Gebäudewirtschaft of the City of Cologne

03 Feb 2020

Gebäudewirtschaft der Stadt Köln, the largest building management authority in Cologne (Germany), has been housed in the KölnTriangle building for two years. Its 650 employees are spread over eighteen floors in this prominent landmark, using an almost entirely open-plan office. Unfortunately, instead of more communication and flexibility, this working situation led to lower job satisfaction and an increased number of homeworkers. The time is now to take the employees’ needs and preferences into account and transform this inconvenient office space into a stimulating workplace/environment.

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KölnTriangle (formerly known as LVR-Turm) is a 103.2 meter-tall building in Deutz, Cologne. The building was designed by Dörte Gatermann of Cologne-based architecture firm Gatermann + Schossig and completed in 2006. The 650 employees of Gebäudewirtschaft der Stadt Köln do their daily job on 11,000 square meters, spread over eighteen floors, making use of an almost completely open office concept. This means you’ll find small kitchenettes on every floor and meeting rooms spread overall stories. However, this abundance of kitchenettes and meeting rooms on each individual floor also means there is no social gathering option for the client community. Instead, this set-up leads to noisy and unpleasant workplaces. Although there are successes with the open office concepts worldwide, in this case, it turned out to have a demotivating effect on the Gebäudewirtschaft team. As a result, there is less constructive professional interaction. Team members feel unhappy at their workplace and prefer working from home. And, not to forget: the current interior in black/white and brown tones – used on each floor – has a neutral character.

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Keeping happiness in mind

Aat Vos explains: “Our client Gebäudewirtschaft der Stadt Köln asked us to help them rethink their office floors to improve overall appreciation of the working environment, to upgrade individual working conditions, to create a happier and healthier work environment. Ever realized that most people spend nearly a third of their lives at work?

The way office spaces are designed has an impact on the employees’ mental well-being. It is therefore essential that companies cultivate an environment that empowers people to thrive. Open office spaces can only be successful when keeping the productivity and happiness of their employees in mind. We had to take a crucial first step: learning from the user experience.”

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Gaining authentic and valuable insights

The aatvos team started with intensive conduct investigations on the team members’ issues. An array of highly efficient tools were used, like online and onsite interactive questionnaires, the aatvos Card Games Essential & Expected, Have & Do, Look & Feel, and an interactive Design Workshop Week with representatives of the numerous departments of Gebaüdewirtschaft der Stadt Köln.

Our quantitative research approach provided authentic and valuable insights into the desired facilities and atmosphere along with the team personalities. It also made sure that employees felt heard and taken seriously, which is a keystone on the path of improvement. An interesting sidenote: 62.5% of all employees completed the questionnaire – a very decent response rate.

Our quantitative research approach provided authentic and valuable insights into the desired facilities and atmosphere along with the team personalities. It also made sure that employees felt heard and taken seriously

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Buzz on the lower floors

After implementing the research conclusions the so-called Why for our client could be developed. The Why, based on Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle, is a way to define the core of a business or matter. This thread has also been implemented in a range of strategies to upgrade the office spaces and to improve the workplace climate. Recognizing the lack of physical area that encourages interaction, this transformation process is based on revising the functionality of the first and second floor, to open up the building with social space. That means that all major social and meeting places should be concentrated at the lower floor levels, supported by the introduction of a coffee bar – meets front desk – meets social hotspot. New stairs (leading from the ground floor directly to the second floor) along with the newly freed up space provide better accessibility and visibility of the social hub function. As the lower floors are intended to be most abuzz, more tranquil areas (for example to make a phone call) can be introduced throughout the building. Besides these new concepts, there will also be meeting and gathering areas of medium size, along with customization of the working environment and work desks. Visually supporting the different space function typologies for a meeting, gathering, and working have also been proposed. Furthermore, a welcoming warm color palette with wood and various shades of green for the overall interior was chosen based on card games and user questionnaires to determine the desired look & feel that meets users’ needs.

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The art of local involvement

Our assignment for Gebäudewirtschaft goes beyond upgrading the office space and improving the working environment. As the city’s government building authority, Gebaüdewirtschaft der Stadt Köln is a major service provider for real estate. The organization manages and maintains hundreds of buildings, from schools to museums and local architecture. To emphasize the connecting role for the city and to involve residents in the projects of the Gebaüdewirtschaft, we have developed a strategy that connects these buildings with locals: school kids will visit the local Museum Ludwig and will be invited to create their own pop-art in a designated room. The children will first get the opportunity to learn about art and then be asked to create pieces that show the architecture, maybe even by painting them in a style resembling that of an artist they encountered in the museum. The youngsters will be guided by specially trained artists. These creations will have a double function: they will add a unique character to each individual workplace and improve the acoustics through sound dampening. This special approach and the kids’ pop-art work has the potential to attract local media coverage. It is an excellent opportunity for the Gebaüdewirtschaft to shine some light on its countless activities and to improve its local visibility for the people of the city of Cologne.

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Project credits

Gebäudewirtschaft der Stadt Köln is a co-creation of aatvos (design concept, strategy, creative direction) in cooperation with Marco de Boer, Bohemia Amsterdam (development user questionnaire)

3D images: aatvos