Workplace + Public Realm: Security

Workplace + Public Realm: Security

Perhaps the biggest challenge to the potential benefits of the Public Mesh in supporting flexibility and work/life integration comes from the security necessitated by work. The nature of security has shifted along with the nature of work, from guarding physical goods to protecting intellectual property. However, our understanding of security needs and solutions has not caught up to the potential of the diffuse workplace proposed by the Public Mesh. Given the premium on innovation and collaboration, should security be reconsidered in the same way that privacy has? In other words, do interaction and a sense of community carry more weight than their potential security concerns?

Students attempted to answer these questions by exploring the topics of Exchanges and Neighborhood Engagement / Civic Involvement. 

Their work in exchanges explored different constructs of security, such as Jane Jacobs’ “eyes on the street,” Jeremy Bentham’s panopticon, and omniscience to explore questions of how surveillance impacts human behavior and how to balance privacy with public vibrancy. Students looked at public/private interfaces, both architectural and programmatic, that offer varying levels of public access in the Public Mesh to ease the transition from public to private. Challenging the notion that workplace should be hermetically sealed and impassable to members of the general public, students proposed workplaces that integrate educational space, lower-barrier to entry spaces like cafes, galleries and art studios, and public space that connects to transit. The students’ work points out the combined benefits to both workers (through interaction and engagement) and members of the broader community who get to enjoy new amenities and take part in the growth of their neighborhoods. 

All of these strategies point to the inherent tension posed by Security: 

Access: The Public Mesh necessitates a new understanding of security between the private and public realms, where access is varied and flows both ways

With knowledge workers desiring new levels of flexibility and work/life integration, access— typically a proposition of “getting in”—gets turned on its head, as work is “taken out” to the public realm. Workplace, with its contributions to company culture and shared meaning, might also strive to bring the public realm in for its workers through the Public Mesh. But to what extent? Companies seeking to leverage the assets of the public realm are faced with the challenge of offering a safe workplace for their people and protecting their intellectual and physical property. But in creating needed boundaries, security delimits place and population, potentially thwarting the opportunities of the Public Mesh. Workplace expectations and the necessity for security allows us to speculate about the boundaries between public and private and how they might achieve a new balance between work and life. 


As the Public Mesh takes shape as an architectural and urban design response to the changing nature of work, security will likely be its most complicated challenge. The extent of access for both knowledge workers and the public realm—as work moves into public territories and the public is allowed into the workplace— will need careful negotiation and a new understanding of how to behave in spaces where the public may also be at work. 

While current urban design thinking tends to respect the notion of “eyes on the street” when it comes to public security—after all, “if you see something, say something” has become a common slogan in the public realm—this model, in isolation, might not be sustainable for the changes that are taking place in both the workplace and the public realm. The ambiguity of a diverse society, newly engaging with places for which no prior model of behavior exists, may make it unclear whether someone is where they are allowed to be and whether the actions they are engaged in are permissible by both public and private standards. This complexity begs a layer of security such as that portended by omniscience—technology that identifies and evaluates security risks—that is not without its own set of concerns and complications. 

The Public Mesh is a strong contender for where workplace and the public realm are headed: the unanswered question is how to get beyond tentative integrations of work and life in order to fully realize its potential. How can these scenarios imagined by students guide workplace into the future? 

This is the seventh post of a 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