Opportunity Outdoors: Landscape Forms’ Studio 431 on Planning for Outdoor Workspaces
Solutions to help corporate facilities bring elements of their workspaces outdoors are not only relevant in helping planners and managers adapt to the current expectations they face in the wake of COVID-19, but also to the new expectations for health and wellness that will persist over time. Integrating unique outdoor experiences into the workplace will continue to play a key role in elevating a property’s desirability and the quality of life for those who inhabit it.
The Hub, a mixed-use development in Denver’s River North area, features a large outdoor deck that is divided into zones – each intended to support different activities in an outdoor space that is equal parts workplace and social space.
To create engaging, comfortable and productive outdoor work environments, Landscape Forms’ Studio 431 President, Michael Blum, says a customized focus on adaptability, community interaction and diverse use are key. "We believe that employees prefer dynamic spaces to accommodate different work and social activities,” says Blum. "We are seeing an increase in projects that extend the office environment to adjacent outdoor spaces like terraces, rooftops and courtyards. Employees appreciate the ability to get outside during the workday and to do so in well-designed spaces tailored to support their needs.” To see how these space planning principles play out it practice, Blum points to recent projects like The Hub mixed-use office and transit space in Denver, CO and the ProMedica Corporate Campus in Toledo, OH as particularly well-executed examples of Studio 431’s custom work.
Tenants from multiple companies located at The Hub mix together on the deck, which supports the social intersections that happen in the workplace.
Designed around the increasing overlap between our work and social lives, The Hub’s outdoor common spaces invite different activities and group sizes with the aim of building community across its range of tenants. “Today’s generation of employees is looking for more,” says Scott Jordan, Principal of Civitas, the landscape architecture and urban design firm behind The Hub. “Life is tied to work. A lot of social outlets come through work. The Hub concept offers people working for different companies an opportunity to engage with others throughout the building. The design enables social intersections where people can meet and create community.”
For the ProMedica Corporate Campus and its adjoining park, the objective was to enhance employee wellbeing while also providing new value for the Toledo community at large. "With the ProMedica project, the goal was to bring employees together, celebrate the natural landscape and beautiful views as well as create a welcoming space for the community,” says Michael Blum.
Ohio-based healthcare system ProMedica’s approximately 1,000 employees are now working at a new campus in the heart of downtown Toledo located at a prime location on the Maumee River and adjacent to city-owned Promenade Park.
In both The Hub mixed-use development and the ProMedica Corporate Campus, large-scale custom Studio 431 seating elements serve as anchors for the outdoor space. Custom design and engineering respond to the sites’ individual footprints and topography to intuitively guide people and encourage their interaction in ways that best makes sense with the space.
Throughout The Hub’s Great Hall central deck space, Studio 431 created a series of bright yellow 30-foot long, six-foot wide custom benches with fire pits in their centers to serve as a year-round social focal point. The benches make for a dynamic gathering place as tenants from multiple companies mix together on the deck. “The long benches add to the communal feeling of the place, and bright colors are a visual cue to come out and use the space,” describes Scott Jordan. A selection of Landscape Forms’ standard offerings complement the custom bench seating to create different “rooms” within the deck space. The deck’s various zones create “an open palette to use in different ways,” says Jordan. “The intent was for people to make it their own space, to move with the sun and move depending on the activity.”
One of the focal points of the deck space at The Hub is a custom row of 30-foot long, six-foot wide custom benches with fire pits in their centers crafted by Studio 431.
On ProMedica’s sprawling corporate campus, planning, urban design and landscape architecture firm MKSK called on Studio 431 to create sculptural bench seating that followed the site’s winding central walkway and reflected the landscape’s undulating topography. “MKSK wanted to give pedestrians a reason to pause along the walkway,” says Studio 431’s Darin Piippo. “They wanted a bench that was sculptural and integrated into the landscape. MKSK could have designed a traditional barrier, but they wanted to do something exceptional.”
And exceptional the result was. An all-star team of Studio 431 engineers and manufacturers came together to figure out the intricacies of creating a 100-foot-long continuous bench that spanned a five-percent grade change. “The sheer scope of the bench presented a challenge,” says Studio 431 Project Engineer Chad Kendall. “We wanted to make the bench self-fixturing so that the pieces would fit together accurately and easily. All the structure was laser cut and formed with connecting tabs and slots. This design element was instrumental in successfully manufacturing a bench of this scale.”
Promenade Park features a custom 100-foot-long continuous bench that spanned a five-percent grade change and is made of 2,600 steel and wood components.
The team also had to build adjustability into the bench to account for the slope of the site. Kendall and team designed adjustable legs that could be fine-tuned during installation to ensure that the seat plane was flush and elevations correct. In total, the bench is made of 2,600 steel and wood components, assembled into 20 five-foot long sections. “The upfront investment on the engineering side made the end product so much easier to install. The beauty is that the bench reads as one continuous element, almost floating above the landscape,” describes Darin Piippo.
Studio 431 President, Michael Blum concludes, "In each of these projects and many others for high-profile clients, the outdoors brings new value to their spaces and can create more dynamic and rewarding settings for employees.” Indeed, the benefits of activating underutilized outdoor spaces are far-reaching and enduring. Through Studio 431’s full-service, collaborative approach, activating these spaces is not only a timely, effective answer to current concerns—it is an important investment in future-proofing facilities by meeting the lasting expectations for beautiful, wellness-oriented outdoor spaces in the workplace.