It's hot in here. My neck hurts. I need to get organized and finish this project. Wonder where they're going to put the new guy...
Sound familiar? Work spaces that are uncomfortable and inflexible hinder productivity and creativity. Carnegie Mellon researchers know that, and they are literally "on the job," dedicated to improving the quality of the workplace.
Their laboratory — known as the Robert L. Preger Intelligent Workplace (IW) — sits atop Margaret Morrison Carnegie Hall. It's a living laboratory, meaning it's continually being updated to feature advanced systems, components and materials. And it's a lived-in laboratory, too — occupied by "real" workers and organizations.
"The IW is a wonderful place to work, with daylight throughout, fresh air on demand, spectacular views over the campus, and the ability to adapt spaces and technologies as needed," said Carnegie Mellon's Vivian Loftness, an architecture professor.
She added, "The IW is also a wonderful place to undertake Ph.D. research projects, to test the impact of the built environment on thermal comfort, air quality, acoustic quality, lighting quality and the technologies or organizational changes possible in the workplace of the future."
Professor of Architecture Stephen Lee recognizes that the IW is a work in progress that is undergoing constant change.
"The first challenge is to understand what the questions are so one can begin to develop a systematic approach to creating solutions," said Lee. "A specific question that we are working on is how to provide privacy to varying degrees in multiple workstation configurations while at the same time providing environmental quality to every individual."
One particular challenge is acoustic privacy. Lee and his team believe a solution lies in the design of absorptive objects that hang above the workspace — structures that are architecturally appealing while simultaneaously absorbing intrusive sounds such as a phone ringing or the human voice.
A second wing for Margaret Morrison is in development to house an 'Invention Works' factory where Carnegie Mellon inventors from across campus will collaborate to create products and systems that substantially improve our environment, our health and our quality of life, according to Loftness.
Senior researcher Azizan Aziz said the factory will generate more energy than it uses, making it a net exporter of energy.
"The [factory] accomplishes this feat with passive design strategies, maximizing onsite renewable energy and generating energy through an 'energy cascade' system that uses reject heat to create power," he explained.
The Robert L. Preger Intelligent Workplace is one of several projects at the Center for Building Performance and Diagnostics, directed by Volker Hartkopf.