Chiara Del Core 6 feb 2020 Articles 0 comments
Parameters for environmental comfort

The primary objective that the design of environments intended for work must set itself, is to ensure the well-being and safety of the worker, because only through these conditions is it possible to maximize the final results. For this reason, some principles of fundamental importance must be considered. The purpose of the entire design process is to make the working environments performant and comfortable from a thermal, acoustic and lighting engineering point of view.

- Visual comfort

Starting from the conformation of the environment, from the function that takes place in the specific area and from the needs of the user, it is good to distinguish the right level of lighting that is needed, also in relation to the natural light intensity present in the rooms. Inside a building for business use, the areas intended for real tasks (desks, common machinery for printing and other tasks) will need more light than, for example, the relaxation corners inserted for the coffee break . The reception and information area must also be equipped with good lighting, preferably of a scenic type or in any case studied on the coordinated image of the company, because it is the business card of the entire office. The lighting study represents an important aspect in the design of the working environment, since it must ensure adequate visual comfort, essential for the proper conduct of the activities prepared. To this end, it is necessary to avoid the creation of shaded or over-illuminated areas, through a correct distribution of the light sources and the choice of lights calibrated on the single function. Only in this way will you obtain an atmosphere that manages to stimulate work and at the same time not to tire the eyes of those who spend most of the day at the video terminal.

The reference values ​​used in the office lighting design are established by the UNI 10380 standard. The luminaires are chosen considering classes A and B which include light sources with medium-high and high performance respectively. In addition, in recent years, particular attention has been paid to energy saving, especially in the workplace where lights and electronic machinery are used for most of the day, causing significant consumption. For this reason, it is good to optimize investment costs and at the same time contribute to the containment of energy expenditure, through the use of LED luminaires. Given the intended use of the offices, the optimal choice is represented by neutral colored lamps, having a color temperature of 4000K and strategically positioned luminaires to ensure diffused, punctual light and avoid unpleasant reflections on the PC screen. It is therefore clear how each choice should be weighted on the functionality and necessity of each individual area. In addition, thanks to smart technologies, offices are now equipped with light personalization systems according to the taste and needs of the worker. In fact, it is good to give the possibility to adjust the temperature and color of each appliance in order not to tire the eyesight and thus be able to carry out the work in a comfortable way. The latest generation products are equipped with sensors that recognize certain areas of the office and therefore provide lighting designed for the specific need, adjust themselves according to the natural light present and are activated only when they intercept human presence. For this reason, today in the company, every workstation can also be customized in terms of technical lighting.

- Thermal comfort

The maintenance of a pleasant microclimate inside the offices is a fundamental prerogative in order to ensure optimal performances by users. To ensure ideal comfort, it is good to establish the thermo-hygrometric characteristics that the rooms must have depending on the place and time of the year and the internal air changes necessary to guarantee the quality of the same. To this end, it is essential that an adequate number of openings is present, thanks to which the air can flow naturally. In fact, if the windows are missing or not enough, it will be necessary to insert special air conditioning and ventilation systems. It is indeed essential to guarantee healthy and quality air to all office occupants as established by current legislation. For this reason, it is good that there are no toxic substances in the air and that in the presence of air conditioning systems, careful maintenance and cleaning of the relative filters and vents is carried out. As for the temperature
ideal to be kept inside the rooms, it will be shaped on the physical characteristics of the spaces and its components as well as on the period of the year. The reference values ​​for obtaining internal comfort are around 22 ° C in summer and 19 ° C in winter with a relative humidity rate of around 50%. To avoid an excessive rise in temperature during the summer season, it is good to equip the building windows with curtains and shielding devices. Furthermore, the choice to equip the systems with thermostats, capable of regulating the temperature according to the need, would guarantee a substantial saving in energy and economic terms. 

