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The New Hierarchy

GSA Listens to Its Buildings to Ensure Spaces Emphasize the Work Being Done While Being True to Historic Qualities

Many aspire to call the corner office their own, and those who have it regard the space as a status symbol. However, for as long as corner offices have existed, they have separated the executives from the workers, sometimes resulting in a lack of communication, loss of camaraderie and even missed opportunities to help companies operate more effectively.

With a goal of creating spaces that actually reflect the work being done and not a staff hierarchy, the Washington, D.C.- based U.S. General Services Administration has spent years researching the way workers perform their jobs. “We’re now basing space on a vastly different attitude, which allows a different freedom in the way we look at a workspace because the work is taking priority and we can design and allocate toward that,” explains Lance Davis, AIA, LEED AP, program manager for Design Excellence Architecture + Sustainability with the GSA Public Buildings Service Office of Design and Construction.

As GSA renovates space to meet this new attitude, it is considering the historic qualities of its portfolio, essentially “listening” to the buildings’ original characteristics, which were designed to provide occupant comfort before engineering feats, like air conditioning, changed how we design and build. Consequently, these renovations and GSA’s support of alternative workspace arrangements are helping the agency meet federal mandates to streamline its vast portfolio, ultimately saving American taxpayers money.

A view of GSA’s headquarters, 1800 F. Street NW, Washington, D.C., after Phase 1 of its renovation is complete.

New Office Layouts

Many years ago, GSA asked itself whether it could take the historic buildings in its portfolio and renovate them for modern-day office capabilities while maintaining historic character. To better understand how to meet building occupants’ modern needs, GSA began conducting research studies. For example, post-occupancy evaluations included surveys with occupants, as well as observation of them to determine when they were in their seats, how they interacted, etc.

With the results of its research, GSA began experimenting with its own headquarters building at 1800 F Street NW. “We started trying out some furniture and working arrangements,” Davis remembers. “On our seventh floor, we tried some alternative furniture, walls and filing cabinets—all on wheels. This allowed different offices to adjust the environment to their needs. They started moving all the furniture around and reconnected their phones, etc. They were able to set up their space in a couple hours in a way that made sense for them.”

The Office of Design and Construction was also renovated to explore how you could keep the historic character of the building while providing offices, open area and semi-enclosed cubicles. “The findings are actually the model for the renovation that we are doing for 1800 F Street,” Davis says.

Currently, GSA’s staff is spread across 10 locations in the D.C. area but the 1800 F Street renovation will bring approximately 2,000 employees from these additional locations into the headquarters space, allowing GSA to re-allocate or sell the additional office spaces.

Davis says different floors in GSA’s headquarters may have entirely different layouts, depending on how the tenants will use the space. “Legal and accounting are not going to work in an open-office situation because the nature of the work they’re doing is private,” he says. “My office, the Office of Design and Construction, is going to be on one of the floors that is much more open with lots of touchdown stations, or community-type base areas. The work in our space is more interactive; when I’m talking to someone about a project, it’s OK that the electrical engineer sitting next to me overhears and can be a part of the conversation.”

About the Author

Christina A. Koch
Christina A. Koch is editorial director and associate publisher of retrofit.

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