By Drew Patton
For 40 years we have traveled across time zones and cultures in pursuit of universal design patterns. Through our journey to design compelling places of work, live and play we have completed projects in over 30 countries, and always, we begin and end our quests in our home studio. We have learned a lot. Each culture offers a unique view of the world and broadens our studio perspective. Our studio enjoys a rich diversity of talented individuals whose collective conscious is constantly challenged and expanded as we blend our progressive design concepts with each country’s local heritages. Along the way, we have encountered many cultural expressions that changed our perspective. Here are a few.
Daylight in Hamburg
Access to daylight is not just an aspirational design concept in many parts of Northern Europe. It is the law. Our North American notion of designing for access to natural light is constantly challenged by buildings designed primarily for economic efficiencies. Deep loft depths and minimal window designs deliver energy efficient floor areas, assuming your occupants are satisfied with the reality that half of their space is beyond the reach of day light. In Hamburg, we considered dozens of floor plate designs. All of them were thin. This learning influenced our design of ExxonMobil’s 10,000-person corporate campus where no one works more than 30 feet from a window and everyone has access to daylight from two or more directions.
Pilsner in Prague
We arrived in Prague in 2003 as a wave of international organizations began establishing offices to tap into the EU’s emerging multi-lingual workforce. We explored ways to design a balance between the productivity-driven pace of North American work and local social-based attitudes about leisure at work. Enjoying a beer at lunch (or even breakfast) presented a cross-cultural opportunity to learn about the importance of mixing our social life with our work life. Although pubs at work go against most North American HR policies, the concept of socializing at work has had a profound influence on our emphasis on informal work settings, where an enterprise’s purpose and values can be nurtured.
Arrested in Paris
Some buildings in Paris have their very own occupancy codes. Even separate buildings in the same district, on the same block can have significantly different regulations. The codes that dictate an employees’ right to windows are taken very seriously. On one project in La Defense, the office workers’ union official threatened to summon the gendarmes if we did not correct the location of one desk. Upon investigation, we discovered that each face of that building had a different allowable loft depth. Our client assured us that he could spend the night in jail for failing to correct this oversight. The desk in question was quickly reassigned to become a printer station. What we learned was “common sense” is a local concept.
Bring me a Rock
In Zurich, we met a diverse group of international engineers working together on a global mapping project. This gave us a chance to study the fundamental nature of an engineer’s perspective of work. What they shared with us was this maxim “engineers wake up looking to fix something”. If you want to explore a different concept about work, workers or workplace, you should offer up an alternative. These engineers would then engage in a critique of how inferior your concept was and through this engagement you could co-design a better solution. Engineers respond to solutions better than concepts. Bring them a rock.
Drew is Chairman and Chief Business Strategist at PDR. With over 35 years with the organization, he has played a critical role in developing the firm into one of the world’s leading workplace consulting design firms. Drew advises senior executives on the value of workplace design, including over 20 of PDR’s international landmark projects - projects that have introduced high performance workplace architecture to emerging global markets in Prague, Budapest, Curitiba, Buenos Aires and Doha. Working closely with ExxonMobil leadership, Drew served as senior program architect and design advisor since the inception of their Houston Campus Project, which is one of the largest and most sophisticated corporate complexes ever designed and constructed as a single project.