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A sense of place

Art in the workplace is a great opportunity to promote wellbeing, engagement and a sense of belonging, says Tazie Taysom of art consultancy Artiq

Placemaking is a well-established concept in the fields of urban planning and design management, where it alludes to the capitalisation of space in order to promote community wellbeing. Placemaking has also become accepted as a broader, more general approach to space, understood as the drive to create a sense of the unique and location-specific, and to ensure that environments are inclusive and open for the enjoyment of all.

It’s this latter aspect of placemaking that, according to the recent RICS/IFMA study ‘Raising the bar’, comes within the purview of facilities management teams, and is now regularly assessed by workplace strategists when considering office design concepts and execution.

In the same way that multinational hotel chains have learnt to be local and specific in the aftermath of the boutique hotel onslaught, which changed the whole business model of the ‘reliable’, identikit-branded chain hotel, workplace environments must now compete for client and staff engagement in more in-depth ways. Consideration of the physical, cultural and social identity of a place can impact on multiple aspects of a workplace design, from space planning and desk architecture to the use of colour and light.

One of the greatest tools available to FM teams in creating a strong sense of place, as well as enhancing wellbeing and promoting inclusivity, is art. Art is visually stimulating and socially engaging, and an effective way of giving people control over their environment. Employees feel motivated and engaged when they are involved in decisions about what art to install in the workspace. It’s also one of the most cost-effective ways to refresh the work environment, especially for those who choose to rent art, changing everything around on a six-monthly basis.

PICTURE THIS
The concept of placemaking in art can be manifested in all kinds of different ways, starting with the most straightforward – prints depicting the locations of offices around the globe, for example, or vintage photography showing the surrounding area in past eras. But art can do more than this; it has the power to turn a workplace from a ‘regular’ space’ into a ‘feel-good’ space. It can make a place memorable for visitors and employees alike, and can also be used to signpost different zones or usages.

Breakout spaces can be defined by a salon hang (placing several pictures alongside and above one another, either randomly or in a geometric pattern), for example. Meeting areas could be ‘place-marked’ by more formal furniture arrangements, accompanied by a high-impact artwork or interactive installation. Art can be used to express changing strategies, create new places within the office environment, or recognise significant events taking place in the industry. Placemaking with artwork is about making your workplace relevant, and flexibility is key to this.

So how, exactly, do you set about using art as a tool for placemaking within the micro-environment of the workplace? It’s important to be brave. A print collection depicting global offices is a good start, but there is so much more you can do. The geometric sculptural designs of artist Eddie Roberts, for example, work as a direct embodiment of architectural practice in London. His twisted shards of fabricated steel both reflect the outside world and push viewers to look at the corners of their own spaces in a different light. The DNA of the business is expressed in stark metal, exposed for all to see, and the artist’s medium serves to encourage conversation, discussion and innovation.

Roberts’ work requires the grand canvas of a large reception area or lobby to fully express his ideas. But much can be achieved in a smaller space. In a recent project with a law firm in Liverpool, our artwork procurement team swept the city to find local and emerging artists to display their work at the company’s premises. This helped forge a connection with the local community, showing commitment to young and upcoming artistic talent.

In another project, for the London office of a large US-headquartered business, the team showcased Patrick Simkins’ impressionistic depictions of London, marking the importance of the office as the access point for dealings with the European market. Placemaking-through-art was important not just to the inhabitants of the space, but as a statement to clients and colleagues coming from afar.

CREATIVE THINKING
Creativity also provides a way for your brand to express itself. While narratives about the importance of a specific place might resonate with a multinational law firm, other businesses can go one step further. Perhaps you are a small business wanting to expand, with ambitious ideas and growth plans. These values can be endorsed by a display of artwork – perhaps large abstract landscapes to encourage blue-sky thinking, or digitally-innovative canvases, like Roberto Grosso’s interactive artwork.

Brand values can also be creatively expressed through artwork. Software consultancy ThoughtWorks, for example, uses an electronic voting tool that allows each staff member to vote on their favourite pieces, which are then hung on scaffolding in the office. The artworks not only reflect the open working environment, but the process of selection expresses an important facet of the company’s culture and provides an opportunity for each individual to ‘place-make’ within the company.

Local and global don’t have to be separated; they can work together as art strategies, providing an opportunity for a truly inclusive expression of an organisation’s values. A sense of place is not created by knowing your postcode – it derives from a feeling of connection with your surroundings. Through its visual language and the feelings it inspires, an artwork collection can help create that sense of engagement and belonging.

Be brave with your choices and encourage companywide involvement. Art makes people feel good, makes your workplace memorable, and contributes to the social, cultural, environmental and economic sustainability of the place you have made your own.

About Sarah OBeirne

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