Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Best Practices in Physical and Virtual Workplace Design: A lunch and learn hosted by Vermont Technology Alliance

A Video Invite!
      Here's a short video inviting you to participate and come to a lunch and learn hosted by the Vermont Technology Alliance June 10th, at CCV Winooski in Winooski, VT from 12-2pm.  I'll be co-presenting with Adam Bouchard from Agilon. We tackle together emerging best practices in Physical and Virtual Workplace Design.

Who Should Come?
     It's especially suited for technology oriented firms, growing businesses, tech startups and those looking for alternative work settings, workspace solutions providers, property managers, real estate developers and entrepreneurs

What We'll Talk About:
      Adam will be talking about his team's distributed work first virtual office design, why the chose to work this way even though they all live within 45 minutes of one another here in Vermont and how they actually do it. 
      I will be talking about mission and values driven physical workplace design and why it's relevant to consider where "Place matters" in an increasingly complex world where work can and does happen anywhere.  I will upend some traditional notions of what workplace means and share examples of new modalities of physical workplaces we will increasingly see in the years ahead. 
      I'm trying video as a way to connect rather than just writing.  Let me know what you think? I know I need help but I'd rather fail forward and keep trying new things, new ideas on  how to reach you, my customers and partners!  
      I can't wait to see you June 10th at the event. The Vermont Technology Alliance is always looking for new members.
      We are all technology companies now, especially in Vermont where we have one foot in the pasture and one foot in the future.  So don't be shy! 

To Register for the Lunch and Learn click here. 

See you on June 10th.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Living Better Electrically: Tesla Energy's Powerwall and Powerpack Meets Green Mountain Power

Elon Musk. CEO of Tesla announced yesterday two potentially revolutionary open-source battery products, one for the home called Powerwall and one at utility scale called Powerpack. As a proponent of green building design and resiliency in design, whether at the scale of the home, main street, schools, shopping and manufacturing, this is big news for business and consumers.  Maybe even revolutionary. Certainly disruptive and transformational.
Apparently, according to a recent report from Construction Dive, Tesla has been beta testing these products on 500 homes by Solar City in California and also have been adopted in some Walmart stores. Could a new way to deliver power be around the corner perhaps trumping the need for large scale power providers, especially if powered by renewable sources such as solar, wind, geothermal or small scale hydro? Can we live better electrically harkening back to a different era of the late 1960's when all electrical homes like mine were all the rage. (It's my homes medallion by the way...and we're no longer all electric.)
Homeowners will charge the batteries up over night being able to use battery energy to power their homes during the day and into the evening. We are not exactly sure of the details yet, but depending on the renewable source's effectiveness homeowners could completely or partially uncouple from local and regional utility company's. 
Visiting Los Angeles recently, I came across a Tesla store on the Third Street Promenade selling the alluring mystique of their all electric cars which I saw more than a few driving around.  The home based Powerwall batteries may retail for around $3,500 to start with leasing options available.
Here in Vermont, I know of a handful of players like AllEarth Renewables, SunCommon and Real Good Solar to name a few already providing leasing options for their solar products.  Adding battery technologies into the ownership and leasing mix would seem easy and logical. I say that knowing it's likely not easy to execute as the technology literally isn't here yet, but with Tesla and Musk potential roll-out the renewable energy generation and now storage game could significantly shift. 
Whether this new battery technology will help us live better electrically remains to be seen, not knowing the details of Musk's new "gigafactory" manufacturing plant in Reno, Nevada, and their social and environmental responsibility initiatives.  
So maybe, just maybe the Tesla storefront you see in Los Angeles is the harbinger of things to come around the U.S. and elsewhere where more than just exceptional all electric cars will be for sale, expanding to offer consumers and businesses opportunities to buy batteries. Sounds innocuous and pretty straightforward, yet think about the impact it would have on large scale energy distribution disrupting the energy market in favor of the consumer, municipalities and small business. 
(Postscript added 5/1/15) )
Today I found out Green Mountain Power will be one of the first power companies in the world to offer the Powerwall product and it will be to Vermont businesses and consumers. I am exceedingly unabashedly excited about Green Mountain Power which is truly an innovative energy services company not a mere power company. As Mary Powell GMP's CEO who attended the rollout last night in California said in a statement then.
"We are thrilled to bring Tesla’s innovative home battery storage to Vermont as part of a radical transformation of how energy is generated and used to empower customers to save money and increase reliability and resiliency. As Vermont’s energy company of the future, we are turning the old utility model on its head, and offering products and services to help Vermonters use less energy and one day rely on the grid as a backup system. GMP is focused on a future that moves away from dirty inefficient sources of energy to a clean, sustainable and cost effective energy future. The Tesla home battery storage option will speed up the pace of change and keep Vermont on the cutting edge of innovation.”
So instead of heading to a Tesla storefront, come live and do business in Vermont and go to your local Green Mountain Power service center and seek out your new Powerwall or Powerpack. Perhaps a less reliant on fossil fuel future awaits, especially in more rural areas with service scale challenges?  This may be possible by coupling these batteries with renewable energy generation products from the Vermont companies mentioned above along with with high performing energy efficient construction. True energy independance may yet be possible!
I can't wait to work with like minded clients on future building projects to consider Powerwall or Powerpack as part of their energy production and storage systems. Seems like a no-brainer, especially since the batteries after ten years get recycled and reused in production of new batteries. Tesla Energy is in the process of creating a regenerative and sustainable ecosystem for its disruptive energy product.  
#Greenbusiness #Architecture #Innovation #Energy

Friday, May 1, 2015

Recent Work: Renovation of National Life Group's Servery and Cafeteria

View looking over central bread and salad island 
A refreshed food and social hub is reborn at National Life Group's Montpelier Headquarters.

