by Julius WiedemannNov 30, 2021
The lockdown gave us transient luxuries like attending meetings holed up in blankets, but also made us realise how important it is to punctuate between unhealthy working hours seeping offensively into personal timelines. Now that companies are gearing up to return to the old normal (remember when we used to go to office every day?), it has become crucial to figure out how to balance productivity at work and mental health, to battle workplace blues upon total reopening. American interdisciplinary design practice Office of Things has unveiled a set of indigo and pink, light filled coves called Meditation Chambers, tucked away inside offices as compact restorative environments, a momentary escape to combat work generated stress.
Part of their Immersive Space Series, an ongoing research since 2017, five of these Meditation Chambers have been designed and realised across tech offices in Silicon Valley in the United States, such as the Google Bay Area HQs and the Youtube office at San Bruno, California, and are receiving positive responses.
The series draws from the architecture of enclosures and the safety of bunkers, guided and augmented by soft surfaces, sensorial sounds and deep toned lighting (ala James Turrell), that mix to create a "womb-like space for the haptic grounding and psychic clearing necessary to achieve a deep state of respite,” shares the practice. In contrast to the bustle of endless emails and dreary meetings, these antechambers of well-being are intimate and expansive, surreal and sublime.
Imagined primarily for single occupancy, these harbours explore the role of colour and light therapy within design and how they can be restorative in nature. “With each iteration, user feedback guides incremental changes aimed at providing a flexible but immersive space to momentarily escape the workplace,” says Can Vu Bui, founder and principal (New York), Office of Things, who worked alongside Lane Rick, JohnTaylor Bachman, Vincent Calabro, Katie Stranix and Patrick Proctor for the series. “We have experimented in one case that is larger than the other, that could be used for group therapies or with a sheer curtain partitioned into separate spaces,” he continues.
“Having had the opportunity to build five with a few more down the pipeline, the spaces are in demand and people are curious about how well they help in soothing strain. We have seen people simply sit in stillness, others do yoga or light exercise. They have also been used as a space for prayer. It comes as no surprise that we are drawn to thoughtful, still and sculptural spaces,” adds Vu Bui.
Each Meditation Chamber covers a small area of approximately 9.3 sqm, and features rounded surfaces, mirrored ceilings, low slung furniture and bright violet, toffee pink, sunrise orange, and navy blue lighting that bleed into each other, across three parts – the Entry, the Ground and the Sky. The former is a dim, narrow path that lets the user “shed the literal and figurative noise” of the office and the world behind a discreet door. The forced adjustment to the darkness here resets the body’s sensorial reverberations.
The Ground emerges beyond the Entry as a soft landscape of textures, rounded edges, reclined seating with padding, and dark lighting, preparing the already pacified senses for meditation and stillness. While the Ground anchors and gravitates the body, the Sky hovers overhead as an illuminated, ephemeral ceiling canvas, directing the eyes upwards and the mind to traverse calmly. Each room has a distinct Sky, “tailored to create an expansive and transformative space that seeks to elevate the user’s well-being,” the studio explains. Gentle, shifting lights and sounds help settle the senses, “making time seem slower,” and facilitating deep breathing.
The Ground was given its rounded tactility to become a bodily experience – the interior design encourages users to touch the upholstered walls, lean on the soft textures and rest against the floor and cushioned benches – to get comfortable and relaxed. Sweeping curves and arches are lined inside the dark rooms, naturally guiding the eyes to rest and wander, augmenting the vastness and subtle dynamism of the Sky.
Office of Things relays that in their continuation of the research, these built prototypes are helping them discover more methods to deploy relaxing spaces, and make them an integral part of the office experience. “Additionally, we have hopes to come full circle and have an installation in an art gallery in NYC this year (our first experiment into the Immersive Space Series was in fact, an art gallery in Toronto called Overworld). As architects, we are continually looking for partners and collaborators to expand and test our ideas towards space,” they say.
“We believe that work is fundamentally connected to mental health, and architecture is crucial in negotiating the intersection of space, people and their health. At this junction, when COVID-19 is asking many designers how we return to ‘normal’, the Immersive Spaces Series challenges us to reevaluate what the new normal can be: a workspace that provides for both work and mental health and restoration,” Vu Bui remarks.