Creative spaces for creative minds

Stuttgart / Renningen | 13.10.2015 | Scientists seek to identify exactly what kind of spaces encourage the creativity of their users
An open zone with comfy chairs Open zones encourage the exchange of ideas (photo: Jörg Bakschas Headroom Consult/ Fraunhofer IAO)

How should spaces be designed to encourage maximum creativity? This is a question which is occupying the minds of researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Engineering (IAO). The Stuttgart researchers, however, have no simple answer or set of general rules on hand.

"Spaces for creative work may vary as much as the tasks given to creatives," comments Stefan Rief, Head of Competence Center Workspace Innovation at the Fraunhofer IAO. They can be big or small, open or closed, sombre or cheerful.

Portrait of Stefan Rief Stefan Rief is carrying out research on spaces for creative work. (photo: Fraunhofer IAO)

Variety and change are important factors

"A drab floor with a creative room achieves little," says Stefan Rief. "After all, creativity is a process, which cannot be restricted to just one room. Every aspect of working life is involved." He recommends that anyone seeking to create more space for this process should first consider where and why they need creativity and identify any obstacles they need to eliminate.

Rainer Weller, responsible for facility management of the new Bosch Centre for Research and Advance Engineering in Renningen near Stuttgartcan only agree. This research campus, which will be officially opened in October 2015, will be the hub of the international research network of the Bosch group. The open design and short distances encourage interdisciplinary collaboration. 1700 staff have already moved in. The specially developed office concept ensures a working environment that promotes creativity and cooperation. Flexible working models that create space for ideas are also a part of this; staff determine the place and time of work according to the given task and then work from home or on the campus.

A an open room with glass front and versatile furniture Created for the early phases of innovation: platform 12 on the new campus. (photo: Bosch)

Spaces for each phase of the innovation process

Rainer Weller and his colleagues collaborated with the Fraunhofer IAO in working out the underlying design. "Here at Bosch, we then further developed the individual design of spaces in close consultation with the future users," reports Rainer Weller. His central finding: "We need a variety of spaces to provide our research teams with the optimum working environment for creativity in each phase of the innovation process."

platform 12 on the Bosch campus has been specifically designed for the early phases of innovation, when gathering ideas, free thinking and open communication are particularly important. Here, on the top floor of the main building, there is a 270 degree panorama that extends as far as the Black Forest. "An unhindered panorama stretching far into the distance," says Rainer Weller. At the same time, the space has an unfinished look about it, so people can feel confident about making changes. Areas, furnishings and equipment invite experimentation. A glass door gives direct access to the digital library, for the rapid resolution of gaps in information hindering progress.

Portrait of Rainer Weller on a balcony Rainer Weller is delighted when staff use rooms as a tool. (Photo: Bosch)

Retaining and visualising ideas in all situations

According to Stefan Rief, spaces for creative work also need to provide opportunities for visualising ideas. Such opportunities are available to researchers on the Bosch campus in every room, both digital and analogue. In the office space in Renningen, researchers can write on almost anything - the walls, the tables and, if there is not enough room, even on the windows. "The more they cover everything in writing, the better we feel," observes Rainer Weller, "because the room is then not just an enclosed space but a tool as well."

The rooming concept also particularly takes into account the fact that work in projects as opposed to work along fixed hierarchical lines is increasing dramatically. "If I cannot react spontaneously because of spatial restrictions, this inhibits creativity. This is why we are assigned a specific space for each project here, which we use for the entire duration of the project," explains Rainer Weller. Furniture and creative tools are mobile and versatile in use. Interactive displays allow project teams to collaborate live with colleagues at other research sites such as Palo Alto, St. Petersburg, Bangalore or Singapore.

An open room with table soccer The communication zones at intersections invite spontaneous conversations. (Photo: Bosch)

Bringing people together in various configurations

It is, of course, no easy task to develop spaces that promote creativity on such a large scale as on the campus here in Renningen. "Smaller businesses have it easier in this respect," states Stefan Rief. "The risk that the necessary variety and diversity are lost due to the sheer scales of things is much lower." There is also no need to set aside a space for creative processes. His advice is to change the seating arrangements or to move workplaces in tandem with communication areas.

Creativity is also promoted by bringing people together in various configurations. In Renningen, this happens in the communication zones at the main intersections of the campus, around which most of the meeting rooms are grouped.

Individual desks seperated by glass walls Creatives also use space for individual work. (Photo: Jörg Bakschas Headroom Consult/ Fraunhofer IAO

Coworking spaces are another potentially interesting platform for inspiring discussion. Here, staff have the opportunity to meet other people from totally different backgrounds. The opportunities that such spaces might offer for businesses and staff are the subject of an IAO study, entitled, "Coworking – innovation driver for businesses?" The results will be published in January 2016.

Author: Silva Schleider
Further information:

Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Engineering
Bosch Centre for Research and Advance Engineering