Steelcase Leaps Into Auto Market; San Francisco Puts its Money into Green Pursuits; Latrobe Deadline Approaches; Cities Lure Corporate Travelers with Free Internet Access; Workplace by Design…

Steelcase Leaps Into Auto Market

Long a leader in the science of how comfort affects the course of an employee’s day, Steelcase will now be using the same systems to ease the weariness of drivers.

Johnson Controls, Inc., a leader in automotive systems and facility management and controls, and Steelcase announced this month that the two companies have an exclusive agreement giving Johnson Controls the license rights to use Steelcase’s Leap seating technology in its automotive products.
The Leap chair system, Steelcase has noted, can pay for itself in seven working days. The chairs, which have trademarked “live back” and “Natural Glide” features, are designed to adapt to an individual’s spine, and allow the freedom to move, slouch and slide to comfort.

The pay for itself claim comes from a 2001-02 study of more than 300 employees of a Minnesota firm that found the employee comfort level contributed to not only their happiness, but also to the bottom line. Here were their findings:

At the six-month point, “the group that received the Leap chair and formal training, experienced a significant decrease in the level of discomfort over the course of the workday and improved employee vitality by reducing fatigue. Discomfort scores for the chair group remained consistently lower than the beginning of day scores of the non-chair groups. The Leap chair group improved its monthly output by 4.5 percent compared to the control group. Average revenue collected increased by over $2,000 per month for employees who received the Leap chair and training. For this group the Leap chair paid for itself plus the cost of training within seven working days.”

San Francisco Puts Its Money into Green Pursuits

Despite its reputation for picturesque fog, San Francisco is trying to tap into solar power as another way to enhance its green reputation. The city is putting more than $7 million municipal dollars into a project to install 5,000 solar panels on the roof of its Moscone Convention Center.

That project is part of a much larger push into renewable energy sources, fueled by voter approval of a $100 million bond issue in last year’s elections. The Vote Solar Initiative is credited with making the idea palatable to voters; their argument is that energy savings will be used to pay off the investment. One example: the aforementioned convention center panels are expected to save about $200,000 annually. Also on their side is the happy news that the price tag for solar technology is declining. Another segment of the project is aiding homeowners who want to install their own solar systems. The public utilities commission has created an on-line “fog map” to identify sunny pockets among the city’s notorious shroud of mist.

Latrobe Deadline Approaches

The deadline for the biennial Benjamin Henry Latrobe fellowship soon approaches. The $100,000 research grant, administered by the College of Fellows of the AIA, requires entries to be post-marked by Feb. 21.

Although submission areas are fairly broad, the following have been identified as important areas for research:

  • What role will new technology play in the design of buildings?

  • Nearly half of all architectural school graduates pursue careers in other fields. Where are they going, and is the phenomenon a positive or negative one for the profession?

  • Architecture currently is organized under a broad range of business/practice models. What are the best models to address future design, practice and collaboration?

  • How can the profession make the transition between education, training and practice smoother?

  • Architects are now faced with ethical issues unimagined, even a few years before. What is the best way to address those issues?

For more information, see:

Cities Lure Corporate Travelers with Free Internet Access

With more business travelers more dependent than ever on their laptops and the Web, some cites are setting up their own wireless networks in their convention districts.

Long Beach, Calif. is the latest to institute free Wi-Fi service in a four-block downtown area, The New York Times reports. The network allows the same high speeds most corporate users rely on, without wires. The effort was bankrolled partially from local businesses, with the city contributing the $2,500 annual cost of the Internet connection.

Other cities considering similar free networks either for downtown or city-wide include San Francisco; Seattle; Jacksonville, Fla.; and Lodi, Calif.
“It’s high-visibility and high-value, and it permits a municipality to easily serve its residents,” said C. Brian Grimm, the communications director for the Wi-Fi Alliance, an industry group.

Municipal governments are joining a community movement of more than 30 organizations around the United States that now deliver wireless Internet service.

Workplace by Design

Two design/engineering organizations scored in Fortune magazine’s annual “100 Best Companies to Work For” poll, released this month.

Autodesk, one of the Design Futures Council sponsors landed at no. 52, and CH2M Hill was ranked 96th. With headquarters in San Rafael, Autodesk revenues were reported at $948 million, with 2,222 employees. Of those, 33 percent were women and 26 percent minorities. The company reported 182 new jobs (or 8 percent growth) in the last year with only 4 percent voluntary turnover. Conversely, they turned away a lot of folks, reporting 36,000 applicants. Their most common entry-level professional job (programmer/software engineer) pays nearly $100,000 annually, and the company reports an average of 50 hours of professional training for its employees annually. Another perk that apparently contributes to the company’s low churn rate: after four years, employees earn a six-week sabbatical.

CH2M Hill is based in Denver and has just over 10,000 employees domestically. The engineering/construction firm added 514 new jobs in the past year, with a 6 percent voluntary turnover. The 5 percent employee growth came from a pool of nearly 70,000 applicants. The most common entry-level professional job is engineer, which starts at $42,500. The most common entry-level hourly job of nuclear/chemical operator actually reported a higher salary of $54,500. The company’s work force is 16 percent minorities, and nearly a third of its workers are women.

Yeah, that really IS taking a long time to download

A recent book by University of Maryland professor Ben Shneiderman contains a survey that validates what you already knew: bad software and hardware is responsible for a lot of wasted time.

In fact, in Leonardo’s Laptop, Human Needs and the New Computing Technologies, (2002, MIT Press) Shneiderman cites one survey that found computer users wasted 5.1 hours each week trying to use their machines; i.e., more time than they spent commuting to work.