there is room to explore. But innovative design always develops in tandem with innovative technology, and can never be an end in itself.
Inspirational - It allows us to see what's possible. Apple has single handedly inspired its competitors to all produce better designed products. Frustration too can breed inspiration. If a need is not being met, that's an opportunity to fill that need creatively.
Invigorating - Feel the excitement when experiencing something that's well designed.
Emotional - Design is more than Function or Utility. Santiago Calatrava's bridges don't only just span rivers and lakes. Emotion is as important as utility - The things that we love to love are usually designs with more than functional considerations.
Elegant, Simple - “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication” - Leonardo da Vinci. Half the art is knowing when to stop. Design often requires a distillation process that reduces an element to its purest form, which is generally its most elegant. Less, but better - pure and simple.
Empowering - An object or space that is well designed, when used, makes us feel better about ourselves.
Conscientious - Design is often used to help those in need like shelters for the homeless, water sterilization devices and solar lamps for communities without electricity.
Efficient - Constraints usually lead to delivering creative solutions with well thought out utility within a given budget.
Big & Small - It’s all in the details. Well designed details make a great project.
Sustainable - Well thought out design with human sensibility and sensitivity can be immortal.
Organic - It's as if there is no perfect design, there's always something that can be better. If allowed it never ends. The best design can be made better.
At the end of it all, its just plain fun. It's one of the few professions that still utilizes all the skills we enjoyed developing as kids... drawing, colouring, playing with putty, Lego, building models, creating computer imagery, making stuff and exploring and pursuing the crazy exploits of our imagination.
The design problems we are often faced with are universal, and include accommodating ever-growing numbers of staff, incorporating brand identities into physical space and generally creating functional, yet aesthetically pleasing spaces. In previous posts in this series, we’ve looked at the impact of the office environment, the kinds of work employees engage in, the spaces that support them and what’s taking place in office design overseas. It is important for us as designers of workplaces, to process this information and apply it in such a way that design in Barbados develops.
One way to do this is to assess the pros and cons of changes in design. As change in Barbados is measured, we have the opportunity to see some of the effects of design advances in other areas of the world, and consider them through a Barbadian lens.
There are many positive elements that have developed from and continue to be generated by research and new design solutions. Viewing the office environment as a space that should not only be functional but inspiring and comfortable is the first step.
Valuing the Employee Experience
While budget can direct the bottom line, it must not be the only factor influencing the design solution. Beyond fundamental factors of the physical environment, such as good ventilation, lighting etc, workplaces that allocate the best spaces for the most people immediately show that employees are a priority. In open office situations, providing employees with a variation of areas to work from has the ability to help them better accomplish their tasks. Introducing protocols that permit staff to shift throughout the day based on these tasks allows them some autonomy. These factors can mitigate some of the drudgery some work days can have.
Free access to amenities such as tea, coffee and snacks is an added bonus. Some organisations even introduce amenities that have a more explicit impact on wellness, such as gyms and meditation rooms. The idea here isn’t to introduce several different spaces, or free donuts and yoga classes, but to consider added elements employees might require. When employees feel valued, they tend to be more engaged and productive.
Innovative and vibrant design at Skype Office Palo Alto, designed by Design Blitz, Photography by Matthew Millman (Officesnapshots.com)
Bolstering Brand & Corporate Culture
Incorporating brand identity into a space also acts to reinforce principles of the brand culture amongst staff, as well as affecting the more implicit corporate culture. The office environment should also convey the brand ideals to not only to staff, but to clients and visitors as well.
This goes beyond a coat of paint. If a company professes to be vibrant and innovative, the feel of the workplace should also reflect those attributes. The types of spaces should help to foster the habits that are encouraged in staff. However if a company prides itself on discretion, privacy and traditional values, perhaps a completely open office is not the right solution.
Offices with glazed fronts provide privacy while allowing a connection to the outer office at a private investment firm in London, designed by Resonate Interiors, Photography by Philip Vile (officesnapshots.com)
Applying a Broad Brush Technique
Workplace design is an exercise in customisation. An organisation should not be forced into a design solution that is far removed from the essence of a company. Rather than reinforce the corporate culture, the incorrect design solution can detract from it. Take again for example, the company that values discretion and privacy of client information. If even the CEO is sitting in a benching system, are those ideals conveyed to both staff and visitors? Perhaps transparency is also part of the culture - then that design might work.
Alternatively, changes in design can be used as an impetus for change in companies. However organisation leaders need to manage the change process so that employees are aware of what to expect. This can alleviate some resistance that is often found when substantial design changes take place within organisations.
The Dark Side of the Open Office
Less privacy, less space, and more distractions are the major problems related to open offices, and these can reduce productivity. The open office needs to translate to the type of company and the work being done.
As part of the open office plan, many companies are moving toward unassigned, ‘clean desk’ work areas for employees. This may work well for mobile staff, whose time in office is minimal, but for someone who is in office every day, this isn’t optimal. It also has the potential to cause employees to feel detached. We are generally creatures of habit, preferring to sit in the same place, and engage the same activities. We also like to feel some type of ownership of our space, however small, and have the ability to personalise it somewhat, especially in the Caribbean.
In most cases, not everyone can have an office, and sometimes an office isn’t necessary. What is necessary however is some type of private space, where staff are able to engage in a confidential call, or even focused work. While the preferences of each person in an organisation cannot be accommodated, it’s important to remember that employees are not unfeeling drones.
Workers have access to different types of spaces at Solstice Mobile Chicago, designed by Baumann Studios, photography by Jacob N. Clary (officesnapshots.com)
When discussing office design, there are many facets to consider. Even with the ideas we have presented in this series, we are only skimming the surface. Fundamentally though, the type of company, corporate culture and well-being of employees should be drivers for design. Design solutions should not be duplicated haphazardly, but a bespoke design must be proposed for each organisation. As designers, we need to identify useful design elements and translate those into the Barbadian context, while excluding ideas that are not functional for our clients.