Design,Culture & Art – Why Modern Offices Need Their Own Renaissance!

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Renaissance & Humanism

‘From her to you comes loving thought that leads, as long as you pursue, to the highest good, esteeming little what all men desire;’ this is an excerpt Petrarch’s Sonnets proclaiming love about a young woman named ‘Laura’.

Francesco Petrarca, popularly known as Petrarch is regarded as the ‘Father of Renaissance’. Surprisingly, his unrequited passion for Laure de Noves, a young woman he saw in church congregation on a ‘Good Friday’ defined the fortune of humanity. He would go on to write sonnets, books and letters to the dead. Eventually, he would combine the wisdom of Christian philosophy with classical culture. He would manifest the philosophy of ‘Humanism’ into a cultural revolution. After his death in 1374, his ideas would be further developed during the next three centuries and define the cultural history of modern Europe.

Today, Europe is much more than mesmerising canals, architectural wonders and cosy cafes. Think of culture, art, music, architecture, philosophy and literature – Europe is a progressive idea.

Looking back – Ironically, prosperity knocked the doors of Europe only after the Black Death ravaged Europe. It was 1347 and the plague wiped out the majority of the European population. However, such devastation paved the way for one of history’s most influential period that shaped the idea of modern Europe – ‘The Renaissance’.

Humanism – the concept of humanistic education rather than Christian theology was the foundation of ‘The Renaissance’. Renaissance means ‘The Rebirth’ in Latin. Humanism or ‘Humanists’ was the founding fathers of modern-day humanities which involves liberal and fine arts such as philosophy, art, history, drama, poetry etc. ‘The Renaissance’ was the rediscovery of noble pursuits such as art, literature, science, philosophy, politics and culture by history’s most influential intellectual thinkers, writers and artists. This period lasted for around 300 years between the 14th and 17th century.

By the end of the 14th century, Florence – ”The City Of Tranquility” turned into the Renaissance capital. The establishment of the Medici Bank by Giovanni Di Medici (Check out the Netflix Series on Medici) and his wealthy art-loving family was a crucial factor in the rise of Florence, Italy. The idea of Renaissance quickly disseminated into Siena, Verona, Napoli and Rome, and then to the rest of Europe in the 15th century.

‘The Renaissance’ gave the world the printing press which was introduced by Gutenberg in 1440. It lead to mass production of books and dissemination of knowledge on a scale which was never observed before in the human history. Poets and novelists such as Erasmus and Luther become household names.  Art, literature and science become available freely, even to the common man. By the end of the 15th century, printing presses in Europe were producing over 200 million volumes of books.

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From Michelangelo’s famous sculpting of ‘David’, Leonardo Da Vinci’s perfection of ‘Mona Lisa’ – arguably world’s most famous portrait, ‘La Primavera’ by Botticelli, Raphael’s “School of Athens’ and ‘The Hamlet’ by Shakespeare – all created in this surreal period of human excellence.

Renaissance Focus On Cities

Renaissance saw architecture as a supreme art form. Theorists believed human experience encompassed architectural design. Like all arts, architecture represented what humanity could attain if it considered symmetry, disposition and order.

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Architects were as crucial as painters and sculptors (such as Michelangelo and Da Vinci). From the onset of the 15th century – ‘The Villa’ and ‘The Palazzo’ were the main Italian architectural styles. Filippo Brunelleschi (1377-1466) was the father of design innovation of the ‘Renaissance Period’. His linear perspectives principles helped him introduce a new style of Dome which is seen in abundance in modern-day European architectural masterpieces. Brunelleschi’s Dome was visible from all over Florence – it still dominates the skyline of modern-day Florence.

Furthermore, Leon Battista Alberti, who was another significant humanist and architectural genius would draw immaculate plans for public spaces and urban planning. Modern coworking workspaces mostly would use his ideas to create a balance of isolated and community spaces. Alberti worked on the concept of general symmetry and disposition which would later be perfected by Andrea di Pietro (1508-1580), nicknamed Palladio.

Palladio would create magnificent private houses that would later rival prominent public building and even churches. His articulation of the rich to be on top of civic society can still be observed in modern day American and European cities.

Florence and Rome  – the cultural engines of Europe during the ‘Renaissance’ would focus on urban design which was based on the notion of mental, physical and social wellbeing. Public spaces were reinvented during the ‘Renaissance’ to diminish the difference between the rich and the poor. ‘Plazas’ were born during the same period. Michelangelo’s Piazza del Campidoglio, Rome was an epitome for social interaction and social harmony.

During the 15th century,‘Bottega’ or workshop of Florence were curated workspaces where master artists would teach, nurture new artists and develop new art forms. ‘Bottega’ was curated communities of passionate dreamers and artists who would articulate magnificent projects. Leonardo da Vinci, Sandro Botticelli and Domenico Ghirlandaio were all results of ‘Bottega’ communities.

Even during the most creative period in the history of humanity- social interaction and communities were crucial in creating genius. The convergence of art and science gave us the ‘Vitruvian Man’ by Da Vinci. The idea of modern markets was conceptualised by Ferdinando Galiani, the 18th-century Neapolitan economist who said: “Markets Are Conversations”. He believed that a network is basically – the combined intelligence of people with different skills and abilities.

Coworking – The Renaissance For Modern Offices

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Even today, Leon Battista Alberti’s urban-planning concepts of neighbourhood, streets, squares and bridges resonate with modern planning and even workspace designs. Alberti emphasized beautification, convenience and rationality as vitals components of planning spaces. He writes in ‘De Re Aedificatoria’ that “the city is not built wholly for the sake of shelter’, but it must convey content and beauty.