Early this year renovations were completed on over 3,000 square feet of servery space and 10,000 square feet of cafeteria dining room.

We provided design, consultant coordination, furniture, finishes and materials selection, and construction management assistance through an over 1-1/2 year long project.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

7 Tips on Designing a Quieter Officer or Workplace

Too close for comfort
Do you, your coworkers or employees complain about unwanted noise and distraction in your open office workplace? Do you wear headphones to quiet the cacophony of sound around you? Do you have no place to go to make private phone calls?
If you answered yes to any of the questions you likely are experiencing some design shortcoming in the layout, design and detailing of your office or workplace. To help you and others maybe avoid this in the future we offer Seven or so tips which if followed might contribute to a higher performing open office work setting where you can collaborate, innovate yet work in quiet when you need and want it. Sound impossible? Maybe not. Here's how.
Here's Seven Tips which you can use. Some are fairly simple, others are more complicated and have some cost. However if you abide by the maxim of you get what you pay and plan for that's a good place to start. Building awareness of using best practices in space planning strategies while using reflective and sound absorptive materials is a good place to start. Remember the right solution is an integrated combination of the following Seven Tips tailored to the specific needs and requirements of your business and industry.
Tip #1. Selecting the Right Space:
To promote the openness and interactivity found in collaborative environments such as CoWorking Space look for spaces to rent or buildings to buy with a fairly simple building shell hopefully with fairly high ceilings and access to daylight on more than one side of the space for cross-ventilation, access to views. If not on when visiting, ask to have the mechanical systems turned on to normal and walk around the space. If there are any existing meeting rooms, private offices go into them and visualize meeting with someone in those spaces, maybe carry on a conversation and see how easy it is to hear one another. Ask the building owner or property manager or realtor with you if there is sound insulation built into the wall framing between the space and other tenant spaces, or common areas like shared corridors, stairways, elevators and restrooms?
Also ask whether the walls go up to merely the suspended acoustical ceiling tile or all the way up to the floor deck or roof deck above? While it's less flexible and more costly for them to build all the way up to the roof or floor above, it's a surefire way to increase privacy and confidentiality in your spaces. And when building out your new space ask if sound insulation is included in wall construction as well as if some walls can go up to the floor or roof above as part of your lease arrangement.
Ask as well, what kind of wall and ceiling surfaces do you have to work with? Is all just painted drywall and glass, or a mix of painted drywall, glass, wood, brick or other materials? The more varied the materials the more chance for increased sound absorption and redirection due to changes in material softness, surfaces and so on. This variety improves acoustical quality. Then, what kind of floor is there and do you think you will replace it or upgrade it? If it's a polished or stained concrete floor or wood floor without proper construction, it will look great but used in a room with many people working sound will reflect more easily than if there is carpeting or modular carpet tile flooring which help absorb sound, rather than reflect it. Be careful about what you're signing up for. There may be unintended consequences of your early site selection decisions.
Tip #2 - Space Planning a Gradation of Open to more Closed Walled Meeting, Teaming and Individualized Work areas:
Work with your architect or interior designer to create a floor plan with a variety of larger to small closed walled work areas within your open work areas. This can integrate both the lively collaborative open areas and "away" or "quiet" spaces into your office design. Think designing open work areas with oases of meeting spaces, office and informal lounge areas interspersed or on the perimeters. When doing so so you can build spaces suitable for small 2-3 person meetings, larger team meetings rooms for 5-12 and smaller highly focused heads down quiet spaces.
To maximize your long time investment install sound insulation batts in the wall framing and run the walls all the way up to the underside of the floor or roof deck with foam insulation at the joint to limit sound transmission between spaces. Or use movable architectural walls with sound insulation in them. To create a sense of inclusiveness between nearby by open work spaces install large glass sidelights next to doors into these rooms as well as consider transom windows to allow borrowed daylight in and reduce lighting usage. Pay attention to the glass thickness and whether it is double glazed to limit sound movement.
In your space layout, be sure to locate quieter work neighborhoods and users away from lively areas such as kitchen / work cafe's, lively common spaces like bathrooms if there are specialized high focus needs. Locate more lively interactive work uses and activities nearer other active uses. Cultivate workplace protocols around desired ways for your work community to use various workspaces and behavior expectations for noise. Create and sustain the behavioral conversation as a foundation of fostering an inspirational work culture. There's a balance between collaboration, privacy and innovation minded work activities only you can find together.
Be aware of the differing work styles, needs and personalities of the various generations at work and their temperament, whether extroverted or introverted. The most brilliant space layout can be short-circuited by not paying ongoing attention to the needs of your people. Pay close and repeated attention and you'll be on your way to successful leveraging of the physical office resources you provide your people.
