library and study area

Let There Be Work – Part 1


By Lee H. Skolnick, FAIA


“I’m a greater believer in luck, and I find the more I work the more I have of it.” 

                                                            – Thomas Jefferson


A little different take on the phenomenon of work, no?


We usually talk about how work ennobles; how it gives our lives meaning; how it keeps us out of trouble; how it allows us to provide for ourselves and our families.  Etc., etc., etc.  But what our wise “Renaissance-Man-in-Chief” suggests is something at once more enticing and more substantive:  that hard work results in opportunities and benefits beyond the intrinsically spiritual and modestly practical.  That life can get dramatically better if one applies oneself to one’s job.


It stands to reason, then, that the quality of the places we work are worthy of careful and sensitive design so that the potential for improving our lives that is offered by what we do to make a living is as fully realized as possible.


person working in lounge area of Aileron

Workshop Commons at Aileron, the Center for Entrepreneurial Education (Photo courtesy of Aileron)


So what makes a great workplace? 


This is, in fact, a (very) loaded question, redolent of prescriptives, perspectives, themes, and stories.  And these go way beyond a treatment of workstations, ergonomic chairs, natural light, soothing colors and finishes, stylish furniture, reasonable climate control, “hoteling”, and other somewhat mundane and baseline considerations.


Here are some other aspects of the pursuit and some thoughts that we have gathered over forty years of designing places to work…



PEOPLE WHO NEED PEOPLE (…are the luckiest people in the world)


Ask most of us what has been the hardest part of living in the pandemic and the answer will be: “I miss being with other people.”  Indeed, many of our workplaces are characterized by intense social interaction.  A chance to connect.  To develop and nurture bonds with others.  So ideal workplaces facilitate this very human motivation.


global crossing hq

Global Crossing Headquarters (Photo by Peter Aaron)


We design office environments that span a wide range of qualities:  circulation spaces that foster casual yet socially-distanced encounters; touch down points that encourage impromptu conversations; open break-out spaces that invite working comfortably and safely amidst the company of others; conference and meeting rooms of various sizes and types to allow for many forms of collaboration; and informal lounges where relaxation and decompression can naturally occur.


hisense trade show booth CES 2017

Hisense Booth at CES 2017 (Photo courtesy of The Taylor Group)


Where possible, extra amenities such as exercise rooms, outdoor fitness facilities and trails, contemplative gardens, café-like refreshment areas, and a variety of interactive games can all add to the spirit of congenial community.





Every enterprise has a defining essence.  An endemic character that embodies and bespeaks its purpose, its values, its personality.  Of course, many know this under the banner of “brand”.  We tend to think of it more broadly as “story”, or better, “narrative”.


STIHL Headquarters

“Chainsaw Helix” at STIHL Headquarters (Photo courtesy of STIHL Incorporated)


Every collection of people working together towards a common goal, whether in service or in production, constitutes a story.  And if we, as designers, can tap deeply and accurately into that underlying narrative, we stand a much better chance of creating workplaces that resonate with their users and are viewed by them, intuitively and/or explicitly as heuristic.  Places that inspire self-discovery and self-awareness.  Places that ennoble and empower.


And who doesn’t get off on that?



Stay tuned for Part 2 of this series on WORK.






A Journey Through Space and Time