Experts from around the world agree: the design of collective spaces can improve quality of life. From transforming a city in crisis, to opening channels that increase knowledge, and improving performance in organizations, the effective use of space can foster rejuvenation, creativity and community. Even in the face of what seems like insurmountable obstacles, the way we use and reuse space can inspire progress and instill hope for a better future.
This type of inspirational progress was the topic of discussion between experts in innovation, building design and workplace strategy during the 2015 Quality of Life Conference. Experts like Juan Camilo Quintera Medina and Diebedo Francis Kere shared stories about innovation related to space design, development and management that created regional transformation.
Medina is CEO of Ruta N Corporation, an organization formed to promote innovation in Medellin, Colombia. Back in the 1990s, Medellin was a hotbed for narcotics trafficking and drug wars. As criminal activity skyrocketed, the city’s population tripled and nearly 3 million residents were living in poverty.
According to Medina, Medellin’s transformation was the result of a wide-ranging urban revitalization plan, changes in public policy and a city government full of young people who were anxious to write a new history for their town. They found creative space solutions to the region’s challenges:
- A ski lift was turned into a public transportation system to travel over the region’s rugged terrain, bringing people back into the city
- New parks and schools were built in an area destroyed by a mudslide
- An area isolated by a wartime boundary was reopened as a public recreation space
- Plans are underway to divert a highway and reunite the city with the local river and to turn a prison into a university campus that will benefit more than 20,000 students
While the changes weren’t simple, the results were astounding. What was once one of the world’s most violent cities is now one of the most innovative, according to the Wall Street Journal. The people of Medellin have a new lease on life thanks to innovative thinking and space reuse.
Kere shared a success story from Burkina Faso, Africa, a very poor nation where 99% of the people are illiterate. After schooling in Germany, he returned to his hometown as an architect determined to fulfill his childhood dream of building a school. Soundssimple. But it’s the way he built the school that is unique.
By using local clay to make bricks, beautiful classrooms were constructed. This new type of construction had a ripple effect on the community, creating job opportunities, boosting the economy and keeping young people from leaving the area. One brick at a time, this nation came back from the brink of disaster.
In both of these stories, the reuse of existing local resources and good space design led to major improvements that stimulated the economy and transformed lives. In the midst of hopelessness, these leaders saw fresh possibilities.
Similarly, the built environment in our communities and institutions can have a profound effect on quality of life, according to Cornell University Professor Franklin Becker, another conference panelist. Defined as the man-made space in which people live, work and play, Becker studies the transformative power of the built environment to drive organizational goals—or not.
For building design to improve productivity, engagement and creativity, Becker cautions that we must first understand what employees value most and give them a voice in the process. It’s easy for great space design to miss the mark if you don’t fully understand your users’ needs.
Observation is the best way to understand an organization’s performance factors, including technology culture, demographics and processes. As with any corporate strategy, before redesign, goals must be defined and research completed to ensure the plan will be successful.
These new concepts in workplace strategy, building design and innovation are changing the way we think about the areas where we live, work and play, and improving quality of life along the way.
Does your company have a smart workplace strategy? If so, what practices work best in your corporation?
Mark Bickford is President of Corporate Services for Sodexo North America and a strong advocate for the new performance frontier: Quality of Life. Mr. Bickford believes there is a direct link between enhanced Quality of Life and better individual, organization and community performance.