No matter how you're feeling about this rather disruptive year, one thing's for sure, COVID has altered our daily routines dramatically.
It's why, back in March, when school, work, and life was suddenly happening under one roof for many, the team at Calgary-based design firm Sturgess Architecture began to rethink how our routines could look in this new normal. "How could we create a new home office in an already existing condition?" principal Kevin Harrison says. The firm then developed an internal office competition of sorts, dubbing it "the office retreat."
After lots of research and sketching, what came out of the competition was six different backyard workspaces that reimagine what an office space—or a retreat from work—could look like.
While adhering to Calgary's land-use bylaw, where accessory buildings like sheds and garages don't require a development permit, Sturgess Architecture wanted the projects to be adaptable and scalable, to create a sense of isolation in a backyard setting.
Though each shed-like retreat is designed for the backyard and uses off-the-shelf materials, each design is unique in its interpretation of the "office retreat" idea that the firm played around with. Take "Niche," an A-frame style. "It's a space away from home that also evokes a sense of calm and comfort," Harrison says of the cabin-like box. "It's something that could be conducive for productivity." There's also possibility of stacking the boxes together for a home office plus a studio, gym, or whatever else the owner would like to use the space for.
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Like "Niche", the "Cloud Shed" is another design option that hopes to enhance productivity. This model consists of two pods, one being a work pod, complete with a desk and integrated storage. The other pod is what the firm dubbed the "service" pod, fitted with a kitchenette and a composting toilet (that's a toilet that's not hooked up to a sewer system, and instead holds waste in a composting chamber). Ideally, the owner could then stay in the "Cloud Shed" for an entire workday, minimizing interruptions from spouses or in Zoom classrooms. "It's an 'I'm going here for my next eight hours and I'll see you later' kind of scenario," Harrison says. In similar fashion, the firm also developed a modular style box, made from lightweight ETFE, ideal for a digital nomad to inflate and isolate anywhere.
The "Garden Studio" responds to its environment to maximize the enjoyment of working from your home garden.
"Space" is a shed with unlimited possibilities.
But as the formal office space plays a lesser role daily lives, something like the "Garden Studio" design caters to a more flexible lifestyle. Designed with two shells, the outer shell is transparent, made from simple greenhouse panels and common wood studs. The second shell is a movable plywood box that sits within the transparent enclosure. This creates a space for winter and summer conditions. During the warmer months, the owner could be outside working or lounging, but during colder months, the shell produces a greenhouse effect so working outside the home could still take place.
"Space" takes an even simpler approach. This shed's only purpose is to provide space, and to designer Jimmy Hoang, this could mean almost anything. The ambiguous yard boxes' uses can shift as the owner's needs change and grow.
Vancouver-based Campos Studio had a similar idea. Their concepts "10x10x10," which exhibited at a83 in New York this year, featured 10 different backyard setups, all 10 by 10 in size to adhere to Vancouver's building bylaws.
The idea was to develop multi-functional shed concepts. "Basically, a blank canvas for people to decide what they want to do with them," Principal Javier Campos says. They used the concept's vehicles to explore what reimagined workspaces (or however else one would like to use them) could look like in an owner's backyard. They prioritized concepts that could be built quickly and affordably, so that they're accessible for those who may need them.
Though not yet tangible, it's the ideas themselves that the designers have been exploring—rethinking workplace options when life is no longer business as usual. "I think part of it is to raise awareness for people that there's an option for them to get out, and then to inspire people to do it," Campos says of their shed concepts.
"We did this investigation and so we can use it to inform us on what we do," Harrison says,"and the same could be said for any and all of these—so that's really the driver behind it." Who knows, your next office might be as close as your own backyard.