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Escaping the office: The growing movement to take work outdoors

Tree Office Coworking.

A pop-up tree office in London is the latest expression of a growing movement to take work out of the office into the landscape of the city. Designed as an installation for the recent London Festival of Architecture, the tree-house coworking space is equipped with power and wi-fi and will be available to hire for several months.

The project is part of the Park Hack project led by Hackney Council. Profits from the space will be reinvested into parks and green spaces in the area.

The tree office workspace continues the appetite for the pop-up urbanism movement. The pop-ups are temporary installations and cover a broad spectrum including art, retail, food and craft. They are intended to highlight alternative perspectives, gather feedback in real time and test potential urban design improvements.

The trend to get out of the office is not new, however projects such as the treehouse workspace highlight a renewed focus on making working outdoors practical.

Since Ray Oldenburg officially coined the term “third place” in 1989, our drive to find accessible, social, technologically enabled and welcoming places to work within the urban environment continues unabated.

Despite advances in technology and evidence of the benefits of nature on our thinking and well-being, the reality of working outdoors has not been without challenges.

A groundbreaking project in New York City in 1989 was one of the first to formally experiment with ways to activate multiple urban public spaces as worksites. The project called Breakout! aimed to draw on the platforms of mobile technology and location-aware social networks to support cross-organisational and interdisciplinary collaborations. Despite the technology underpinning, a key aim of the project was to increase serendipity and face-to-face connection.

The experiment highlighted the challenges of working outdoors, with issues such as access to power in public space and unsuitable furniture limiting the outcomes. Fast forward to 2015, and an increasing number of urban planners and furniture designers are making the outdoor workspace a design priority.

The benefits of working in natural environments are the focus of a growing body of empirical research. A recent study on the use of plants in offices found a 15% increase in productivity when plants were added to lean office spaces. Employees also reported improvements in air-quality, satisfaction and concentration.

Far removed from the days of the half-dead dusty fern adorning a forgotten corner of the office, organisations are embracing the biophilia hypothesis with gusto. The Selgas-Cano office in Madrid is built nestled into the ground. Google’s proposed new biodome in Mountain View and the new Ecole Polytechnique at the Paris-Saclay University are designed to embed the office space right into nature.

However, the time when we will be able to work effectively in the actual outdoors may not to be too far off. Designers such as Jonathan Olivares and Buzzispace creating prototype outdoor working solutions that include a range of ergonomic, sheltered, powered and customisable furniture arragements.

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