How Public Placemaking Principles Informed our Office Design
November 26, 2018
In just a moment, I’m going to ask you to close your eyes and recall a public place you’ve visited – a place that you remember vividly. It’s likely a space where there was an intersection of people, art, food and festivity. Ok… now close your eyes and get a solid picture of this place in your mind for a minute.
If you did this exercise, I’ll bet a smile crossed your face. Perhaps you imagined a tree-lined central park in your hometown where many of the civic festivals were hosted. Or maybe you’ve had the pleasure of strolling the 1.45 mile High Line in New York City while taking in the art, gardens and public programs happening just above the city. If you’ve been to Europe, you might have recalled with fondness the bustle of the Piazza del Campo of Siena, Italy. If you live in Atlanta, the BeltLine trail likely came to mind. This vibrant space is punctuated with tiny doors, popsicle-sponsored free yoga in the O4W Park at twilight, regular rush hour bicycle commuters, and lunchtime coworkers trying to decide between all of the fantastic food options just a short walk from their offices.
Why are some spaces so much more memorable and impactful than others? Well, either by chance or (more likely) a great deal of intentional planning, these spaces incorporate the principles of the “placemaking” movement.
The Origin of Public Placemaking
While placemaking’s roots go back nearly as far as civilization itself, it regained popularity in the 1960s as a reaction to developers’ rampant introduction of shopping centers best reached by car. It was later coined as a term by the non-profit Project for Public Spaces (PPS). PPS credits Jane Jacobs and William H. Whyte for introducing groundbreaking ideas about designing cities for and around people. In this way, they argued, the best of our public spaces would serve as the “front porches” of our communities.
If you’re wondering why a tech company is dedicating a blog to placemaking… let me explain.
As stable|kernel grew, our adopted office spaces weren’t able to keep up. Not only were they unable to accommodate our swelling staff, they weren’t suited to support the ways our company could best work. Our executive team spent a lot of time observing and analyzing the ways in which we best worked. And now, with an increasing cadre of clients and colleagues, it was time to make a big move. This was going to be a move that would allow us to expand and thrive for several years to come. And so, our city-wide search began. Atlanta was our oyster, and we were ready to explore its real estate far and wide! And you know what? We ended up about 2,000 feet from our last location.
Our New Office and Public Placemaking
You see, all of our searching simply reaffirmed our love of being one of the Atlanta BeltLine’s Eastside Trail resident companies. And while we could articulate loads of reasons why we liked working alongside our hometown hero Ryan Gravel’s master’s-thesis-come-to-life BeltLine, we didn’t know then “placemaking” was the model that pulled it all together for us. And not only did being on Atlanta’s proverbial front porch attract us to a brand new building on the BeltLine, it informed what we did inside our shiny new building.
Fortunately, because we’d started conversations early enough with the generously flexible building owner and team, we were able to placemake a space, using tried and true principles, that feels and functions in an authentic way to our work. Before I explain how we aligned public placemaking principles with our private space, it’s helpful to visualize the four cornerstones of great places according to PPS.
Credit: Project for Public Spaces
Here’s how we used placemaking principles, like those incorporated in the design of the public BeltLine right outside our door, to transform the private space of our office.
Access & Linkages
Like the adjacent BeltLine trail, our office space encourages unplanned encounters between colleagues and clients. While our floorspace is essentially three large connected rectangles, we’ve created a literal path for connection by running a “beltline” through the center of our office space. This waking path is signified by an orange trail-map like stripe (inspired by the Atlanta BeltLine trail maps) that wraps across our walls and ceilings, connecting our various spaces. It begins at our front door, wraps encircles our central “company’s coming” Old 4th Ward conference room, and splits off in various directions. Wherever you happen to be in our office, there is a visual reminder in sight of the important connection you have with your colleagues and our clients.
Conference rooms of various sizes have been deliberately and conveniently scattered through the space, making it easy for anyone to access a nearby private room. As a nod to the diverse larger community right outside of our building, our meeting rooms have been named after our BeltLine adjacent neighborhoods. And of course they are clearly marked as stops along our internal BeltLine trail map.
