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Welcome to the dark side…

26th November 2012
Luke Connoley

Lighting is often a controversial issue in workplaces. So many people with different preferences are all contained in one place, usually with fixed and centrally-controlled lighting. Some of the more agile workplaces are beginning to increase the variety of sources that light comes from in the workplace – introducing varied ceiling lighting, task lighting, decorative lighting and informative lighting. This can both provide variety across a workplace which employees can then choose by moving around, and it can add an element of user-controlled choice.

Natural light is also an important factor in this. Developers still often construct buildings whose footprint occupies near enough the whole area of the site – creating large floor plates with huge central cores. No amount of floor-to-ceiling glass can counteract the effect of a stiflingly large floor plate which only has perimeter light. Occupiers know this and are increasingly choosing to create natural light sources throughout the building – with light wells and central staircases. Macquarie Bank’s London head office is a prime example of this, where they punched through 10 floors of a new building to allow light in, and created a beautiful asymmetric staircase to bring the activity of the business to the fore.

The central tenet of belief in this realm, it seems, is that more light is better. Two rays bad, four rays good.

Yet in the midst of all this focus on light, we have seen a fascinating example of a workplace which has concluded that darker is better. No, this is not a photographic studio nor is it a cinema. EA Games’ global headquarters in Redwood Shores, California (part way between San Francisco and Silicon Valley) is a campus of four buildings set around a green central square. Nothing out of the ordinary, you might think. But in a significant part of one of the buildings – where the game developers work – there is darkness. Or at least that similar level of darkness achieved in a teenager’s bedroom with the curtains still drawn at midday. Which, explains EA’s Vice President of Global Real Estate Curt Wilhelm, is exactly the point. The people who are drawn to game development (and the people EA wants to attract) are those who have grown up being semi-nocturnal and playing games for hours and hours on end in the semi darkness.

So EA Games has created a home from home for them, with very little natural light, low ceiling lighting and three-quarter height cubicles. Walking round there is an odd calm and silence, yet when you look closer, simultaneously one of activity and creation. You or I may not wish to work in the dark, but it seems there are some who do. Is it time to consider their needs as strongly as we currently do for those who want sunshine and light wells?


In unusual workplace
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