AMANDA WALTERS OFFICE DOCUMENTATION
DOCUMENTATION Undercurrent is a digital strategy firm based in New York. I worked as their office Experience Coordinator and unofficial architectural consultant for two years. The company is made up of a group of brilliant, vibrant, creative minds who are always looking to adapt and improve. Thus, they were willing (and often demanding) test subjects in a series of spatial experiments/changes I conducted. While there, I had the chance to dig deeply into the environment, culture, and operations of the firm. I saw how the office space affected happiness, overhead costs, and output. Because I both ran the day-to-day and planned the space, I was able to watch as tiny details - miniscule changes - led to massive positive (and sometimes negative) outcomes. Along with that, I learned how to respond to issues within the organization - how spatial or system changes could affect human behavior. I learned how to spot an impending problem and proactively work to prevent or solve it. My time there helped me realize my passion for detail, craft, materiality and interiors, as well as a continuing interest in understanding how people interact with their environment.
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When I started at Undercurrent, the company had two office spaces in the same building. The main office on the 13th floor was the client-facing space that housed the conference room, kitchen, meeting rooms, and work areas. On the fifth floor was a smaller suite stocked with video games, a ping pong table and other playful distractions that employees would use to blow off steam or jump-start their creativity. However, the company was growing, and it became obvious that the space that was currently being used as nothing more than a glorified game room desperately needed to be made usable for internal meetings, calls and collaborative work. It was my job to assess the needs of the company and make a recommendation on the best way to redesign the space. I conducted a survey, researched precedents, and made detailed observations of how the employees worked and where their spatial frustrations lay. I compiled all of this into a report along with my recommendation and cost estimations. At right is the plan I recommended.
In writing the survey, I wanted to understand three different things: aesthetics and comfort, work style, and spatial needs. At right are results from three of the questions from the survey. For aesthetics and comfort, the group appreciated the warmth of the Library in the main office. While most of the office was cold - with white walls, white furniture, concrete floors and flourescent overhead lights - the library was carpeted, with dimmed incandescent lighting, couches and a full wall of books arranged by color in rainbow order. Coming in second was the conference room which had a cork wall, a colored graphic on another wall, and a large conference table made from reclaimed wood. It was obvious that the group was craving a bit of warmth, color and visual interest. Work style was a bit more evenly distributed but the second question brought to light that fact that those who focused better in quiet spaces were rarely able to find a quiet space to work. This was echoed in other comments with those who said they had trouble finding a place to take a phone call. For spatial needs, I found the same thing. The group wanted more quiet space. At the same time, they also wanted more places to collaborate with their teams: enclosed spaces that wouldnâ€™t disrupt others nearby and were equipped with all of the necessary equipment and supplies.
I presented the idea that we needed a quiet room, a collaboration space, and a call room, all of which would fit into Suite 505. I also addressed the need for color, added materiality, better lighting, and sound control features to improve call quality. I pointed to such precedents as 37Signals’ office in Chicago with the phone booths and layered felt walls; Parliment’s office with its chalkboard walls and rich wood desks; and Steelcase’s innovative collaborative furniture that allowed for some manner of privacy and sound control within a larger space.
I also brought up some additional thoughts on policy changes, ie. which rooms are bookable and for what? Are there unbookable hours that would allow the group to use the space for fun? Etc. I then laid out the costs, broken down into categories: essential, recommended, and unnecessary but awesome. At about the same time, we heard that one of our neighboring tenants on the 13th floor
would be moving out in the near future. The prospect of gaining more space on our floor outweighed the need to renovate Suite 505, and we dropped our lease on the space when we picked up the neighboring suite on the 13th floor. Despite the project never being realized, the information gathered in the study was influential in shaping the office as I moved forward. See the full report on my website.
suite 1310 After the 505 Study and several visits to some beautifully designed offices in NY (including SY Partners, ?WhatIf!, Quirky, and WeWork), I wanted to experiment with the layout of the main office, Suite 1310. At right is the plan of the office before the change.