When you first enter our office, Lobby Boy is ready to greet you with a friendly quip. Because his sentiments change often, it’s not uncommon to see folks making special trips to the lobby to check in with him.
You’ll likely be welcomed by several of our colleagues as they give you a wave or smile from beyond the glass of our conference room walls. While our office has three exterior doors, we make a point of using only the main door for all client and colleague entrances. There’s something about the Cheers-style greeting Norm always received that lives on in our space.
Sociability is also maintained with the onboarding of each new client project, as we reassess the best team mix for the type of problem we’re solving. Our Jarvis standing desks are all on casters, allowing for quick and easy changes to facilitate new team configurations, It’s when you’re working alongside someone that you really get to know them.
Despite our stereotypical addiction to cat gifs, we’re a dog-loving office. Ever-present members of our canine sociability committee will greet you and make sure you feel right at home.
Uses and Activities
We’ve worked hard to make every inch of our new space work well for us. An example of this is the design of our “Midtown” space. Because Midtown Atlanta is known as the arts and entertainment district of our fine city, it seemed right to house our open kitchen, coffee bar window seating, colorful mural-walled main lounge, and staff meeting room there (and we’re excited about future plans to add even more of an arts connection to the space).
Glass folding doors allow us to run private meetings for up to 14 people one hour, only to open the doors and unify the room with our midtown lounge for a bigger crowd. The best time to see multiple activities and uses in this space is on Fundamental Fridays, when we split our custom built, castered conference tables apart, push easily moveable furniture to the sides of the room, and set up our own yoga studio for our company-wide yoga & mindfulness sessions.
And because nothing brings people together like food and drinks, our open, spacious kitchen is perfect for casual lunch breaks, long work sessions inspired by the ATL skyline, whole-company meals, and special events for our industry and our clients.
In considering the nature of our very plugged-in business, you’ll never have to search hard for an electrical socket, a massive glass whiteboard, or a screen upon which you can project your work. And if a great idea occurs to you while you’re strolling our internal BeltLine, you can just write it on the wall of our very own Krog Tunnel!
We also promote a healthy lifestyle by having a fully outfitted shower room where our colleagues can clean up after a BeltLine workout, a lactation room (because women in tech rule and we believe, in the immortal voice of James Earl Jones, “If you build it, they will come”), and a rooftop lounge where one can go for fresh air and a change in perspective.
Comfort & Image
While it would have been efficient to order office furniture from a supplier, we chose instead to collect an assortment of eclectic pieces, purchasing local and vintage items.
Nearly every piece in our office has some story connected to it, from the massive 3rd anniversary wall mural we commissioned from Black Cat Tips (a.k.a. Kyle Brooks), to the used cherry-red lockers pulled from a Georgia school, to the conference tables and coffee bar that were handcrafted by Atlanta artisans, to the darts lounge Delta bar cart, to the antique mirrors and shadow-boxed butterflies, plucked from the Inman Park Festival, which now adorn the conference room named for the wonderful neighborhood in which they were discovered… I could go on and on.
Our desk-bound jobs mean we need to take extra care of our bodies, so each colleague has things like an adjustable standing desk, mounted monitor, ergonomic standing pad, and Aeron chair.
One of the biggest jewels of our office is our wall of windows boasting an Atlanta skyline view. While many would have chosen to put their executive offices along this space, our owners designated it as community space for all to enjoy, and we maximized light and the view by installing interior windows instead of walls. Our Midtown Lounge, with this expansive view, really does serve as the front porch of our space.
And from this place on our proverbial front porch, we have a perfect view of the eclectic, historic, agile front yard that is our Atlanta. Placemaking principles haven’t only made our public spaces great, they have enabled us to shape an authentically welcoming, productive space that fosters connection and engagement between colleagues, clients and neighbors, bringing out the best in everyone.
Our porch light is always on. We hope you’ll swing by for a visit!