Dutch architects have a new proposal for the office of the future - you can stand, sit, lean, lie, and crouch wherever you like.
The research is clear - we need to stop sitting down so much because it’s slowly killing us all. Right now, we’ve got two choices to mitigate the damage - getting up and walking around at regular intervals, or investing in a standing desk.
But what if you could change the entire office environment to reflect how far the science of standing and sitting has come? Or, as architect Ronald Rietveld from the design firm, RAAAF, told Margaret Rhodes at Wired, "What if we had an environment without chairs and tables, and we don’t think in these archetypes, but in terms of activities?”
Teaming up with Dutch artist Barbara Visser, staff at RAAAF are right now constructing “The End of Sitting” - a new live installation in the Looiersgracht 60 exhibit space in Amsterdam.
The idea sprang from an initiative launched by the Chief Government Architect of the Netherlands to get local designers thinking about how to design the shared office space with everything we now know about how our existing ones are affecting our health. “I think he didn’t expect[ed] the plans we came up with,” Rietveld told Rhodes. “We are really focusing on a longer-term vision.”
"We are not actually focusing on rocks taking over the world or something,” he added to Adele Peters at Fast Company. "It's a thinking model. That's the way we work as a studio - we try to work on the border of architecture, art, and science, to come up with new ways of thinking rather than solving all of the world's problems."
According to Wired, the RAAAF team studied a range of body poses and movements to figure out which were most comfortable. It’s not enough to assume that leaning back on a well-positioned, stanty wall for an hour is going to be comfortable, the designers had to figure out how to support the feet so that new healthy posture doesn’t become an unnecessary work-out.
One of the team’s main focusses was to improve the existing standing desk. While they’re infinitely better than the classic seated option, standing desks as we know them are certainly not perfect. For one, they’re reportedly giving devotees ‘cankles’ - fat ankles because of so much blood pooling down there all day. They can cause leg and back pain that impact on work. It can foster bad posture habits.
Supported standing, on the other hand, can lesson these negative health effects while cashing in on the good ones. It "can engage the muscles - hopefully enough to prevent the drop in fat-burning enzymes that occurs during long periods of sitting - without tiring out the employee’s legs and lower back quite so much,” says Rhodes at Wired. "The maze-like series of angled and tapered frames [in “The End of Sitting”] create an infinite number of leaning spots, for workers of any height. There are no fixed desks, so employees might find it natural to roam around and be active."
The team has now opened up the conversation to the public, asking them to come in and try out their new office space and leave feedback about their experience. They want to figure out which positions were most comfortable, how long it takes to get sore or fatigued, and what practical concerns they might have. Where even does my coffee cup go? They’ve teamed up with researchers from the Netherlands’ University of Groningen, who will publish the findings next year.
“What seems to be a result is that after a day of working, people are more active in their head, but more tired in their body. And that's actually what it's all about - the main goal is to actually put more pressure on your legs during the day, and take different positions,” Rietveld told Peters at Fast Company. "That's what sitting is not doing."