“More and more of our corporate clients are very interested in the standards and measures because they want to know their ROI,” Chapman says. “What we’re finding, most of the time, is that a person’s perception of their salary goes up—even though their salary hasn’t—after improvements have been made to the physical environment. Now that’s when you get an employer’s attention.”
Orfield is particularly excited about his firm’s latest patented product. It’s called Architectural Dynamics, and it’s a computerized system designed to create an indoor environment of “perceptually fluctuating stimuli.” By orchestrating subtle changes in lighting, daylighting, acoustics, thermal comfort, and olfactory stimuli, Orfield says, he can make workers feel stimulated in ways similar to enjoying a day outside, in perfect weather—all while seated at their workstations.
“Preferred environments tend to be parks and lakes—places where you are mildly perceptually loaded,” he says. “You hear sounds, smell smells, but nothing is very harsh. All your senses are alive, and you are up and open.”
In an “architecturally dynamic” office, the indoor environment would change throughout the day. Colored lightscapes on core walls would brighten moods. Muted sounds from natural environments would soothe and de-stress—or wake people up. Scents wafting through the building could heighten perceptions. If everyone were walking around, the system could tell the building to calm people down; if everyone were seated, energizing stimuli might be needed.
“The question is: How aurally loaded can you be and still be able to do your work?” Orfield says. “We’ve got maybe another five or 10 years to begin to understand this concept. But that’s the fun! It really is a whole new area of psychology. Nobody [else] has thought to patent the concept of an intentionally fluctuating building. There’s nothing else like it.”
Orfield Labs’ architectural consulting business got a big boost in 2003, when it undertook a design intervention for Rochester-based Think Mutual Bank’s new 108,000-square-foot building. Orfield and his crew changed the color and orientation of the sunscreens, lightened the color of the carpet and cubicle walls to reflect more light, added glass to the upper walls of the cubes to allow more daylight penetration, eliminated cubicle overhead storage to erase shadows and improve air circulation, persuaded the president to forgo ineffective (and expensive) tinted window glass, recommended sound-absorbing ceiling tiles, designed and adjusted the sound-masking system, and changed the overhead lighting system to eliminate a ceiling’s “glare field” (an area of unwanted brightness that interferes with seeing clearly)—to name but a few improvements.
“Steve was a great guy to work with,” recalls Think Mutual Bank’s Steven Spohn, the building’s project manager. “But it was challenging. There were some pretty heated disagreements with the architects. Even so, the list of things that they did is substantial.”