ResearchEnglishCreative Environment

Unlocking Creativity With the Physical Workspace

Author: Yuri Martens


Today’s businesses have to become more creative and innovative to deal with growing competition and globalization. The physical workplace can be of value for facilitating creativity. This paper reports on research conducted on the aspects that determine creativity and a case study which investigated the relations between creativity, creative work and creative work environment with a creative organization.

The paper proposes a model to position relations, elements and forces that determine the match of a creative workplace and its occupiers. The framework positions creativity, creative work and an appropriate work environment. It helps to unravel the complexity of facilitating creativity and creative work processes. The case study emphasizes the importance of clear definitions, and illustrates the meaning of lay-out, color, light and space for presenting ones work.

The framework is a hypothesis. The application of the model still relies heavily on the insight and current knowledge of facility managers about their organisation and context. The paper offers guidelines and ideas for facilities managers to understand how creativity can be unlocked with the physical workplace.


Company performance is becoming more and more dependant on an organization’s ability to be creative. Businesses distinguish themselves through their capacity for continuous innovation (Nonaka and Takeuchi, 1995, DeGraff, 2002).

Innovation can be seen as the successful introduction of new products and services. Creativity is necessary for innovation (Jacobs, 2005). Office work is becoming less administrative and also less time and place dependent. At the same time work is becoming more complex, creative and knowledge intensive (Hazeveld, 2006, Kampschroer et al, 2007, Becker, 2007).

Office space can contribute to company performance (Allen, 1997, Becker, 2001, Brill, 2001, Croon et al, 2003, Voordt, 2003) . Literature further suggests that the physical work environment can have a positive effect on the creativity of an organization (Nonaka, 2000, Worthington, 2000, Florida, 2002, Becker, 2007). However it stays unclear how and under what conditions this added value can be realised.

This paper aims to further conceptualize the creative potential of the physical work environment by identifying and exploring the various relationships between creativity, creative work processes, and the physical workplace. Furthermore it proposes a model to position the relations, as well as the elements and forces that determine the match of a creative workplace and its occupiers.


The knowledge and framework presented in this paper is based on the following three research projects undertaken by the Center for People and Buildings in the period 2005 to 2007.

  1. People, work en work environment in the IT-age, is a research program which included fiveresearch projects focussing on the impact of ICT on office accommodation (Martens,Hazeveld, Achterberg, Pullen, 2005 and 2006)
  2. Literature study on creativity and the physical workplace: Literature review, aiming toidentify a theoretical framework for exploring the variables for unlocking the creativepotential of the physical work environment. Method: exploratory, snowball sampling.
  3. Stimulating Creativity with StudioMingle, a case study with a creative organization on the impact of the physical work environment on creativity (Gielen, 2006)


The case illustrates that the office space can be of value for an organisations creativity. Among workers there seems general agreement that, a more colourful environment, with some fresh air and space for presenting personal work can contribute to the end-users well-being and creativity.

Crosspollination is marginally fulfilled. Researchers would still like to be better informed about one another’s work. This would indicate that situating everyone in one room is not yet a recipe for crosspollination. More space for presenting their work was mentioned as a solution, which can lead to more awareness and discussion about one another’s work. This would take in account that most workers work part-time. But the problem could well be that there is no direct need for discussing one another’s work. Maybe it is the open work environment that has a negative effect on communicating or as two researchers indicate they lack time to inform themselves on each others work when there’s no direct (perceived) need.

The case also pleads for clear definitions, especially when using questionnaires. Creativity, being creative and stimulating creativity are ambiguous terms and have different meaning to respondents. The definitions mentioned in this paper can be of value for further research. For further explanation of the framework clear definitions of different space types are also required. Finally it is apparent that the physical work environment can contribute in different ways to creative organisations:

  • Express creativity to outsiders and its users: by using colourful materials, unusual furniture and presenting physical representations of the organisations work (models, posters, artefacts). An appearance which reflects the identity of its users can also lead to higher satisfaction and a greater sense of belonging
  • Stimulate the mental process of creativity: by providing comfort and well being for individual creativity, and spaces for objects and presentations to be inspired by these artefacts and the work of colleagues.
  • Facilitate creativity, by designing dedicated spaces which support the number of users, the required noise level (enclosed/ open) and stimulate the senses (relaxed or triggered and inspired).


Unlocking Creativity With the Physical Workspace, Rights (c) Martens, Y., Publisher: Heriot Watt University uuid:47ef7f30-fd25-47b2-93e2-969e4ce3c7c4

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