Office design supports company knowledge exchange

Thursday 06 Jan 2011

Together with Horten Lawfirm SITE has created an office supporting socially interactive space

The law firm Horten has created a platform for knowledge-sharing through architecture by actively promoting employee interaction in informal settings. In a unique project, form and layout support the complex needs of professionals through varied spatial and furnished environments.

In November 2009, after 11 years in Copenhagen's city centre, Horten moved to their newly built headquarters in Tuborg Havn, Hellerup. The outcome represents a process over four years in which the architectural practice SITE was employed as architectural consultants, working closely with Horten. The process was established to define the building's architectural and functional framework, and to implement an interior fit-out programme that would optimise internal workflow and support and develop Horten's future work culture and brand, so that the physical environment reflected Horten´s organisation and not vice versa.

The result is a building that accommodates both Horten's company vision about knowledge exchange leading to increased professional awareness and the need for individual retreat and concentration.

Work process and requirements: as lawyers are not trained to collaborate, but operate instead as individual decision makers, it is difficult to create and develop common company values and knowledge-sharing within the organisation. SITE´s primary assignment, therefore, was to create a good working environment in which the lawyers shifted from the secluded office to a social community; where intellectual capital could emerge through communication and interaction with colleagues.

SITE started their collaboration with Horten by making observations from a typical day at the previous offices - how the lawyers acted socially, how they shared their knowledge (or didn´t) and how and when they worked at their desks. These observations were coupled with Horten´s own work on developing a new business strategy, and resulted in the concept of emphasising and developing the support spaces, not by just creating a beautiful and functional fit-out, but also by working strategically with all the communication zones around the building, creating a vast and differentiated field of possible knowledge sharing points.

The results and impact on Horten´s organisation has subsequently been documented in a thesis from the University of Roskilde at the Institute of Communication, Business and Information Technologies (CBIT) 2010: "Sharing knowledge in a spatial perspective" The thesis states that: "from our analysis of various areas in Horten we can state that the physical space indeed does influence the communication between the employees. In these situations knowledge sharing processes are supported, which can be valuable for the employees and Horten." It further states that: "These ongoing and complexly responsive processes lead to more informal knowledge sharing and create new knowledge at Horten on a generic, subjective level."

Fit-out: SITE defined the floor plate as an X-form with a central meeting square at each level containing shared facilities. Offices occupy each of the four wings and open plan workplaces are placed adjacent to the offices and arranged around the two atria at each end of the X-form. The ground floor contains reception, canteen, internal service functions and library.

The four middle floors are offices and the top floor contains meeting facilities. The public zones are limited to the reception and fifth floor meeting centre, while the remaining zones are 'confidential areas' limited to the firm's employees.

SITE has prioritised the building's interior design through colour choice, furniture and fit-out of support functions that reflect Horten's values as a modern law practice. In addition, Horten's CSR values pertaining to optimal internal environment, ergonomics and energy optimisation has been incorporated into the building design through a complete BMS system, controlling artificial lighting and ventilation.

The thesis states that: "We can conclude that the physical space in Horten helps to provide ideal conditions for the employees to interact and to create intersubjective relationships among the staff. An example of this is the informal meeting nodes created at Horten, which increase the possibilities amongst the employees to interact with each other outside of their individual territories."

It goes on to state that: "Seen in relationship to the different forms of communication that space can influence, it is interesting to see how the building's form, interior design and physical objects contain specific symbolic and aesthetic messages. The different areas, or physical cues, stimulate different readings by the employees and hence result in different usages. This affects the social structure in Horten and is exemplified by the use of the furniture in the lounge area, where the couch is perceived as a cue to chatting and less formal conversations, while the high tables often are used for work-related conversations."

Optimisation: corridors were analysed in order to plan circulation to promote interaction without disrupting work zones and the building's construction module was optimised so that offices could later accommodate two employees but without space wastage when occupied by only one person.

The Meeting Centre is formed as a horseshoe around one of the atria and is planned to ensure client confidentiality, avoiding contact with other parties. The meeting rooms are fitted out in accordance to four different design principles: the flexible familiarisation space, the informal, the classic and the VIP meeting.
A variation in table arrangements in the staff canteen can accommodate the needs of smaller groups whilst allowing for company meetings with all staff.

"This thesis demonstrates that the design of spaces plays a significant role in relations among employees in Horten, and the knowledge sharing which results from that. The relationships among the organised levels are defined, and while it can be difficult to change the identity and culture at the generic and subjective levels, it is easier to change the space.
Seen from this viewpoint the management and staff at Horten have the opportunity to change the settings in their daily work environment by focusing on the physical cues' effect on interaction and on the individual."

Director and Partner in Horten Jens Jakob Bugge states that: "together with our consultants, SITE, we tailored the building to our company's special requirements. We used external consultancy for the architectural forming and see this investment as a guarantee that the planned building did meet our firms requirements - as well as it did."

3XN are the architects for this building.

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Commercial Offices

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