Placemaking is a well-established discourse in the fields of urban planning and design management, where it alludes to the capitalisation of space, in order to promote community wellbeing. Placemaking has also become accepted as a broader, more general approach to space, understood as the drive to create a sense of the unique and location-specific and to ensure that environments are inclusive and open for the enjoyment of all. It’s this latter aspect of placemaking that, according to the recent RICS/IFMA study ‘Raising the Bar’, comes under the management of facilities management teams and is now regularly being assessed by workplace strategists when considering office design concepts and execution.

In the same way that multinational hotel chains have learnt to be local and specific in the aftermath of the boutique hotel onslaught, which changed the whole business model of the ‘reliable’ identikit-branded chain hotel, workplace environments must also now compete for client and staff engagement in more in-depth ways. The consideration of the physical, cultural and social identity of a place, and the successful delivery against these varied considerations, can impact on multiple aspects within the workplace, from space-planning and desk architecture to the use of colour and light.

One of the greatest tools available to FM teams for the successful creation of a strong sense of place, as well as helping generate wellbeing and promoting inclusivity, is art. Art is notably visually-stimulating and socially engaging and one of the most effective ways teams within workplaces can have control over their environment, when consulted about the art they like and involved democratically in the decision-making process. It’s also one of the most cost-effective ways to change the environment in which people work, compared to overall re-designs, especially for operators who choose to rent art, changing everything around on a six-monthly rotational basis.

To help with a placemaking objective, the concept of placemaking in art can be manifested in very different ways, starting with the most straightforward ‘reflecting an office’s’ location via, for example, prints depicting specific global business locations or vintage photography showing the surrounding area in past eras. Art can do more than create recognition, however. It has the power to turn a workplace from a regular space into a feel-good space. It can make a place memorable, for your clients and employees alike and can be used to signpost different zones or usages. Breakout spaces can be defined by a salon hang (placing several pictures alongside and above one another, either randomly or in a geometric pattern), for example, whilst meeting areas could be ‘place-marked’ by more formal furniture arrangements, accompanied by a more high-impact piece or an interactive installation. Office managers can express changing strategies through art, create new places within the office environment or recognise significant events taking place in the industry. Placemaking with artwork is about making your workplace relevant, and flexibility is key to this.

If art is accepted as a key tool for placemaking within the micro-environment of the workplace, how can it be enacted? It’s important to be brave. A print collection depicting global offices is a good start, but there is so much more you can do. The geometric sculptural designs of artist Eddie Roberts, for example, work as a direct embodiment of architectural practice in London. The twisted shards of fabricated steel he crafts both reflect the outside world and push the viewer to look at the corners of their own room in a different light. The DNA of the business is expressed in stark metal, exposed for all to see, and the artist’s medium serves to encourage conversation, discussion and innovation.

Whilst Roberts’ work requires a large reception area or lobby to facilitate his designs, a smaller space can demand even more attention to detail in order to establish itself properly. A recent project with a law firm in Liverpool saw our artwork procurement team sweep the city to find local and emerging artists to display their work, speaking the same narrative language as the staff members and showing a real commitment to and support for the young and upcoming new talent in their local community. Placemaking was a central force in another project for the London office of a large US-headquartered business. The London team chose to showcase Patrick Simkins’ impressionistic depictions of London to mark the importance of that office as the access point for the overall business into the European market. Placemaking-through-art was important here not just to the inhabitants of the space in question, but as a statement to clients and colleagues coming from afar.

Creativity also provides a platform for your brand to express itself. Whilst narratives about the importance of a specific place might resonate with a multi-national law firm, other businesses can go one step further. Perhaps you are a small business wanting to expand, with ambitious ideas and growth plans. These values can be fully endorsed by the display of artwork – perhaps the display of large abstract landscapes to encourage blue-sky thinking or the hanging of digitally-innovative canvases, like Roberto Grosso’s interactive artwork. Brand values can also be creatively expressed through artwork; the software consultancy ThoughtWorks used an electronic voting tool that allows each staff member to vote on their favourite pieces, which are then hung on scaffolding in the office. The works of art not only underline the open working environment, but resonate a wider attitude to business success and provide an opportunity for each individual to ‘lace-make’ within the company.

Local and global don’t have to be separated – they can work together as art strategies, and this interplay provides an opportunity for a truly creative approach by the wider office community in expressing an organisation’s values. A sense of place is not created by postcode recitation, but by your surroundings. The ability to see and touch the wider environment around you, its material and visual language is enabled by an artwork collection and can be easily achieved. Be brave with your choices and encourage companywide involvement. Art makes people feel good, makes your workplace memorable and contributes to the social, cultural, environmental and economic sustainability of the place you have made your own.

Read the article now in Facilities Management Journal

By Tazie Tasom, Art Consultant, ARTIQ