Change to Thrive: A Lesson from Your Mall

At the Christmas season, it may be hard to believe that malls are becoming scarcer, but it’s a trend that has been going on for the better part of a decade. A combination of overbuilding, online shopping, and demographic shifts has led to the demise of nearly 1/3 of America’s malls.

But there’s a silver (or green) lining in the retail cloud. Rather than let these massive malls stand empty, owners are following the green re-purposing movement and transforming old malls into new housing, new offices, and new types of retail. Retailers are downsizing their storefronts as they change from their traditional ways of doing business, opening up space in the malls that can be reconfigured into new forms: healthcare facilities, off-campus university learning centers, government offices, libraries, and housing ranging from low-income apartments to chic upscale condos.

Transformation is part of today’s design vocabulary. Warehouses become lofts, malls become community centers, and even the furnishings in offices, like the popular Swiftspace workstations, are reconfigured into whatever form suits the needs of the user at that particular time. Designing and planning for transformation adds longevity to an investment in almost anything: buildings, furnishings, even people. How is your business incorporating transformation into its long-range plan?

 

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Has Flexible Lab Design Paid Off? A Decade In Review

Ten years ago, Stanford University opened the doors of a new interdisciplinary research facility, the Clark Center. This research lab was intended to break down barriers between various academic disciplines, encouraging investigational cross-pollination. Has the university’s effort paid off? Tully Shelley and Seth Meisler analyzed the results for American Laboratory, and reported their findings here.

At the heart of this collaborative effort was the design of the facility – open, flexible, interactive. Labs featured walls of windows where anyone could observe research in progress. The large lab spaces allowed experimenters to co-locate and support each other’s work. Resources could easily be shared, and chance encounters helped researchers come together to solve problems.

Without adaptive modular lab furnishings, the university’s innovative design would have been hard to achieve. Shelley and Meisler discuss how mobile “kit of parts” casework workstations allowed quick reconfigurations when researchers wished to collaborate, or when a research project came to an end. This video shows an example of similar reconfigurable casework:

 

Shelley and Meisler concluded that the Clark Center’s design has had a positive long-term effect on collaborative research, building a sense of community that supports interdisciplinary investigations. In their words, “With the proper stewardship, along with a well-designed building, collaborative science can flourish.”

 

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A Tax Deduction To Give Thanks For – The Sec. 179 Rule

It happens every year around this time – the season for end-of-year tax deductions. The Section 179 tax rule gives businesses an opportunity to write off as much as $500,000 in new and used equipment costs. Equipment or software purchased and put into service by December 31st is deducted from your business’s gross income – it’s as simple as that. And depreciation boosts the total tax reduction even more.

The tax experts at Section179.org provide in-depth information on this valuable tax strategy, and the calculator from Crest Capital shows the savings.

The key phrase in Section 179 is “put into service.” With only a month left in 2016, many kinds of business equipment simply can’t be delivered and put into service before the end of the year. The good news: There’s a wide variety of high density storage, RFID systems, and modular furnishings on a quick-order program. Talk to your tax advisor, then talk to your local storage professional to find out which new and efficient storage systems can help your business qualify for this attractive deduction. Don’t waste a minute!

 

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Keep Your (Workplace) Options Open

Choice – it’s what employees want in their workplace environments. Businesses that build flexibility into the workplace are able to hire and retain top talent, and keep productivity at a high level. Choices can take a variety of forms, from flex hours to telecommuting to benefits. Offering tangible choices is a big part of the equation, too; creating a physical workplace that people are happy to come to on a Monday morning is every bit as important as a good 401K.

Old-school cube farms and new-style open plans can both be inflexible in their own ways. By using well-designed modular casework and reconfigurable workspaces, facilities managers can easily add choices to office environments, creating an adaptable balance between open and closed workspaces. Modular, reconfigurable workspaces are re-arranged as choices shift. Work “zones” for privacy or collaboration let employees choose which kind of environment they need for maximum productivity at any given time.

Writing in Facilities.Net, Naomi Millan states, “space is not a one-size fits all proposition.” In the choice-oriented workplace, the commitment is to employees, not to the built environment. The result is a happy, productive team and a successful business.

How are you adding flexibility to your workplace? Share your story with us, and we’ll share some insider tips we’ve learned from our experience as storage consultants.

 

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Planning for the “Next-Gen” Lab

As science and technology advance, research facilities are having to decide how they will adapt – do they have the built-in flexibility to modify their laboratories, or will they have to do a top-to-bottom redesign? Writing in Lab Design News, Jeffrey R. Zynda, describes a “next generation” laboratory, one that is reconfigurable to meet the increasing need for computational research, as well as promoting the well-being of researchers themselves through social, collaborative environments.

