Workplace + Public Realm: Public Mesh
One of the most profound changes in workplace design has been fueled by the cultural desires of today’s workforce. People want to be someplace: they seek specificity and connectedness. The hermetically-sealed office, in suburb or city, has become a non-starter. In response, workplace engages the public realm, serving the human need to connect with community and place.
For all of our challenges as a society, the right kind of public spaces—New York’s Washington Square and San Francisco’s Dolores Park, for instance— play deft host to civil society in all of its diversity. These public spaces offer the specificity and connectedness people seek in both work and life, which may account for the fact that plazas, parks and cafes are often full of people working.
The public realm is poised for a substantial merge with workplace, a Public Mesh. A shared lobby or terrace, a cafe or gallery, an adjacent park or transit hub are some, but not all, of its elements: the Public Mesh is an ecosystem of publicly-accessed places, mutually defined by private and public entities, that happens at different scales and through different territories of public and private ownership.
The student work in this chapter addresses the expectations for more flexibility and work/life integration by offering initial steps towards the Public Mesh. The Public Mesh draws from the precepts of good urban design to imagine a spatial and experiential blurring of the workplace and the public realm to the benefit of both public and private interests.
Exploring the topic of Density + Scale, students investigated walkability, human-scaled development, networked public amenities, multi-level urbanism, and a continuous public realm. In the space of Infrastructure, one student posed the possibility of the workplace itself as a public resource, functioning as a network akin to infrastructure. Taken as a whole, these projects suggest that the Public Mesh responds to three key expectations:
Inside/Out: Desirable indoor and outdoor spaces
Community: Participation in society and the feeling of being in public
Connectivity: Access to different experiences and the ability to get around
The Public Mesh presents a radical shift toward the blurring of workplace and the public realm, with compelling and complex implications for the built environment and one’s experience of place.
The Public Mesh anticipates that workplace design has the potential to both fuel and benefit from a reinvigoration of the public realm. Essential to the Public Mesh will be the identification of key public programs, events, rituals, memories and desires, with social and cultural agendas embedded. Program opportunities include a retail strategy that connects with key aspects of a city’s identity, open spaces such as courtyards or terraces, public meeting rooms, or pedestrian-biased circulation that enlivens and blurs the distinction between private and public realms. Spatially diverse and scaled for the human experience, this kind of public/private programming has the potential to meet current workplace needs while catalyzing future growth.
While public/private partnerships of this nature bring great opportunity, many complex factors influence the Public Mesh. The development process must balance market forces with public policy and land use to ensure that both public and private interests are served. As workplace and the public realm merge, territories and boundaries that were once evident and fixed are renegotiated, sparking a productive tension between ambiguity and clarity. Security too must be renegotiated in the Public Mesh to fully realize the public realm’s value in spurring innovation and fostering community. These influences will shape the Public Mesh in many ways, as the following chapters begin to illustrate.
This is the fourth post of an seven part series tied to our recent publication, Workplace + Public Realm, which follows a yearlong research studio with Stanford University and Northeastern University. You can read the introduction here.