- Acoustic comfort

If correct lighting of the workstations and a balanced microclimate ensure the well-being of the worker, the absence of unpleasant noises is also of fundamental importance. From a design point of view, in fact, there are important acoustic requirements which, if observed, contribute to the most correct performance of the work activities. Currently, the spread of open space environments that bring together a large number of employees, presents the problem of overlapping sounds and noises. For example, the acoustic reverberation caused by the chatter between colleagues is very annoying to the point of adversely affecting the worker performance. By losing concentration and increasing stress and tiredness, psycho-physical well-being is also put to the test. However, to remedy this type of problem, it is possible to remedy by identifying the cause of the disturbance and using sound-absorbing solutions that act as an obstacle for the propagation of sound waves. This type of product, often represented by flexible and easily adaptable panels thanks to the chromatic and material variations, guarantees a considerable increase in acoustic comfort, without the need to intervene on the building structure.

Although the example of the free-plan office is perhaps the most complex in terms of noise disturbance, even offices divided into single workstations can present the same difficulties. In this case, it is very important to insert acoustic masking systems thanks to which a sound similar to a fan is reproduced and then spread homogeneously throughout the environment. In addition, the false ceiling must ensure high soundproofing performance and guarantee sound insulation. The limit values established by the legislation are around 50 dBA and if exceeded, physical ailments such as tiredness and fatigue can occur. On the market there are numerous furnishings to aid acoustic protection: seats equipped with risers designed to be an obstacle to the propagation of sounds and sofas with high edges positioned to enclose and envelop the user who wants privacy.

The choice of furniture

Within the environments intended for work activities, the choice of furniture is of fundamental importance for the correct performance of daily tasks. The first aspect to consider concerns the dimensions and the typology of the rooms: open space offices, single cells and mixed compartments will require different furnishings. In fact, depending on the type of activity to be carried out, the occupants of the building will have particular needs. The fundamental prerogative is that every single component ensures comfort and functionality even before aesthetic results. Within complex corporate offices, the areas intended for reception and reception must be equipped with several seats and counters sized so as not to hinder communication between the public and employees. It is necessary that this area is always clean, adequately lit and that it respects the corporate image since it is the first accessible space for those arriving from the outside. In this regard, there must be the complete absence of architectural barriers and elements that can hinder free movement.

The areas intended for breaks must also be taken care of and designed to ensure comfort and relaxation, thanks to the inclusion of sitting areas and food and drink distributors. As for the setting up of the actual offices, it is necessary to establish a "basic" module to which to add accessories as needed. This matrix usually consists of a desk, a seat, a table lamp and sometimes a shelving unit. The table top is perhaps the most important element, since most of the work is carried out on the desk; the calculated minimum dimensions coincide with a depth of 60 cm for 1 m in length and the height must allow easy insertion of the chair so that the user is comfortable even when seated (75 cm). The shape is usually rectangular, while the materials may vary but must be chosen with a view to facilitating maintenance and cleaning. The optimal choice involves placing the table with your back to the wall and never in front of openings that would cause unpleasant reflections on the PC monitors. An innovative solution concerns the height-adjustable desk, perfect in open spaces where the workstations can be rotated between colleagues with physical needs that are also very different from each other.

The chair, on the other hand, must be studied on ergonomics and must ensure comfort and safety for the worker who spends a lot of time sitting on it. In fact, if it does not respect the minimum dimensions, it would cause malaise and tiredness with a consequent poor performance by the user. The seat must be swivel and the backrest flexible so that the height and inclination can be adjusted according to the need. From the point of view of materials, breathable and perforated fibers are preferred which guarantee well-being even during the warm seasons, at the expense of the old leather swivel armchairs with synthetic padding. To facilitate the performance of work tasks, it is good to equip each individual workstation with a table lamp that emits diffused light and that can be adjusted according to need. Warm tones and low energy light bulbs are preferred, so as to avoid eye strain and contribute to environmental protection. Often, this "model" is completed by shelving specially sized to collect material and documents useful for daily work. In the event that the plan provides for multiple workstations, the same can be divided through sound-absorbing panels that guarantee privacy and adequate sound insulation. Inside the open spaces, it is essential that the furnishings are flexible and can be moved according to the need of the moment, always ensuring freedom of movement and accessibility for everyone. Furthermore, in some cases it is possible to opt for real modular solutions where tables and chairs are assembled according to the expected number of users. It is therefore clear how the choice of furniture for working spaces should prefer the functional aspect, practicality and comfort, in order to increase the well-being and productivity of workers.

