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Building for collaboration

Aurecon Centre, Melbourne

The genesis of this article started with a staircase, an open staircase to be exact, climbing up the centre of a five-storey building.

I immediately recognised the knowledge management (KM) story I had been looking for over the past few months - a counterpoint to the conventional information systems-centric approach to KM I wanted a case study that illustrated the diversity of KM approaches now being employed. I found that story in the new Aurecon Centre in Melbourne.

I had lined up an interview with Peter Mathieson, technical director of buildings at the company and project leader on the Aurecon Centre, and Peter Greaves, technical director and competency leader for building services as well as being project director for the building. I expected some pretty good systems from one of our leading engineering companies designing one of its own offices. What I didn't expect was a holistic approach to collaboration that cuts to the heart of knowledge management - namely, the importance of face-to-face interactions.

In the KM literature, there is a phenomenon colloquially called “the water cooler effect”, an American term referring to those serendipitous connections that occur as people bump into each other, often at the water cooler but it could be in the lift, the lobby cafe, lunch room or other such places.

It has long been recognised that one of the biggest barriers to effective knowledge sharing is physical distance. Having teams geographically separated in different cities is one obvious case but it has been found that having teams on the next floor up in a building can be almost as isolating.

I discovered that collaboration was a key goal of Aurecon's management as they approached the design of their new office. From an engineering point of view, the challenge was addressed using both structural and building services solutions.

This article by Tim Kannegieter first appeared in Engineers Australia magazine.

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