A flexibility plan is essential to an effective next-gen lab. Reconfigurable casework and movable benches are a good step toward flexibility, as Greg Muth discusses in “Flexibility – It Takes A Plan.” Without good planning, however, the flexibility rarely lives up to the expectations.

Muth notes that a good flexibility plan defines who modifies the space – the users, the maintenance staff, or an outside vendor – and how long the modifications will take. He points to the example of Genentech, who developed “SWAT teams” of contractors who know the casework systems well and can make frequent modifications quickly and easily.

Creating a sound plan with the assistance of a knowledgeable vendor will help next-gen labs maintain their usefulness for years to come.

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“Mad Men” Office Cubicle Comes Full Circle

In the “Mad Men” heyday of the 1960’s, designer Robert Probst developed a modular, reconfigurable workstation – the now-despised office cubicle. Probst’s early cubicles were created as a system of adjustable wall panels, modular storage, and desk surfaces. They were intended to give workers the freedom to customize their space as they desired, with panels that could be angled outward for collaboration, or angled inward for semi-privacy. So why did Probst’s creation become isolating, dehumanizing “cubicle farms?” As explained in Business Insider, companies’ cost-cutting measures forced Probst’s flexible design into rigid homogeneous layouts. The visionary inventor came to loathe the corruption of his original intent, calling cubicles “rat-mazes.”

Probst died in 2000, but if he were alive today, he’d be astonished by the reimagined workspaces that have recently blossomed from his early idea: mobile, modular workspaces that can be quickly switched between private and collaborative space. Such companies as SwiftSpace, with their “Power of One” program for individualizing workplaces, are at the leading edge of this second wave of Probst’s vision. He’d be proud to know he was just a little ahead of his time.

 

Photo by T. Beyer

When A Laboratory Is Space-Challenged – Tips for Designers

The good news for Pacific Northwest National Laboratory was they were getting two new buildings. The bad news? The square footage would actually be less than the buildings they were leaving. PNNL’s program manager Greg Herman had to look for ways to fit more into less. Working with his design team, he maximized space by keeping walls to a minimum. Mobile casework and quick-disconnect workbenches allowed him to reconfigure “ballroom-type” laboratories in a matter of days, rather than taking time to demolish and rebuild interior walls.

Just as important was determining what equipment was the most reliable, useful, and best quality. “If it’s not reliable, then the users are not going to use it,” stated Herman. What made the cut? Read the complete story at http://bit.ly/1GOjLNr.

 

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Hospitals Designing for Constant Change

Technology innovations, regulatory revisions, demographic shifts – they all add up to an ever-changing healthcare environment. “The best investment a healthcare organization can make is in a facility that can—and will—change,” says Lisa Regan, director of performance and transformation for Bluewater Health of Ontario. Regan and her colleagues cite modular design as the key to flexible space utilization, starting with building designs that allow for a variety of space usages over time. Modular cabinetry and furnishings are an essential part of the flexibility picture, moving out of “soft spaces” such as storage areas and offices whenever “hard spaces” such as imaging or surgery need to expand. In a recent Bluewater Health hospital re-fit, 80% of the new cabinetry was reconfigurable casework. Regan estimated the modular casework yielded a 74% savings when the spaces had to be reconfigured only a year later. Read the full story at http://bit.ly/1GdTUAh.

 

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Your Gift from the IRS: The Equipment Purchase Deduction

As the song says, “It’s that time of year,” time to take advantage of Section 179, the tax rule that allows you to deduct the full purchase price of business equipment, up to $25,000. New equipment put into service before December 31st can be deducted from your business’s gross income under Section 179. It’s that simple. And everything we provide – high density storage systems, RFID systems, materials handling equipment, for example – qualifies for the deduction.

More good news: When you add in depreciation, the total tax reduction is even greater. This calculator shows the savings: http://bit.ly/11RTHn5. Check with your tax professional, then give us a call.

 

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Designing Commercial Spacecraft: Carry-On Bags Permitted?

In some ways, today’s interplanetary travel resembles airline travel: uncomfortable seats, bland food, and very limited storage space. As a manned Mars mission approaches reality and commercial space ventures push the envelope of tourism, Boeing has partnered with NASA to design less spartan spacecraft interiors. LED screens are substituted for windows and a blue lighting scheme creates a calm, pleasant atmosphere. Cargo storage too is a vital consideration; seating can be reconfigured into storage, much like modular reconfigurable storage systems here on planet Earth.

Passenger-oriented design will certainly make the 2-year trip to Mars relatively comfortable. SpaceNews.com discusses Boeing’s plans in detail here: http://bit.ly/1qmsC1f. While industrial designers at Boeing are working on spacecraft interiors, perhaps they will figure out a way to increase the overhead storage capacity in today’s airplanes!

 

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