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History in the workplace of the future

New working environments at the National Army Museum

It often happens that addressing long-standing space issues can open up new possibilities to achieve a wide range of benefits.  This is what the National Army Museum has found.

The administrative staff at the National Army Museum were operating within a rigid arrangement of office spaces, originally designed in the 70s. The inflexibility of the configuration of space was severely hindering organisational development and represented a barrier to the evolution of modern working practices.

A design efficiency review of the museum’s research library offered an opportunity to take a new approach. Until this point functions had been segregated and considered in terms of isolated spaces, each supporting fixed individual team/department requirements or a single purpose, such as the library.

Flexible environment and cultural shift

To provide greater flexibility and to enable an office environment to be created that would support a cultural shift towards modern ways of working required an entirely different mindset. A simple shift to open plan would not be sufficient, for the following reasons:

  • The library dominated the central area of floor space, dividing the available space.
  • Legislation required  a host of changes to improve the building's efficiency
  • More space was needed to accommodate all the museum staff, even if the research library could be relocated, as some had overflowed into other pockets of space in the building and currently were separated from their colleagues.

A key objective was that the new workspace should encourage a culture of collaboration and improved communication. A further requirement was to consider adaptability, allowing for future phases of development.

While the ability for some to desks to be shared was perceived as an ingredient in the solution it was felt that a wholesale move to a desk sharing environment would present too much of a culture shift challenge, if introduced at the same time as the other organisational changes that had been held back for so long by the existing office configuration.

Creative and integrated solution

So a creative solution had to be found that would integrate:

  • an understanding of the functional needs of the staff roles and existing work styles
  • the behaviour patterns of public visitors to the library
  • the processes and document journeys associated with secure manuscript management
  • space efficient furniture and storage design concepts
  • the new technology requirements and the design parameters which govern the performance of the mechanical services
  • an innovative fully coordinated workplace design that would save space, support flexibility and deliver an enjoyable working environment.

A single design concept, incorporating the results of thorough investigations of all people, property and technology factors and how they influence each other, needed to be created to enable project time scales and budgets (both based of traditional expectations) to be met.

It was identified that if the research library could be made 40% more space efficient, it could be relocated to an alternative floor, replacing a small under used, poorly lit exhibition space. This was achieved without any reduction in document storage capacity and with additional functionality designed into the new facility.

Hot desk positions were incorporated and reconfigurable mobile furniture created a multi-purpose environment. The efficiency of the design did not compromise the visual appeal or comfort of the space and the activities of the library processes have been considered and assisted by the design. As a result the research library has become more popular with the public, with opening times extended, and the space is also used for hot desking, meetings and training when not open to the public. I

In addition the flexibility of the space supported temporary accommodation for the office staff while their new open plan environment was being created.
The design of new working environment for the staff incorporated the following:

  • Precise coordination of work styles, furniture design, layout configurations and unconventional room shapes to ensure greatest possible utilisation of space.
  • Space efficient storage solutions closely coordinated with ceiling level design, mechanical air handling services and lighting scheme.
  • Introduction of new facilities, including central dual purpose flexible collaborative working space and break out area, conference room, audio recording room and photographic studio.

To keep the project costs and time scales within traditional limits at the same time as achieving radical improvements in space efficiency and the transformational improvement to the quality of the working environment experienced by staff the integrated design strategy had to be established at the very beginning, informing the project direction and dictating the brief and performance criteria for the all the work streams.


The project has brought benefits across a number of fronts:

  • The New Research Library’s optional extra functionality provides additional training and conference facility
  • The popularity of Research Library has rapidly increased, resulting in longer public opening hours becoming viable and increased revenue
  • Despite facilitating the above and extra capacity for growing volume of records, the physical floor space required has been cut by 40%
  • The new office space has allowed staff from previously disjointed office accommodation to be brought together into a single environment.
  • The design of the new workspace has supported a culture change and modernisation programme, scheduled to coincide with the project.

Overall, it's provided a more attractive and efficient working environment.  According to National Army Museum Assistant Director Mike O'Connor:

“The Peoplespace approach to design and project management has transformed the quality of our working environment and I am still amazed by the amount of practical attractive space that has been created”






“I am still amazed by the amount of practical attractive space that has been created.”






All material copyright Flexibility.co.uk 2009