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Research Charts Our Future

Research informed design yields creative, forward-thinking design solutions for people, businesses, and communities. Image © Gensler

Design matters, and as a firm we place this insight at the center of everything that we do. We believe in creating innovative solutions that allow people to live, work and play in spaces that spark inspiration, enable collaboration and empower not only our clients but the communities they serve. It is this bedrock belief that has fueled the substantial investment Gensler has made in our research program—a choice that has created powerful new value for our clients and our communities.

The U.S. Workplace Survey

Today, knowledge workers are faced with a business climate centered on constant communication and a rapid pace of change. They are being asked to do more with less. Our research shows that we need to provide the setting and support for the broadening diversity of activities packed into the workday. More and more, we see the individual workstation is not the sole location for work; it one of many settings where work happens.

We began our research program with a focus on the workplace, an area where our firm prides itself on its leadership and expertise. This body of research originated in 2005 with our first workplace survey in the U.K., and we’ve expanded our database of findings many times over the past decade. Our workplace survey has enabled us to capture external survey results from over 5,500 respondents, which, coupled with our client-facing Workplace Performance Index®, provides a comprehensive view of what it means to live, work and play in today’s built environment.

The survey initiative is a highly iterative process—each survey builds on the findings and expands the insights of the ones before it. And its impact has been tremendous—redirecting attention on the importance of focus work and the challenges of the modern, tech-enabled, collaborative workplace, while also offering a vocabulary and toolkit to address these challenges.

For our 2013 U.S. Workplace Survey, we commissioned a nationwide survey of 2,035 professionals to take the pulse of the U.S. workplace and to help us understand what a high-performance workplace looks like for knowledge workers. The study examined the factors that create an effective workplace, enabling Gensler to develop innovative design solutions that promote knowledge worker engagement, satisfaction and performance. These spaces enable positive organizational cultures to emerge, and really demonstrate how design shapes employee productivity, performance and enjoyment in the workplace.

Our workplace surveys provide us the insights necessary to ensure our strategies and solutions are timely and impactful and to address the way people work today and into tomorrow. In keeping with that mandate, next year we’re excited to add the newest chapters of the survey initiative, the 2016 U.S. Workplace Survey and our first Asia Workplace Survey.

You can’t address work without first addressing the buildings and city blocks in which it takes place. Image © Gensler

Hackable Cities

We aren’t just brining new innovation to the workplace, we’re also directing a lot of attention to the types of office buildings where work occurs. The two are so closely related, and we spent nearly three years examining how office buildings—and entire urban districts—will morph to accommodate the changing demands of work.

Looking at 20 cities around the world, a Gensler research team examined how existing structures can be reconfigured to incorporate a diverse mix of uses and a range of tenants. They call this process “hacking”—a dynamic and sustainable approach to the future of office buildings. Our efforts led us to speculate how underutilized building stock can be transformed into new workplaces. Early analysis pointed to two trends: a move towards re-urbanization and the transformation of office buildings from single-use to more diverse, mixed-use projects.

In several cities we looked at hacking an entire block or district, reinforcing the notion that the commercial office building of the future may not be a building at all, but rather an urban neighborhood or district hacked to serve tomorrow’s workforce.

Transforming underutilized and ignored spaces is one way cities can reinvent themselves and the environments they offer. Image © Gensler

Going Underground

In London, we applied some of the insights we’ve learned about reinventing cities to research new uses for old infrastructure—with exciting results. We focused on the transformation of the outdated tunnels of London’s underground subway system, reimagining them as clean, safe and inviting circulation paths for bicyclists and pedestrians.

Dubbed The London Underline, this proposed subterranean network would help to relieve the growing pressures on the city’s streets and public transportation system, which is strained by a population load that’s predicted to reach 10 million by 2029. The proposed links—all within a culturally dense square mile beneath the city’s West End, Soho and Covent Garden districts—are right at the heart of a tourist hot spot.

With an estimated capacity of 112,000 cyclists and pedestrians per day, The London Underline would not only provide a safe and efficient alternative to the street, it would offer commuters a dry alternative on London’s frequent rainy days. The idea has major potential and outsized implications for other cities, and it has been a big hit at the London Planning Awards, where it was named the Best Conceptual Project. In the process, our work ignited conversations around the world about improving people’s lives through alternative modes of transportation and the creative reclamation of old infrastructure.

Research shows that libraries still play an important role in academic life. Image © Garrett Rowland

Future of campus libraries

What impresses me so much about projects like The London Underline and Hackable Cities initiative is that they demonstrate how our research program is always challenging norms—and making new discoveries in the process. That’s just what happened in our education team’s study of the current and future use of university libraries.

Given the massive shift toward digital media, we wondered about the enduring power of libraries, which traditionally have been the domain of printed books and journals. To get at this, Gensler investigated whether printed books are still important to students or if they mainly access content as e-books or other web-based formats.

We found that students visit academic libraries more often to access digital resources than to check out printed books. But access to both print and digital remain important, outweighing alternatives such as socializing, attending events, or seeking help from librarians. Our data and other independent research suggest that the question of books versus digital resources is not an either/or proposition.

More important is what we found out about how students study, and the role that libraries play in their study habits. University and college students devoted three times as many hours studying on their own rather than studying with peers, according to our survey of 1,200 U.S. students. So collaborative learning is not as prevalent as some had thought. Also, given the choice, students say they prefer to study in the library. The main reason: libraries offer a place where they can focus, and focus makes their study time more effective.

The Power of Research

These are only four of the more than 100 research projects undertaken at Gensler in the past six years, but they are important for the impact they are having on design. We published findings of 42 research projects in the first edition of the Gensler Research Catalogue in 2014. And next year we will be coming out with our second edition, highlighting the findings of the past two years of research and the work of hundreds of Gensler professionals around the world.

Our research is paving the way for our firm to meet the complex needs of our clients. We know that the role of design is to make the lives of the people that we serve better, and our research program has already played a transformative role in improving workplace performance, connecting communities and reinvigorating the urban centers that are leading us boldly into the 21st century.

Diane Hoskins
Diane Hoskins. is one of two Gensler Co-CEOs. She is focused on Gensler’s global talent strategies, performance and organizational development to ensure that we serve our clients with the world’s top talent. The catalyst for Gensler’s Research program, Diane is committed to delivering value to clients through strategies and innovations like Gensler’s Workplace Performance Index® (WPI). Contact her at diane_hoskins@gensler.com.

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