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Workplace design in the knowledge economy : a case of the NetWorkPlace™©

By Paul Alexander Smith


This thesis explores a way to inform the architectural design process for contemporary workplace environments. It reports on both theoretical and practical outcomes through an exclusively Australian case study of a network enterprise comprised of collaborative, yet independent business entities. The internet revolution, substantial economic and cultural shifts, and an increased emphasis on lifestyle considerations have prompted a radical re-ordering of organisational relationships and the associated structures, processes, and places of doing business. The social milieu of the information age and the knowledge economy is characterised by an almost instantaneous flow of information and capital. This has culminated in a phenomenon termed by Manuel Castells as the network society, where physical locations are joined together by continuous communication and virtual connectivity. A new spatial logic encompassing redefined concepts of space and distance, and requiring a comprehensive shift in the approach to designing workplace environments for today’s adaptive, collaborative organisations in a dynamic business world, provides the backdrop for this research. Within the duality of space and an augmentation of the traditional notions of place, organisational and institutional structures pose new challenges for the design professions. The literature revealed that there has always been a mono-organisational focus in relation to workplace design strategies. The phenomenon of inter-organisational collaboration has enabled the identification of a gap in the knowledge relative to workplace design. This new context generated the formulation of a unique research construct, the NetWorkPlace™©, which captures the complexity of contemporary employment structures embracing both physical and virtual work environments and practices, and provided the basis for investigating the factors that are shaping and defining interactions within and across networked organisational settings. The methodological orientation and the methods employed follow a qualitative approach and an abductively driven strategy comprising two distinct components, a cross-sectional study of the whole of the network and a longitudinal study, focusing on a single discrete workplace site. The complexity of the context encountered dictated that a multi-dimensional investigative framework was required to be devised. The adoption of a pluralist ontology and the reconfiguration of approaches from traditional paradigms into a collaborative, trans-disciplinary, multi-method epistemology provided an explicit and replicatable method of investigation. The identification and introduction of the NetWorkPlace™© phenomenon, by necessity, spans a number of traditional disciplinary boundaries. Results confirm that in this context, architectural research, and by extension architectural practice, must engage with what other disciplines have to offer. The research concludes that no single disciplinary approach to either research or practice in this area of design can suffice. Pierre Bourdieau’s philosophy of ‘practice’ provides a framework within which the governance and technology structures, together with the mechanisms enabling the production of social order in this context, can be understood. This is achieved by applying the concepts of position and positioning to the corporate power dynamics, and integrating the conflict found to exist between enterprise standard and ferally conceived technology systems. By extending existing theory and conceptions of ‘place’ and the ‘person-environment relationship’, relevant understandings of the tensions created between Castells’ notions of the space of place and the space of flows are established. The trans-disciplinary approach adopted, and underpinned by a robust academic and practical framework, illustrates the potential for expanding the range and richness of understanding applicable to design in this context. The outcome informs workplace design by extending theoretical horizons, and by the development of a comprehensive investigative process comprising a suite of models and techniques for both architectural and interior design research and practice, collectively entitled the NetWorkPlace™© Application Framework. This work contributes to the body of knowledge within the design disciplines in substantive, theoretical, and methodological terms, whilst potentially also influencing future organisational network theories, management practices, and information and communication technology applications. The NetWorkPlace™© as reported in this thesis, constitutes a multi-dimensional concept having the capacity to deal with the fluidity and ambiguity characteristic of the network context, as both a topic of research and the way of going about it

Topics: NetWorkPlace™©, workplace design, network, network enterprise, organisation, inter-organisational, supply chain, trans-disciplinary, collaboration, knowledge economy
Publisher: Queensland University of Technology
Year: 2007
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