Minimum distances between workstations in an open space office, minimum dimensions of a work station and simplification scheme of the ideal work seat
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How has the office design scenario changed?

Since the ultimate goal of architecture is to meet the practical needs of those who use it, it is good that it is shaped by the changing characteristics of the society to which it refers. Having said that, lately the concept of work and time and place related to it has profoundly changed its connotations, based on the principles of flexibility and mobility and no longer on fixed and unchanging locations. For this reason, the design process also adapts to these changes by re-evaluating the spatial organization of the internal environments. If at one time the traditional project of a company included large offices and conference rooms, suitable to accommodate a large number of people, today it is preferred to resize these spaces and study them according to the real need. In fact, it is often more useful to use smaller areas but in greater numbers, rather than a few large oversized spaces. This is because in many companies there is a need to have small and specialized environments where each team (consisting of a few people) can come together to discuss and carry out the specific activities that belong to them.

By organizing the floor plan according to this view, it is easier to optimize the use of spaces by avoiding to enter too large and partially used rooms. Furthermore, as already mentioned, if the work today is mainly based on the cooperation of several people, it is clear that the concept of office with single workstations is now outdated. It is for this reason that often, when workers are in smart working, outside the corporate headquarters, several desks remain unused. In the face of such situations, many companies opt for the sharing of spaces occupied in rotation by colleagues in the office. However, if open spaces maximize the exploitation of space and encourage exchange and communication between colleagues, on the other hand they sacrifice privacy and concentration. In order not to compromise productivity and ensure the confidentiality of each worker, it is necessary that there are also some more intimate areas where you can independently carry out your work and develop projects that are shared only later.

Another innovative aspect concerns the social exploitation of areas that were once marginal and neglected. An example of this are the paths that connect the various offices or the different functional islands of the building: once such spaces performed a single function and were not really lived and exploited, today they instead take on different tasks. With the progressive dematerialisation of individual offices and the merger into common areas, the routes are incorporated into the working spaces or become connection areas where meetings and exchanges of information take place. A second case is represented by the relaxation and recreational areas, previously used for the consumption of meals or snacks, now reinterpreted as precious social containers where colleagues can interact, thanks also to the aesthetic and comfortable care of seats and interactive spaces. But it is not only the spatial organization of the offices that changes, but also their typology, increasingly attentive to contemporary needs that radically differ from those of the past. With the evolution of the concept of work and its organization, offices are increasingly flexible, increasingly adaptable and differentiated. It is in this scenario that coworking, home stations and temporary offices spread: each characterized by specific characteristics and designed for very different needs.

The former are characterized by the possibility of sharing spaces, thanks to which substantial economic savings can be obtained. The dual advantage is that of working on projects independently, even with professionals belonging to sectors other than one's own, but in contact with other people. It is thus possible to weave new knowledge, exchange contacts and save money, while sacrificing the confidentiality and privilege of owning a studio where you can also receive customers and collaborators. The second type is perfect for the self-employed or for those who work smart working some days of the week. What matters is having a home environment or carving out a working area where it is essential to feel comfortable in order to concentrate properly. The negative aspect regards the social sphere since the risk is that of isolating oneself and losing direct contact with colleagues. Finally, temporary workstations represent a mixture of the two aforementioned types, as they are characterized by their own work area inside an apartment shared by several professionals. In this way it is possible to share the expenses and at the same time to benefit from offices already organized and usable even for short periods.
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