Saga of a Standup Architect

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I am a “standup architect.” I work while standing at my desk, with a raised keyboard and computer screen. A year ago I was in a snowboarding accident and tore ligaments in my spine. It became excruciating for me to sit for long periods, making it difficult to work. At that time there was just one stand-up architect in our office, Anita, who also had back pain. So I decided to try it out.

It’s catching on. Out of 74 people in our office, we now have seven standup architects. When polled, they cite various reasons, but most relate to health. They also provided very similar feedback. Everyone agreed that their health, posture, and even alertness have improved. Anita said, “It has been two and a half years already and my back pain is gone.” Melissa added, “I am more likely to maintain the correct posture, and less likely to lean forward.” Veena said, “Even just the minimal amount of engagement that standing requires over sitting is making me stronger than if I were sitting.” Anna has a flexible height chair and suggested “the best part is that I can take turns between sitting and standing during the day.”

Another interesting result is that an increased engagement with surrounding coworkers starts to develop. Standup architects are already at eye level and are approachable for passersby. Desks become places for discussion, and on-screen real-time review of projects as a group. For example, our graphic designer Derek reported, “I am constantly reviewing my work with Marketing and the Partners and having the high computer facilitates a group discussion.”

A collection of some of the standing desks in the office.

So is there something to this standing movement? There are studies that show that standing can improve focus, energy levels, and overall health. But can it enhance our architectural process? Can it enhance creativity?

Many creative people in the past have thought that standing got their juices flowing. Ernest Hemingway fashioned a standup desk out of the top of a bookcase. Thomas Jefferson used a six-legged standup desk to draft his architectural drawings. Winston Churchill would lay out proofs of his latest book on his standing desk.

When the health impacts of sitting are examined, they are not conclusive, but extended sitting has been shown to slow the body’s metabolism of glucose and to lower the levels of good HDL cholesterol in the blood. Ultimately the studies show that neither standing nor sitting is the ideal position for us to be in for eight hours a day. The best thing to do is to be active, changing positions during the day from standing to sitting.

standing-sketch

Some literary greats, such as Rousseau, Charles Dickens, and William Blake would “wander” while they worked. Dickens supposedly walked 20 miles a day in order to escape from the hard work of composition. Sitting at his desk agitated him.

While wandering may be going too far… is there a flexible, height-adjustable desk of the future? As workplace attitudes change, should our offices be planning for this? Flexible desks and treadmill desks can run as much as $4,000 a desk. However, there is also a growing collection of do-it-yourself solutions for people that can cost as little as $30. My desk is a basic plywood box with a pile of sample carpet tiles that I stand on.

My back is much better, but I’m still a standup architect and will be for the foreseeable future.

Katie Roden
Katie Roden is a Centerbrook Associate who earned her Bachelors in both Architecture and Building Science at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. She has worked on academic, cultural, religious, and civic projects and is a LEED accredited professional and a member of the Centerbrook Sustainability Steering Committee.
Katie Roden

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