Conference Room Conference Room Conference Conference Room Room Conference Room
Working space Working space Main Room
Main Room MainRoom Room Main Room Main
Main Desk Area
Main Room Main Room
Kitchen Kitchen Kitchen Kitchen Kitchen Conference Conference Room Room
Main Entry Entry Main Entry Main Entry Main Entry Kitchen Kitchen
Meeting Room Exec Ofﬁce ExecOfﬁce Ofﬁce Exec Ofﬁce Exec Library
Library Library Library Library Storage/Server Room
Main Entry Main Entry Storage/Server Storage/Mech. Storage/Server Storage/Server Storage/Server Room Room Room Room
Exec Ofﬁce Exec Ofﬁce Main Entry
I wanted to get the entire office involved in the change, so I planned out each step of the move, put the employees in teams with detailed instructions, ordered pizza, and made it happen.
Working space Office Exec./Ops Workingspace space Working space Working Exec./Ops Office
As I thought about how to design the new layout, I found that the conference room and library always remained largely unchanged in use and appearance, because they were our core, bookable meeting rooms and their physical spaces didn’t allow for a great deal of flexibility without tearing down walls. Thus, I ended up playing with the location, layout and design of the collaborative space, the quiet space and the executive office.
A few of the offices I’d toured were experimenting with hot desking, where employees didn’t have assigned desks but rather, floated around throughout the day working at different desks/workstations for different projects. It was an intriguing concept, one which I thought would work well for our collaborative, creative group and solve some of our issues around the lack of meeting space. Instead of having to book a room in order to meet, teams could simply switch desks and sit together.
6 Storage/Server Storage/Server Room Room
hot-desking + move
At right are two designs I considered before the final design at the far right. There were only three people that needed the privacy that the executive office provided, so I moved it to the smaller meeting room in the bottom corner and turned its former location into the quiet, “heads-down” room which was set with monitors on each desk and was closed off from the rest of the space with sliding glass doors. I located the collaboration space in the main area and created “pods” of three desks each around which teams could meet. To increase collaboration, I removed the monitors, which opened the space up quite a bit, and allowed for visual connection across that central hub. However, large rolling whiteboards were available should a team need to block off a pod for a more private meeting. 7
Once we’d completed the move, I wanted to collect some data on where people were sitting and what purpose they were using the spaces for. To get a better understanding, I took readings of which seats were filled three times: at 10am when the workday started,1pm when everyone got back from lunch, and 4pm when everyone had settled in for the last stretch of work before the day ended. I did this for a month and then had the information built into the heat map, at right. Though unfinished, its provides solid insights. In general, seats by the windows were favored, except in the quiet room. There, people favored seats on the side of the desks farthest away from the Main Room, which granted them more privacy and protection from distraction. Despite the fact that the Main Room provided only three more seats than the Balcony/ Quiet Room, it housed double the amount of people at any one time, showing that, either we didn’t need as much quiet space as we‘d thought, or the way the quiet space was designed wasn’t working.
room use graph
Room Us This graph illustrates the companyâ€™s room use over 20 days based on meetings booked on each roomâ€™s calendar. Small is categorized as 2 people or less physically in the room. Large, then, is categorized as three people or more physically in the room. I based this sizing on physical dimensions needed for these groups. This graph illustrates that almost 70% of the time, the space was being used for small meetings, meaning that we could use the space more efficiently by breaking down mediumsized rooms into smaller ones.
Over 20 da
Small - 2 peo Large - 3 or mo
Small Call Large Ext. Meeting Small Ext. Meeting Large Int. Meeting
Small Int. Meeting
1310 + loft
As I briefly mentioned in the 505 study, we began to recieve information that neighboring tenants may be moving out of the building, leaving their space to be picked up. The first of these spaces was one that we called the Loft (darkened at right). I drew a couple quick sketches to show how we could expand into the space, incorporating some of the things I’d learned from the surveys, heat map and recent move. This included the addition of call rooms, a “deck-making” room and several “war rooms” which would be used as HQs for project teams. They’d be able to put up their work for the duration of a project, allowing them to see the entire scope of the work. At the time, the company wasn’t ready for a full renovation so the sketches were an exercise in seeing what we could do with the space without tearing down too many walls. However, we soon heard the space wasn’t available yet, and dropped the plans for the moment.
