All posts by Katie Roden

About 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.

Stand Up, Sit Down, or What?

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Quinnipiac University

Having written a previous post about being one of Centerbrook’s “standup architects,” I have been sitting at my desk more lately. This started after I read a New York Times article that warned of “health problems, including varicose veins and musculoskeletal injuries” from standing on the job. Unfortunately, the article did not come to a conclusion about the superior posture.

My fellow stand-up colleagues and I currently move back and forth between sitting and standing, depending on how we feel. But perhaps soon our health concerns about both postures may become inconsequential.

The Times article raised an interesting possibility: “Mobile devices could mitigate the need for better office ergonomics.” Now that digital technology allows us to conduct business anywhere – on the go, in cafés or informal workspaces – will we be moving about so much that sitting or standing for long periods of time is no longer a problem?

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Mary Institute and St. Louis Country Day School

Will we start to encounter new bodily afflictions related to cell phones and tablets, smart watches, or Google glass? Varicose veins may vanish, but will we have to worry about “Quervain’s tenosynovitis,” aka “BlackBerry thumb” or “tech neck”? How about “cell trance” – where people talking on the phone wander aimlessly, sometimes into oncoming traffic?

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Mercersburg Academy

Offices of the future may become completely flexible, open spaces, with a multitude of options for sitting, standing, co-working, or lounging on the green roof. As architects, our job of anticipating the workspace needs of our clients may become more complex as those needs increasingly involve the intertwining of our bodies and our communication devices. Even today we can see visible changes in the body language and postures of young Millenials and Generation-Z students that occupy the schools that we design. These are the workers of the future. What will they prefer? We need to be prepared. Until that time, we will try to reach a happy medium of moving in between positions; and I stand by my original conclusion: all things in moderation.

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Berkshire School

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.

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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.