Coming back to today’s era, just like ‘Bottega’, a coworking office is similar to a curated community where one can thrive, network and learn in order to create genius. The whole purpose of work is to create expertise that is substantially better than the rest of the humanity. Francesco Petrarca‘s, the ‘Renaissance Scholar’ believed that humanity has a lot of creative potential and intellect which can be used to the fullest with skill and hard work.

Just like Humanists, today’s coworking space don’t want to reinforce the idea of the office because for the most part of the modern world after World War II, offices were pretty relevant in building the society – mostly due to the values of the 60’s and 70’s. However, similar to the Humanists of the ‘Renaissance Era’ who wanted to learn about the application of Greek and Roman culture. These coworking spaces wanted to learn from these insights and create a better way of working which slowly transpired into ‘Coworking Spaces.’

Therefore, a new millennium saw the substantial rise of information and communication technology. With such expansion, humans started to value the freedom that came with the mobile solution in form of ‘Remote Work’. However, multiple studies show that remote workers have high levels of disengagement levels. People crave interaction – Anthropologically that is the reason for the man being referred to as a ‘Social Animal’. In order for humans to survive and thrive, interaction and human communities are essential. Conventional offices slowly became synonymous with bland, mundane and uninspiring places where people feel highly emancipated.

People also radically adopted the idea of working from coffee shops and libraries. However, it wasn’t long before people realised that ‘Starbucks’ was possibly doing than more harm than good. While people experienced a sense of freedom and socialisation, real work that involved hours of mindfulness and creativity wasn’t feasible in the noisy and expensive environment of coffee shops. With the growing demand of an escape route, people wanted an amalgamation of communities and necessary facilities where they could feel playful yet productive.

This new sense of self-expression gave birth to a new way of working – “Coworking”. In a sense, like the cultural movement of the 14th century, coworking was the result of a movement of meaningful work i.e. ‘Renaissance of Work’.

“Corporate workers are rebelling against the unproductive focus on uniformity of offices which is detrimental to creativity,” says Manish Mittal, Innov8 Coworking’s Head of Visual Design.

This is true when you look at the adoption rate of Coworking in the ‘West’ and then subsequently in India. With the global shift to a creative economy which relies on upon innovate ideas and path-breaking ideas – coworking was the perfect ecosystem. Early adopters at coworking spaces feel much happier, satisfied and reported an overall improved work satisfaction, something that was unheard of earlier!

“We wanted to create an office with a focus on physical and mental wellbeing. We wanted to break the old patterns of office design and create stimulating workspaces” explains Dr Ritesh Malik, the founder of Innov8 Coworking.

Most of the coworking spaces have a similar philosophy in mind. With emerging tech, work doesn’t have to be mundane now, it’s more of a social endeavour, a conscious effort to connect and create. In a world of ubiquitous internet which connects us in every inseparable moment of the day. Every knowledge worker can just power up a laptop in a one-bed apartment in a hustling-bustling metropolitan. To connect, socialise and evolve – these are the fundamentals of ‘Coworking’ and ‘The Renaissance’.

Designing Offices For Physical, Mental And Social Well-Being

The earliest concept of ‘Coworking’ originated in the early 90’s in the United States. Entrepreneurs and charismatic independent workers started working out of coworking spaces – a niche at the time. However, by mid 00’s coworking was a go-to place for innovation economies i.e companies that relied on consistent creative output. Today Fortune 500 companies such as Microsoft, Facebook, Starbucks and Hubble are embracing coworking spaces. Design, social interaction, rejuvenation and learning seem to be the major aggregators along with the increased sense of freedom and productivity.  

Designing For Creative Work

Personalised spaces and multiple work settings allowed people to have control over their cognitive overload. They could switch between networking and focused work modes where they could work in individualised spaces with no distraction but the network and meet coworkers in common spaces – an optimum workspace.

Peace and Productivity

Mindfulness, vitality and engagement – people look for these places that can enhance these traits in an ambiguous and chaotic world. Coworking spaces are human-centred spaces where people feel productive, authentic and inspired. They provide the essential feelings that come along with the virtues of engagement and mindfulness i.e. peace and productivity.

Work – A Social Endeavour

Millennials refusing, leaving and not deciding to work in “the Office” styled offices is a clear sign of the times, it is more like being a real rebel, being a rebel to the withering standard of a closed system and boring uniformity. They are looking for inspiring workspaces that embrace the spirit of work, work that is groundbreaking and work that matters. If people could work from anywhere,  then who needs the office – the millennials argued? However, the office space didn’t disappear but rather reinvented itself into a place where people came to seek harmony, talent and purpose. It holds true as – work is a social endeavour.

What The Future Holds!

1418 was an important year for Brunelleschi – Florence’s magnificent new cathedral, Santa Maria del Fiore–already under construction for more than a century–was commissioned to him. Over the next twenty-eight years, Filippo Brunelleschi would reinvent the dome and the field of architecture. The Brunelleschi’s Dome is an architectural wonder that we value even today. In the age of towering skyscrapers, Brunelleschi’s Dome of Santa Maria del Fiore still astonishes Florence.

Similarly, by the year 2050, most of the world’s population is expected to settle in urban settlements. The future of cities will inevitably decide the future of humanity. The future of offices will also decide our discussions and our freedom. Just as Brunelleschi’s Dome – ‘Renaissance’ focused on civic pride, common public spaces and the urban fabric of Italian cities. Future workspaces will embody the principle of tremendous mobility and democratisation of space.

Just as the architects during ‘Renaissance’ fell in love with the idea that cities should be the focus of unparallel attention to beauty – Shouldn’t the idea of coworking workspaces spread as a philosophical mission in our work lives?

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