New design kickstarts transformation at KPB Architects

Photo/Courtesy/KPB Architects

With views of the Chugach Mountains to the right and Cook Inlet and Mount Spurr to the left, one step inside the KPB Architects Anchorage office immediately comes with a unique feel.

The bright, open room lends itself more to a large studio apartment than a professional home — probably fitting given it is in a building of condominiums.

The walls that remain are sectioned glass and can be drawn back like a curtain.

KPB employees moved into the L Street locale last October after designing the new office to be a stark contrast from their old, traditional workplace.

Settling on a plan took months.

“We were our own worst client,” KPB President Mike Prozeralik said.

He and firm partner and KPB founder Jeff Koonce left the task of creating the new office to their staff of 18 designers and architects.

KPB’s old G Street home was a classic segmented office. When that didn’t match the workspace Prozeralik needed, he began tearing down his cubicle walls — before assuming a lead role with the firm — and his colleagues followed suit.

“There was no conversation; there was no collaboration. Everyone kind of did their own thing,” he said.

Now, the words “family,” “comfortable,” and “inviting” are heard when KPB employees talk of their office.

A kitchenette and island bar that seats the whole KPB crew is a comfortable place for lunch meetings and encourages employees to engage each other once again, rather than eating a solitary lunch at their desks, Project Designer Andy Weiss said.

Many of the concerns often raised regarding an open office space have fixed themselves or are actually a benefit given the nature of work an architectural firm does, Prozeralik said. He described the layout as one that facilitates “learning through osmosis.”

“For us, being in the design field, collaboration is essential,” he said. “It helps promote learning.”

Weiss said there were worries the clustered desks would lead to untenable volume, when in fact, just the opposite has happened.

Koonce likened the volume level to a busy library — everybody respects each other’s ability to focus.

Employees seeking privacy can still work in a small conference room with the amenities of an office.

When phone conversations are overheard there is a value in that, too, Weiss said.

“Nobody works in a vacuum, so even if you’re not working on a project you might be asked to provide input. Things seem to be more efficient than they were in the past,” Weiss said.

As Koonce put it: “We are able to communicate on all levels all the time.”

Quick impromptu meetings have become commonplace, he said.

KPB encourages its clients to consider similar designs.

NANA Regional Corp.’s new Downtown Anchorage office, a KPB design, is filled with glass walls to maximize natural light while still meeting the company’s specific office needs. It’s hard to find a place inside the NANA building where one can’t see outside.

“Mike and Jeff put a lot of trust in us when we were working on the space and designing the space — to sort of take it and run with it and do something different,” Weiss said. “This is what we try to get our clients to do so we should do it ourselves.”

Two other characteristics soon become apparent with a quick tour of the KPB office: a distinct lack of chairs and incongruent desk heights. They go hand-in-hand.

The desks easily adjust to the height of their owner, providing a simple but underrated workstation option.

Nearly all of KPB’s employees have chosen to forgo their chairs in favor of their feet, Prozeralik said.

“It’s amazing when people have that option, that opportunity, a lot of people will spend most of their day standing up at their desk working,” he said.

Founder of Studio One Pilates in Anchorage Paul Van Alstine said standing at a desk is usually less stressful than sitting, among other benefits.

The simple act of standing requires slight but constant motion — a kind of relief from the tension built up after sitting for long periods, he said.

It’s not unlike the pent up feeling a road trip can induce.

“We’re not really designed to sit,” Van Alstine said.

He compared it to how a sedentary office worker can feel exhausted after a day of work, but have seemingly boundless energy to do more physically demanding activities each weekend. It’s the mix of posture and movement that’s key, he said.

“From a corporate standpoint, when employees leave for the evening feeling refreshed they’re going to look forward to coming to work,” Van Alstine said.

Everyone around the office, according to Prozeralik, has already noticed the boost in productivity.

Koonce noted that a seemingly innocuous move away from carpet prevents the office floor from holding dirt. At the same time the absence of corners in an open office prevents dust bunnies from hiding. A clean office is a healthy office, he said.

It all leads to less down time and employees can only be productive when they’re at work and at their best, Prozeralik added.

Chair of the Anchorage Economic Development Corp. board and one of the minds behind AEDC’s “Live.Work.Play.” initiative for the city, Prozeralik said the new office is just a part of KPB’s version of a wellness program.

He is anxious to take advantage of the nearby Tony Knowles Coastal Trail for “walking meetings” when the grass greens, he said, a simple way to get office work done while still keeping active.

It’s KPB’s way of making Anchorage a better place to work, according to Prozeralik.

“When we bring clients (to the office) everybody walks away with a different impression of what an office space could be,” he said.

Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected].

11/19/2016 - 6:41pm