Science - May 14, 2009

IMPROVISING IN RADIX

To survive in Radix you need to be able to tune out noise, and to wear blinkers as well. It’s almost impossible to phone without disturbing someone, and while some people shiver in their coats, others would happily work in their swimsuits. In short, not everyone is happy with the new Plant Sciences building on the Wageningen campus.

An umbrella makes a good sun blind too.
The changeable Dutch skies drive people crazy in Radix. As soon as the sun comes out, the colourful sun blinds come down. When it goes behind a cloud, up they buzz again. And on a day that’s sunny and windy, the blinds stay up, for fear that they might get blown to bits. ‘I went to the Gamma for a sun blind a couple of weeks ago’, says Frank de Ruijter of PRI Agrosystems science, in his office. ‘Because otherwise I don’t see a thing on my screen.’ He whisks out a simple construction consisting of a slat, a sheet of canvas, a project flag and some paper clips on two strings, and fixes it to the floor. ‘It works fine’.

Elsewhere, his colleague Anton Haverkort has taped an elegant umbrella onto his screen to keep off the sun. He also has a fan on his desk. ‘I never get cold feet here’, he laughs. It’s been up to nearly 28 degrees in this corner of the building recently; you would almost be tempted to wear a swimsuit.

Two floors lower, Govert Trouwborst, a PhD student in the Horticulture chains chair group, is sitting at his desk in a jacket. The draught is not quite strong enough to blow his papers away, and his hands are red with cold. 'It should be about twenty degrees in here, but this wind cools it down.’

The building and its inhabitants obviously haven’t adapted to each other yet, as is clear from the comments about ‘working in the corridor’. Radix has been designed for the use of ‘dynamic work stations’. In other words, no one has their own desk, and there are different rooms for meetings and for working in silence. The idea is that you meet each other more like this, and the space is used more efficiently. But some departments still opted to have a lot of fixed work places and hardly any unallocated rooms. So some people share a room while others spend entire days in the open area. It is clear that not everyone is happy with this. ‘You can’t just start a long phone conversation here', says Maaike Wubs, 'because you constantly feel you are disturbing people.'

Secretarial staff have ended up in the open area too. A disaster, say the ladies from Agrosystems science. For themselves and for the people around them. ‘We are making phone calls all day and we have to whisper or we get complaints.’

In many departments it has been agreed to whisper in the open areas, but it’s easy to forget, when everyone is hidden behind bookcases and it’s coffee time. PhD researcher Sander Hogewoning is considering using a water pistol on noisy colleagues. But for now he sticks to working at home for a day now and then when he really needs to get something finished.

Facility manager Okko Kuiper from PSG advises the groups to work a bit more dynamically, and to do something about occupation rates so that more people can work at different places. Since the first people moved in, in March, the facility desk has received over five hundred complaints about cables, lighting, work stations and copying machines – which Kuiper says were dealt with promptly.

The climate regulation and sun screen issues are being tackled, he says. This is all part of the handover and there is plenty of contact with the builders. ‘It often takes months to get a new building functioning smoothly’, says Kuiper. ‘So give the building a chance.’

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