Tip #3 - Varying Ceiling and Wall Surface Angles:
In addition to the other strategies, you can further control unwanted echoes and noise communication by varying the reflective or hard surfaces of drywall partitions, suspended ceiling elements, wall panels. Your designer can subtly design these moves into your space without incurring significant added construction cost. Adding this strategy to the design palette also can enhance your space's uniqueness as compared to more standard tenant-fitup approaches.
Tip #4 - Avoid placing of Curved Surfaces with Centers in Key Spaces:
If you want concave curved surfaces as part of the interior architecture locate the center of the arc or curve element outside of the space. Doing this will ensure your space will not echo in these curving or rounded areas. If you do, you'll be sure to hear funny echoes and weird distracting vibrations. Echoing spaces are not great to work in. That's why round or cylindrical interior spaces while attractive aren't necessarily great acoustically without attending to locating their center points outside of the space.
Tip #5- Ceiling Treatments, Sound Clouds, Wall Panels:
Another strategy is installing acoustical ceiling treatments like hanging sound clouds over work areas or sound deadening walls panels as well. A simple version of this is installing higher performance ceiling tile from companies such as CertainTeedArmstrong and USG to name a few. You can use 2x2 or 2x4 or more unique tiles encased in decorative metal trim creating distinct "visual islands" and focal points within a large open spaces. Combined the sound deadening qualities of tiles with attractive linear pendant up and down lighting zones and you can create attractive open work areas.
For wall panels you can also install Tectum or Certainteed Ecophon other similar another sound absorbing product directly to ceilings or the underside of floor pans or on walls. If sustainability concerns such as recycled content, sourcing and indoor air quality are strongly desired work with your architect or interior designer to select material choices which provide acoustical performance while balancing these concerns. Wall-hangings such as quilts can serve as focal points visually but also provide acoustical relief in targeted areas.
In general for either material ask to examine the light reflectance of the materials and ask about the light reflectance value. The higher the number value daylight and artificial lighting will reflect more in your space helping lower energy bills while contributing to worker well being. This helps brighten up the overall space as well.
Tip #6 - Selecting the right Floor Coverings for your business needs and uses:
If you have highly reflective floor surfaces such as concrete, wood floors or floor tiles consider installing carpet squares or area rugs in open office / common work areas. There are a number of manufacturer's such as Interface FlorMannington, Shaw Contract GroupTandus who have modular solutions which can help treat lively areas with floor coverings. The fibers in carpeting and carpet squares and resilient backing helping cut down sound. These same manufacturer's all offer various kinds of eco friendly lines, recycling and financing programs attractive to owners.
Then, if you have areas where workers will stand a great deal perhaps in a printing and document center or behind a retail kiosk or point of sale terminal, consider installing a resilient or rubberized flooring surface to decrease joint pain while adding additional acoustical absorption capabilities. Also, pay similar attention in workstation areas where increasingly workers use sit/stand or standing only desking.
Tip# 7 - Don't forget about your Furniture
Take care to select furniture with some degree of acoustical performance attributes and features. Whether workstation furniture, general seating, lounge areas, cafe's or other spaces don't ignore options which have some degree of acoustical insulation, or sound deadening capabilities in panels, upholstery and so on. A few years ago, something called benching was all the rage due to the need to seat more people in less and less space and create more interactivity and collaboration. However, all this seemed to do is increase sound-canceling headphone sales and frustration. Work with your architect and interior designer to carefully balance acoustical needs along with functional and ergonomic needs in furniture and finishes selection. It's not difficult to do but just needs to be paid attention to early on in initial stages of design and with the focus maintained through the furniture specifying and ordering process.
Summing Up
Your open office workplace can be a high performing quieter place helping rather than hindering getting the needed work done while contributing to long term workplace productivity and cultivating a great work culture. By carefully selecting the right office space location in the beginning, careful design and space planning as well as material selection and the details you will be on the path to long term success. Remember as mentioned earlier, the right solution for you is an integrated combination of the Seven Tips tailored to the specific needs and requirements of your business and industry.
For more about this or if you want more detailed advice please connect with me at 802-448-0056 or

Friday, March 27, 2015

Walls in Balance: A Sketch

We are making it a habit to share recent sketches of places or spaces we seek to conceive in our practice. This is one such place, an outdoor meeting area of two leaning cast in place concrete walls with the imprint of the wooden boards, mosaic tile inset, rugged wooden seats cantilevered from the concrete topped by a recessed planter.
Perhaps it could be for a garden or a park? We can only begin to imagine the house or museum these walls belong to. Right now that's mysterious to us.
Note the drainage gullies at the foot of the concrete carrying rainwater or melt off away. One of our favorite architects is Carlo Scarpa, an Italian 20th century architect who designed and conceived fine homes, commercial and institutional buildings in Italy. With his work you can really feel the "making" of the architecture. And so we try to do so here. It is a beginning.