Like a Bird's Nest

How we designed our studio space to follow nature's lead

Here at Civilla we believe that physical workspace can make or break a culture. And so, we spend a lot of time tending to it. Our guiding principles state:

“Like a bird’s nest, the Civilla space allows us to self-assemble, while remaining light, functional and magical.”

Which may leave one to wonder, what does a bird’s nest have to do with the design of an office?

It turns out, a lot.

Think about it this way: A bird relies on its environment to assemble the materials it needs to build its home. Sometimes it uses sticks and feathers, other times grass and stones. Because its environment is not static, the bird’s “optimal nest” will look different every time.

If you’ve visited Civilla more than once, you’ve likely noticed that it too looks different every time. We frequently evolve our space to respond to our team’s changing needs. Rather than fitting our team into a fixed environment, we’ve designed the space to adapt over time. This practice fosters the creativity and collaboration that is central to our work.

Here are 5 simple ways we've learned to design a studio space to enable creativity, rather than inhibit it:

1. use modular materials

At Civilla, we use modular materials to enable our team to assemble our workspace.

Rather than hiring an expert to create a master plan, we provide the materials that our team needs to design the space themselves.

As a result, most of our furniture is modular and movable. This makes it easy to reconfigure the space as the team sees fit. Light chairs and stackable stools enable quick collaboration. Movable whiteboards serve as workable surfaces and "walls" between project spaces. Giant foam blocks servce as dividers, presentation backdrops, and even ad hoc campfire seating.

2. determine what’s fixed vs flexible

At Civilla, we’ve designed the studio around large, flexible workspaces.

An open floor plan hosts project bays that grow and shrink as our work changes. Our studio entrance converts into a classroom or a presentation space at a moment’s notice. A wire grid on the ceiling of our storytelling exhibit enables us swap out content as our work unfolds. From season to season, we change our space to meet the evolving requirements of our team.

While flexible workspace can be powerful, it’s not right in every context. Tasks like reflecting, making phone calls, and storing private files need dedicated space. For these things, we’ve created fixed spaces that provide privacy and stability.

3. set expectations

At Civilla, everyone on the team knows they have permission to move things around in the studio. In fact, we encourage it.

But flexible space does not mean there are no rules to the road. We set clear expectations as a team to guide how we use flexible spaces.

For example, if a colleague uses the entrance to teach a class, the team expects them to reset it at the end. In shared meeting rooms, we zero out whiteboards at the end of each session.

4. communicate, communicate, communicate

An adaptive environment requires our team to communicate well. As a growing organization, there are more people coming in and out of Civilla’s doors every day.

Simple rhythms help us stay in sync. At the beginning of each day, we ask: what does the team need to know about your day for you to be successful? We then discuss how the schedule may impact our space. Doing so allows us to communicate and respect each other’s needs.

5. re-evaluate and evolve

Like good design work, a team’s space should change over time based on feedback.

Traditionally, organizations build out their office in one major effort, and it evolves very little after the big reveal. At Civilla we re-evaluate our space more regularly. Our team comes together periodically to reflect on how the studio environment is or isn't serving our needs. During this time, the team lifts up pain points, opportunities, and ideas. We then update our space to support the evolving needs of our work. This practice helps us invest in changes that are most meaningful to the team.

Through these practices, we’ve worked to design a space that is light, functional, and magical. Rather than working from a fixed environment, we adapt our space daily to support the creativity and collaboration that is foundational to our work.