February 1, 2012

Data Driven: Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft’s Portuguese Office by Pedra Silva Architects

Do you keep framed pictures on your desk? If you do, Luis Pedra Silva thinks he knows why. “Offices cluttered with employees’ personal memorabilia are an unconscious form of generating comfort in a space that doesn’t respond to their needs,” he says. Pedra Silva Architects tested out this and other theories about how offices should function in its competition-winning scheme for the Portuguese arm of Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, a major applied-research group. 

To further inform the design of the Porto office, Pedra Silva visited the office-innovation center at Fraunhofer headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany. He then melded his own humanistic view of a homey workplace, shunning a “corporate feel,” with Fraunhofer’s data on work practice. (Did you know, for example, that 85 percent of meetings are ad hoc and don’t include more than four people?) The result in Porto is surprising, unified by a vibrant striped band of vinyl spooling across the floor, walls, and ceiling.

Pedra Silva laid out lounges and break-out areas for socializing and collaboration. A ratio of one “silent room” per 10 staffers allows for sensitive phone calls or concentrated work.

Altogether, the office area and enclosed offices, plus ample support zones, accommodate 115 employees in just shy of 18,000 square feet.

At least one flourish seeks to generate comfort through humor. Instead of numbering the glass-fronted meeting rooms, Pedra Silva used cartoonish appliqués of embarrassing quotations from prominent people as identifiers and icebreakers. Among them, a vacuum-cleaner company executive boldly predicts, in 1955, that nuclear-powered appliances “will probably be a reality within 10 years.” Hear that, James Dyson?

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