Are Outdoors Spaces the New Water Cooler?

In a post-COVID world, landscape architects and planners are more focused on outdoor working spaces than ever before. 
About a decade ago, a wave of redevelopment swept across Silicon Valley. Tired 80s and 90s office buildings and campuses were re-purposed to make way for a new type of workplace. Gone were the mahogany clad, leather upholstered conference rooms and enclosed offices. Gone were underutilized asphalt lots and outdoor spaces, now being replaced with flexible outdoor conference rooms, air stream trailer cafés, flexible interior/exterior workspaces and curated food truck courts.

Stewart Landscape Architecture Director of Design David Amalong, PLA, LEED AP, worked in Silicon Valley during this wave and helped reimagine many underutilized spaces, including turning a defunct airport and shuttered anchor department store into vibrant areas to live, work and play.

Following the pandemic, the trend of transforming underutilized spaces into dynamic outdoor work environments has only accelerated. While data has consistently supported the physiological and psychological benefits of spending time outside, employers observed the phenomenon firsthand over the past three years.

The way that Stewart’s landscape architecture and planning teams are looking at workspaces now mirrors how they might look at any other public realm – in other words, they look at the full potential of the space and the social science of how people interact with it. “To have a successful workplace, you need to get people together to discuss work, collaborate and discover something new,” said Amalong.

These days, an increasing number of companies are integrating park and open spaces into local city projects to accomplish various financing, design, phasing and other strategies. As more companies begin to adopt “green streets” and other community spaces as vessels for healthy human interaction, there is more opportunity than ever before to enrich the community experience in tandem with socio-economic goals.

“When you add in the perspective of its benefits to mental and physical health as well as equity and inclusion, it’s clear that access to outdoor environments is important,” said Amalong. “The past few years have given everyone a greater sense of that value.”