The Secret to Innovative Projects: The Office Operation behind Zaha Hadid Architects 

Location: Zaha Hadid Architects, 2017

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With around 400 staff members and 950 projects to date, Zaha Hadid Architects (ZHA) delivers recognisable design and research across the world. Yet behind the innovative projects, how do the staff in the office operate as workplaces to produce high quality of work? In this text, the concept of spatiality and transpatiality by Hillier and Hanson in ‘The Social Logic of Space' (1984) will be scrutinised, to question to what degree is the Zaha Hadid (ZH) Gallery office spatial or transpatial. 

Fig. 1. Google Maps - Pedestrian Route from Zaha Hadid Gallery to Zaha Hadid Ltd, London (2017)

During the visit, Architectural Assistant Philipp Siedler explained the two London offices, ZHA Headquarter (HQ) office is predominately for corporate activities, whereas ZH Gallery office is home to design and research. If corporate members were to have meetings at the HQ office with designers from the Gallery office, as Google Maps suggests (Fig. 1), it would take 9 minutes walk through Compton Street. Siedler indicated that, although this is close proximity, 20 minutes from one building to another is usually time lost during the working hours. Therefore, there is a degree of physical separation in the organisational occupation with the two teams. This could be described as the concept of spatiality where an individual “occupies a location in relation to them” (Hillier and Hanson, 1984: 18ff), in which spatial solidarities expresses inhabitant occupation in terms of location, proximity and physical closeness in relation to oneself. 

In relation to ZHA Beijing office in Dongcheng District in Beijing, it is reasonable to assume that communication will decay as distance broadens. However, in 'How to Manage Virtual Teams’ (2009) the study suggests that “groups that are dispersed across a ... continent are more aware of their situation and may make extra efforts”. (Siebdrat, Hoegl & Ernst, 2009:66) This could be supported with advances of technology, where face-to-face interaction may not be necessary anymore. 

 

Fig. 2. Siebdrat, Hoegl & Ernst’s ‘Small Distances Matter’ graph (2009)

In diagram Fig. 2, research findings on 80 software development teams show a correlation measure between dispersion and team performance. Surprisingly, the team’s efficiency in different countries performed better compared to those in the same building, on different floors. This could be due to undermining small distances, but also indicates transpatiality. Transpatial affinity explores social function of conceptual closeness, when an inhabitant “relates to them conceptually, in that his interior system of spatialised categories is similar or different from those of his neighbours.” (Hillier and Hanson, 1984:18ff) Transpatial solidarities is affiliated with particular individuals’ profession and interests. For example, at ZHA where one’s expertise in parametric design in London could communicate better with a team member with the same skill levels in Beijing office due to similar interests. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fig. 3. ‘Zaha Hadid Architects’ YouTube Screenshot (2014)

Siedler continued to explain that once an applicant have successfully been accepted for a role with ZHA, the Human Resources department will allocate the individual into the most appropriate ‘cluster’ depending on background. Groups are likely ‘clustered’ in order to work on similar tasks and to communicate with those closer for collaboration. The office floor (Fig. 3) shows an open plan with linear formation of shared space, with up to six computers along one desk. The space works spatially and transpatially. It allows encounters to interact in physical closeness, and transpatially with colleagues due to similar backgrounds.

From these initial observations, the ZH Gallery office shows a certain degree of spatial and transpatial solidarities, that proves an initial effective operation of organisation. To further scrutinise the mode of spatial and transpatial operations, studies such as distance-dependency of interactions between colleagues, derived from Allen and Fustfeld study ‘Research laboratory architecture and the structuring of communications’ (1975) can be used to analyse the frequency of communication within the organisation. This will add a better understanding to the workplace operation behind the innovative projects at ZHA. 

References

Allen, Thomas J. & Alan R. Fustfeld. (1975) Research Laboratory Architecture and the Structuring of

          Communications. In: R&D Management 5 (2) pp153-64.

Hillier, Bill and Julienne Hanson. (1984) The Social Logic of Space. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Sibedrat, F., Hoegl, M., & Ernst. H. (2009) ‘How to Manage Virtual Teams’ In: MIT Sloan Management Review

           50 (4) [Online] At: https://sloanreview.mit.edu/article/how-to-manage-virtual-teams/?

           switch_view=PDF (Accessed on 22.12.17) 

Illustrations

Fig, 1. Google Maps. (2017) Google Maps - Pedestrian Route from Zaha Hadid Gallery to Zaha Hadid Ltd,

           London. N.T.S. Google Maps [online] Available through: https://goo.gl/maps/unmrC4u2adt [Accessed

           03 December 2017].

Fig. 2. Sibedrat, F., Hoegl, M., & Ernst. H. (2009) ‘Small Distances Matter’. [Diagram] At:

           https://sloanreview.mit.edu/article/how-to-manage-virtual-teams/?switch_view=PDF (Accessed on:

           22.12.17)

Fig. 3. Zaha Hadid Architects. (2014) Zaha Hadid Architects. [online video] Available at:

           https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kp_ZTnanbZ8 [Accessed 03 December 2017]. 

© 2020 by Samantha Li. All rights reserved.