While You Were Waiting: The Evolution of Public Spaces

Ah, the holiday season—a time for twinkling lights, friends and family—and lots and lots of food. We gather, share and connect with others by disconnecting, putting down our phones and stepping away from the screens if only for a moment. At the heart of the holidays is a lesson about people; it’s proven that we’re happier and even more productive when we interact with others. That’s why a great deal of industries are investing more than ever in the places where people come together.

Show, don’t tell
Remember when transparent phones were all the rage in the 80s and early 90s? “You could see the most-minute inner workings of a device, and people were obsessed,“ explains Matthew Marsili, senior interior designer at Baskervill. Likewise, people want to see how businesses operate. “Whether they’re clients or potential hires, there’s a magnetic energy around seeing people posting things on walls, ideating and more,” adds Matthew. This mentality has many businesses rethinking reception spaces. What was once underutilized space with a few chairs and a security desk are becoming vibrant micro-environments that are conversation-starters unto themselves, fit for showcasing capabilities and informal meetings. Our designers are asking clients: What do you want people to see and feel at the point of arrival or throughout the workday?

2016 workplace stats show there's a disengaged workforce, costing companies billions in lost dollars. And, when workers are bored, they're twice as likely to quit.

The data on today’s workplace isn’t all positive, but it points to clear opportunities to better connect and engage workforces via activated spaces.  Think Newton’s First Law of Motion in the workplace: If an object in motion stays in motion, an employee with limited options for mobility opts for more web surfing and phone checking. “The private office is now a set of noise-cancelling headphones,” says Matthew. “And, for most, the last place they get significant work done is at their desk.”

To keep boredom at bay, clever businesses are shaking up their work environment with diverse ways to promote productivity: community tables for spreading out, private huddle rooms for quick collaborations and transportable desks for solo tasks when a change of scenery is needed. The real magic happens when these types of amenities get paired with a thoughtful floor plan. “A quick lap around the office for a coffee break becomes an essential moment to teach and learn,” explains Matthew. “Walkways that cut through workstations and pin-up walls invite people to see what’s going on, encouraging them to ask questions and exchange ideas with coworkers—and to feel valued for their contributions.” Click the image below to get a better look at the sketches below.


In his time with workspace clients, Matthew sees two major areas where designers can guide thoughtful decisions in their public spaces moving forward:

  • Sound Sensitive: All businesses come with their own set of harmonics. Like with any instrument, a tune up can make all the difference. Did you know that isolating specific sound waves can help get people energized and focused? At the same time, heads-down work can be easily interrupted (frustrating employees) if noise from public areas isn’t carefully considered in the design. Acoustics matter!
  • Shape Your Space: From big to small and open to private, flexible furniture options are paving the way for individuals to personalize. Where are the right places to station customizable spots that don’t disrupt others?

A tale of two travelers
Long gone are the days when hotels had lobbies just for the wait to check in. Technology is the force behind self-service models and personalized amenities. In its wake, many guests are often left craving one of two very different experiences. “Look no further than the checkout line at the grocery store,” says Baskervill Principal, Brad Richards, AIA. “Some people can’t imagine not using self-scanners, while others find them impersonal and difficult to use.” What Brad’s alluding to is a growing divide between people who want impeccable service from fellow humans and another camp who’d like to automate and self-discover as much as possible.

Brad’s advice: “Target guests and cater to them unapologetically.”

What’s your style? A lively-hotel where check-in happens at the bar (a la Marriott’s Moxy)? Or, maybe you want to learn about your destination from the hotel ambassadors who know all the things best—restaurants, activities and more? Don’t worry, there’s no right or wrong answer here!

Texture, color and furniture configuration are just a few tricks to help lead guests in the direction that best fits their needs. If concierge services are important, a vibrant display wall and interactive stations can be used to draw guests in.

“People are more in tune with moments, rather than the overall special experience,” says Brad. With that in mind, Brad is excited to see a renewed focus on the details and understanding how each component of the public spaces connect and support each other.

Health check
“If a hospital says: ‘My job is to care for people.’ That care starts at the front door,” says Baskervill Principal, John Currie, FAIA, FRSPH. “The public spaces of any health facility must be arranged, designed and equipped to support that basic goal.” Pianos, plants and stacks of magazines—those are outdated prescriptions in John’s mind.

Organized Healthcare Design

Emotions are typically high in healthcare spaces-anxiety, boredom, pain and anticipation are often all part of the experience. “Those feelings fundamentally affect how people interact with their environment; people tend to be not as aware of their surroundings and might not pick up on cues,” adds John. So, while not sexy, an organized design in those public areas (including the ubiquitous waiting room) that helps people know where to go and how to efficiently connect with their care professionals is key.

What’s next for healthcare waiting rooms? “If people must wait, we need to find ways to make the best use of their time,” explains John. A part of his growing vision for dynamic public spaces is the addition of:

  • An open community kitchen where people can interact with snacks and drinks
  • Entertainment centers for children and adults with climbable furniture and personalized tech options
  • More intimate spaces for folks needing peace and quiet while under the weather

United front
While different industries are tackling the challenge in different ways, all are trying to accomplish the same goal: spaces with around-the-clock purpose. It’s all part of a concerted effort to engage guests, clients, patients and staff in every aspect of your space, and your business. The hotel bar that sits empty until 5:00 p.m. won’t cut it anymore, in the same way that a look-but-don’t-touch office entry is no longer considered a good use of square footage. The rules are changing. So, how are you making the most of your spaces?

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