1310 + studio
The first space we did acquire was one we named the Studio. The plan at left shows Suite 1310 with the addition of the Studio. I moved the ping pong table into the space to create a casual meeting/collaboration room. I then drew a couple sketches (at right) showing how we could expand into the space. Our current main entry was crowded between the
kitchen and mechanical room, and didnâ€™t create the first impression we would have liked. Because the kitchen and mechanical room were relatively unmovable (without large expense), I experiemented with the idea of moving the entry to the Studio, which had beautiful light and created a journey through the space.
straighten up In the time between acquiring the Studio space and our next step, I reevaluated the layout and decided to straighten the space out. While the pods had helped create meeting areas when we were cramped for space, they weren’t conducive to collaboration. More often than not, people wanted to sit next to each other - not across a table - when working together. As well, the quiet room wasn’t incredibly successful. In our spacedeprived office, the need for a quiet place to work was often trumped by the need for other, more immediate uses like phone calls and desk space. Also, its location right off the main hub of activity didn’t lend itself well to a calming atmosphere. Thus, I opened the space back up and returned the monitors to every desk in the office. Around the same time, I also completed the storage room expansion and reorganization. The full details are on page 19.
Studio/Meeting Room Conference Room
Work Area Kitchen
1310 + 2
A couple months after securing the Studio, we were able to add the Loft to our lease as well. As I began to think about fully integrating these new spaces into our office, I looked back at what the past experiments had taught me about how the company worked. What I found was that we often broke the common conceptions of work style that said that monitors always signal quiet, “heads-down” work and whiteboards mean collaborative work. In Undercurrent’s office, the group collaborated around tables, couches, whiteboards, corkboards and monitors, which meant that the screens couldn’t be cordoned off in quiet areas. The group also worked solo or quietly around all of those places as well, which meant that whiteboards and tables had a place in quiet rooms as well. We had to provide for every type of work in every type of space. While planning this, I was still experimenting with use, furniture, etc. The addition of the huge raw space of the Loft made for a perfect collaboration/meeting/game room.This allowed for the Studio to become a meeting/ collaboration/call room. The plan at right shows the new footprint with existing walls. The quick plans on the next few pages illustrate how I was thinking about integration and work style.
1310 + 2
Waiting Call Rooms Conference Room
Entry + Reception
Conference Room Meeting Nook
Service Entry Meeting Room
Entry + Reception
Service Entry Meeting Room
Quiet Area Call Rooms
1310 + 2
Call Rooms Conference Room
Entry + Reception
Kitchen waiting, kitchen and reading nook Service Entry
Meeting Room Reading Nook
“Spread-out” Area Meeting Nooks
I also started to create mood boards (on Pinterest) for each room on the new plan. The boards helped to align my ideas with those of the other stakeholders, and started to introduce some warmth and diversity of materials to the space. The board above begins to illustrate the vibe of the reading nook.
storage + entrance
In the time between the Studio and the Loft, I began to notice an increase in clutter around the office and deduced that we had inadequate storage for the new supplies and equipment we had recently purchased. As well, the office had just begun to experiment with hot desking, so employees no longer had assigned desks on which to store their things. To solve this, I proposed a storage room expansion and reorganization. With only Sketchup at my disposal, I designed the space, vetted and chose the contractor, coordinated with building management, and was the main contact for the project. At right is the floor plan for the extension.
storage + entrance The existing storage room (in orange at bottom right) was blocked in on all sides, preventing expansion. The entryway (in dotted teal at bottom right) was larger than necessary, but the glazed front made it difficult to expand the storage room without modifying it in some way, either by applying a translucent coating or replacing it with a wall. Neither of these were appropriate solutions for the main entrance of the business as they’d shrink hallway presence and make the entryway feel constricting. Thus I proposed that we extend the storage room (in purple at bottom right) into the entryway, leaving a 2.5 foot space between the new wall and the glass. This space would create a “storefront” (see top image) where we could mount a digital display to show our work and greet guests, while engaging with passersby.
After the room was built, I created a new, more intuitive organization system. Each employee had a “locker” for their personal belongings along with long-term storage for files and other important work. For general office supplies, I’d spoken with the group and heard that they didn’t mind walking to grab supplies but they didn’t like searching. In the same vein, they said they couldn’t organize, but they could sort. Thus, I put each supply into its own bin or drawer that was then labeled with a letter and number that corresponded to a directory. The system helped enormously.
exterior hallway new storefront
storage + entrance Elevation A
storage + entrance
See more projects and further information at: amandamwalters.com Drop me a note at: firstname.lastname@example.org