Architecture has been a crucial part and an indicator of the evolution of civilisations through time. If history is any proof, right from the start, architecture has remained well-woven with both, cultural and industrial growth in and around human life. This has also led to a monumental growth in workspace design.
Workspace design has the potential for exponential growth and advancement. And, while we’re celebrating new milestones in the field every day, it is important for us to look back and appreciate where it comes from and how tremendously it has grown. As a perpetual student of architecture, there are certain ancient architectural practices that caught my attention and interest, Roman architecture being one of them.
What intrigued me the most about ancient Roman architecture was its adaptable nature and how it catered to the requirements of a well-functioning workspace. It is no secret that Roman architecture was heavily inspired by the Greeks whom they regarded as their superiors in all visual arts. However, the Romans pursued a utilitarian approach in every piece of work. What made their creations stand out was their in-depth attention to practical applications of the buildings that were fortified by their flair for engineering and construction. Speaking of fortifying, it wasn’t just engineering that the Romans aced, innovation and invention favoured them as well. For instance, the Roman invention of concrete, in the 3rd century BCE encouraged architects to be bolder in their design. It didn’t just change the way buildings were designed then, but also helped expedite Rome’s role in inspiring engineering and architecture for centuries to come.
The Romans built many commendable structures but the ‘Forum’ or more famously known as ‘Forum Romanum’ has the most significance for me and anyone trying to learn more about and bring dynamic innovation in workspace designs. The Forum was the centre of everything in Rome, probably the first ever co-working space the world has seen. It was a place for social gatherings, religious ceremonies, but more than anything it became the centre of trade in Rome. This open-space architecture that amalgamated the social, political and business needs of the people in ancient Rome is only ancient by its time of creation. The relevance of it is still evident as most offices that we see today follow the open-floor designs combining the practical needs of a business with the social needs of its team.
When I think about the interiors of the Roman workspaces, the ‘Basilica’ immediately comes to mind. The large public building was utilised for all business and legal matters. A public basilica formed a part of settlements that were categorised as a city. There was a huge similarity between this and the medieval covered market houses of northern Europe; where the meeting rooms were set above the arcades to derive optimal utilisation of the urban space. Basilicas varied in forms but usually contained space-dividing interior colonnades providing aisles and arcaded spaces on both sides and an arch at one end. The surrounding sides were lower as compared to the wide aisle in the centre which allowed light to enter through the clerestory windows. The space optimisation techniques used in that era hold prominence even in today’s time with new startups and businesses growing faster than ever. The best contemporary example of this would be the growing co-working spaces that are expected to receive up to $400 million in investment and set to reach over 1 million sq. ft. of leased ‘alternative’ workspaces in India, by the end of 2018.
While we may have just started adapting our work cultures to open and co-working spaces, there’s still a lot to explore, try and implement in this area. It will take time as all great things do but remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day either.