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Sarah Kay Shares How Technology is Changing Workspace Design

Sarah Kay is a principal, director, and sector leader of Global Workplace Interiors at internationally-recognized design firm Woods Bagot. The …

August 21, 2018

Sarah Kay is a principal, director, and sector leader of Global Workplace Interiors at internationally-recognized design firm Woods Bagot. The firm, which calls itself a "People Architecture Company" has 15 studios across Australia, Asia, Europe, the Middle East and North America.Sarah is passionate about the ways building interiors can positively influence business and organizational outcomes. She's worked with household names like Google, Bloomberg, HSBC, and JPMorgan.We sat down with Sarah to learn how technology is changing workspace design.

What are the hottest technologies in the design space right now?

Workspace will become a highly valued business strategy tool not too far in the future.At its simplest form, we're seeing a lot of automation through parametric modeling. We're seeing much more reliance on digital versions of design environments for communicating, testing, and improving. The technologies that are coming are much more focused on enhancing the way people come together in space -- for example, algorithms that allocate space based on task, not the organizational chart.

Much of your day-to-day work involves helping clients understand their spaces before you design them. Why is this approach important?

The virtual reality models communicate design much more effectively than via render or CGI.An example of that: one of the tools we developed takes an organizational chart and folds it into the building [layout] to decide where the most efficient locations of different things are. An extension of that is you could continue to manage your building and shift locations as teams change and change their relationships to each other, using this tool through the whole life of the occupancy of the building.

What part of the industry most resists technology adoption?

The whole industry has been slow to adopt technology. Every single one of our clients is yelling out for tech to help them be more efficient in the way they occupy space: be more clever about how AV and IT systems work, about how people are allocated in the space. And where is Alexa, or Google for the workplace -- why on earth is this slower than the development of home devices?

What would you tell a student or young person who is looking to get into this field -- what skills should they aim to develop?

Critical thinking. Architects traditionally were trained to solve problems, and over time, got very focused on only solving building problems. I think in the future, we'll broaden again to be people who solve a variety of complex problems.

Let's say that student graduates in four or five years. How do you think the discipline will look then versus now?

All this stuff we currently spend lots of time on and get wrong reasonably often will be automated. Innovations will be able to be much bigger.There will always be a demand from clients to have a combination of digital and analog in the way we communicate and think. I had someone come in the other day with a CV my arm's length long, of all the different kind of software she used and the coding and programming experience she had. But hand drawing was also on that list, and I was like, thank God.

To hear more from Sarah, watch her video on agile workspaces.

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