BBC office interior showing multi-use seating and meeting areas.

Third Spaces and the Future of Work

In offices and apartment buildings, new places to get work done bring a new set of challenges.

The “third place” is a term coined by sociologist Ray Oldenburg to refer to places where people spend time between home and work. “They are locations where we exchange ideas, have a good time, and build relationships,” according to a report by the Brookings Institution that also cites them as a key tool for urban planners working to stabilize neighborhoods.

The COVID-19 pandemic has made this once-niche concept part of more and more designers’ lexicons. An October 21 Think Tank panel focused on the subject, and the opportunities and challenges it presents, in a session hosted by FXCollaborative of New York and moderated by Metropolis editor in chief Avinash Rajagopal.

Wilfredo Rodriguez-Joglar, design director, interior architecture, FXCollaborative, built on the idea that third places can lend a sense of identity to the workplace when applied to that context. “The pandemic has allowed us to pursue a new way of thinking in designing offices,” he said. “There are places to focus as well as to collaborate with people. There are others where people come together and socialize. These can be places for recharging, such as lounges and even outdoor terraces.”

“The pandemic has allowed us to pursue a new way of thinking in designing offices.”

Wilfredo Rodriguez-Joglar, design director, interior architecture, FXCollaborative

In a nutshell, parts of the home become the office, and parts of the office become the home. But how should this square footage actually be organized?

“It’s about the way in which the amenity spaces are set up and how they’re adjusted,” said Kimberley Petredis, senior associate and director of residential interiors, FXCollaborative. “For example, some need complete silence and others like a small amount of noise in the background. Everything and everyone are related to everything and everyone else.”

Rodriguez-Joglar put forth his idea of a dream project replete with third places—maybe even one large third place. It’s a city within a city, he explained. “Ideally you have a setup where a developer builds a campus: one residential, the other office. There is a central park, childcare, coffee shops, a market, and medical offices. You live and work in the same ‘city’—it’s part of how people are thinking of the future.”

But short of this utopia, the pandemic has made “collaborative spaces” in offices more difficult. Rodriguez-Joglar pointed to the technology challenge, making a conference room easy to use for all employees, from young tech-savvy staff to senior executives. “In the best case you could walk into the room with a simple app on your smartphone, and with a swipe bring up the needed technology, be it a television or a Zoom call. But it doesn’t happen that way. This is one of the biggest struggles we have.”

Petredis ended the session with a plea of sorts that designers of third spaces consider human health, both physical and mental. “We design for mental health. In some places cool light works, and in others warm light works. And if you’re around materials that aren’t off-gassing and destroying the earth, you are going to feel better.”

The Think Tank discussions were held on October 7, 14, and 21. The conversations were presented in partnership with Arc-Com, LX Hausys, Versteel, GROHE, and Arden Studio.

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