A Day Outdoors—Inside
Orfield Labs consultants travel to buildings—first to take measurements of workspaces (temperature, glare, air quality, sound transfer), and then to survey the occupants of those workspaces. The goal of Orfield’s Architectural Technology group is to make its clients’ buildings comfortable, productive environments for the people who use them.
Orfield paints a bleak picture of the standard cubicle: “You sit in stagnant air, so any off-gassing from the partitions hangs around you all day. You face into a corner, so you have no view. You have no daylight. You don’t smell anything. You don’t feel the air moving because it is stagnant. The only area of perception that is really active is your hearing—and then you complain about privacy.”
Whether the “underperforming” space is a cube farm or a meeting room, Orfield and his crew perform what he calls “design interventions”: troubleshooting problems with lighting, daylighting, heating and cooling, acoustics, and sound masking (white-noise systems that create speech privacy)—whatever the building’s occupants find troublesome. It’s an approach that crosses many disciplines. Thermal, lighting, and acoustical consultants may compete with his company to get a job, Orfield says, but most of them know nothing about the others’ disciplines: “So if a lighting guy wins, the acoustics won’t work very well; if the thermal guy wins, the lighting won’t work very well.”
Another problem, Orfield says, is the building industry’s focus on sustainability and energy efficiency. “Many buildings are designed primarily for energy savings—at the cost of quality,” he asserts. By quality, Orfield is referring to light and sound characteristics that are pleasing and comfortable to those working in the building. “We maintain that you can build an energy-efficient building that’s also good for its occupants,” he adds. “Focusing on good buildings for occupants brings the most value to the bottom line. If workers are happy, they’re better employees.”
Orfield Labs prefers to start working on building projects at the design stage, employing two signature products: the Certified Building Performance Standards and the Certified Building Performance Measures.
The standards, which are developed before construction or renovation begins, define parameters for the indoor environment that promise an optimal experience for the occupants. The measures comprise physical measurements and an occupancy quality survey. Technicians measure temperature, humidity, air velocity, noise, light, and even CO2 values (which, when elevated, might indicate air quality problems) at each workspace. Within an hour or so (ideally) after the measurements, all of the occupants take a survey that measures five components of satisfaction, including feelings about their jobs, their managers, and their compensation.
After physical changes occur, either by renovation of the space or the construction of a new building, the measurements and surveys are repeated.