Office space design is undergoing a period of experimentation. Some of the ideas have been transformative, such as the adaption of open office design, co-working spaces and environmentally friendly materials.
Others — such as virtual receptionists — have emerged in design competitions but haven’t caught on en masse among architects or landlords.
Today begins a local experiment of another idea: Outdoor offices. The Peterson Cos. development firm plans to open a 20-seat outdoor space on Ellsworth Drive in downtown Silver Spring on Monday featuring desks, chairs, electrical outlets and wireless Internet service aimed at coaxing employees typically chained to their desks or cubicles to go outside.
Called Outbox, the space was designed by applied technology students from Montgomery College and is to be open to the public weekdays from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m through October.
“We see it as a place where collaboration and creativity can foster in an enclosed, yet outdoor environment,” said Dan Figueroa of the Peterson Cos., which developed much of downtown Silver Spring as well as National Harbor. “We anticipate all types of individuals using the space including techies, telecommuters, executives, entrepreneurs and artists.”
Critics may question how the idea is different from working at the outdoor patio of a coffee shop, only without the coffee and scones. It certainly isn’t for anyone in need of privacy or quiet given the busy nature of Ellsworth Drive. Not to mention the lack of air conditioning.
But it also isn’t the first effort aimed at trying to better serve the worker bees who typically remain indoors during the day.
Less formal workspaces have popped up around downtown D.C. and Arlington from Business Improvement Districts looking to add to the lunchtime atmosphere. The Golden Triangle BID, which stretches from Dupont Circle down to the White House, encourages office workers to “Take your meeting outside!” with WiFi-enabled chair-and-table settings in Farragut Square that can be reserved ahead of time and are capable of seating up to 24.
The City of Long Beach, Calif., is using a $300,000 grant from the Knight Cities Challenge to turn a portion of a public park there into an outdoor office space with flexible seating. The city’s vice mayor, Suja Lowenthal, told local news media that the space “will serve as a crossing and meeting point for creatives from nearby offices, light rail and bus passengers, shopping center patrons, students, and others who live, work and play downtown.”
How big of a business the design and construction of outdoor workspaces could become isn’t well-settled. The category is still being established, because although there are hundreds of versions of outdoor or semi-outdoors workspaces floated on social media, many are targeted toward private landowners looking to add another place to hang out.
The Austin, Tex., firm Sett Studio designs and markets retro-looking, one-room structures it calls “backyard studios.” Init Studios of Great Britain offers similarly imagined huts called “garden rooms.”
Still another British firm designs and sells glass-enclosed “OfficePODs,” advertised as a chance to “lift the lid on dead space,” and promising quiet and easily dismantled space. “Break free from the constraints of inflexible buildings where change often results in long periods of disruption, inconvenience and mess for all concerned,” the company proposes, on its website.
If inflexible buildings are holding us all back, then maybe outdoor office space is the answer. Unless it’s raining.
Follow Jonathan O’Connell on Twitter: @oconnellpostbiz