Office: Focus - Q&A: Gurvinder Khurana, M Moser

Cathy Hayward talks to designers in the workplace design space and looks at some of the most exciting upcoming projects.

Edited By Cathy Hayward

What are your thoughts currently on office design, and what do clients now require from architects and designers since Covid?

Office design has been undergoing a significant transition since the pandemic, but it is beginning to settle. Clients are now more attuned to their teams’ specific needs and seek adaptable, user-friendly spaces. The societal shifts brought about by the pandemic have emphasised the importance of areas that cater to diverse personalities and support neurodiversity.

Furthermore, the next generations of workers require more work-life balance and place a greater value on where they work. People want a sense of presence, pride and enjoyment in their workplace. They’re looking for spaces that value individual needs rather than requiring individuals to conform to predefined work environments. Our clients are responding to this by seeking office spaces that facilitate personal development and growth, recognising the impact on mental health and overall development.

Adapting to changing circumstances has also become a crucial factor. The concept of community within the office space has gained prominence, and architects and designers are exploring ways to create multi-functional spaces usable for several differing activities, using the power of colour and texture to create areas of different energies whilst keeping acoustics in balance.

There is also a strong emphasis on incorporating sustainable and healthy materials whilst still bringing personality to interior spaces.

Far from the workers of old, the employees of today are far more attuned to their own needs and employers are now listening more intently. Offices need to provide environments that provide a sense of community, in addition to facilitating more traditional working roles. Image Credit: Alex Kendrick

How proactive are clients in thinking ahead for projects for next year or beyond?

Clients are actively engaged in the future planning for office projects. Although sustainability and hybrid models are among the driving factors behind this proactivity, we still need more clarity in the post-pandemic era.

People are considering long-term leases and weighing the cost implication and efficiency potential. Landlords have responded to these demands by improving city office offerings, providing elements such as gardens and outdoor spaces, community initiatives, enhanced end-of-trip facilities, and nearby or onsite F&B amenities. Clients are demanding more than just office space; they want an exciting environment that creates a destination and pull – giving their teams something they don’t have in their homes or local towns to provide their people with a destination, purpose and event.

In addition, we are noticing a move toward clients and occupiers wanting to move to spaces that align with their ESG goals.

Far from the workers of old, the employees of today are far more attuned to their own needs and employers are now listening more intently. Offices need to provide environments that provide a sense of community, in addition to facilitating more traditional working roles. Image Credit: Stijn Poelstra

What are the seismic changes from office design pre-Covid and now?

One of the most significant transformations is the emphasis on providing a variety of amenities and spaces. Companies are attentive to the desires and preferences of the workforce, offering incentives to entice employees back into the office. Flexibility and multifunctionality of space have become critical, leading to the product design of phone booths and movable furniture. There is a desire for more lounge and hospitality-inspired spaces – something at M Moser we were doing pre-pandemic for media-type clients, but now it has become much more of a requirement for most businesses.

Secondly, using materials and products less harmful to the environment and human health has also gained traction, such as ditching toxic glues and using low VOCs.

Technology has played a vital role in creating change, from virtual team collaborations that support better work/ life balances, such as Miro, a collaborative cloud-based tool and Open Space, which allows us to walk a site without physically being there.

Additionally, we can measure the performance of office spaces through digital twin dashboards. At M Moser, we implement various sensors to monitor air quality, VOCs, occupancy, temperature, humidity and noise levels, resulting in healthier office environments. Thankfully, people have begun to understand the importance of having healthy buildings to work in and its relationship to a healthier team.

Far from the workers of old, the employees of today are far more attuned to their own needs and employers are now listening more intently. Offices need to provide environments that provide a sense of community, in addition to facilitating more traditional working roles. Image Credit: Jordi Huisman

What have been the biggest design challenges and opportunities to emerge from the shift in the role of the office in recent years?

One of the most prominent challenges in office design has been reducing the density of floorplates. The need for more space per person to reduce the chance of spreading infections has become a priority. Additionally, clients are considering the size of office spaces based on factors such as hybrid working, budgets and whether to remain in their current buildings or relocate to more suitable premises. However, striking the right balance can be challenging due to high rents and the clients’ requirement for evidence of the benefits before making decisions.

The opportunity lies in creating various areas that break up traditional banks of desks, including meeting rooms, phone booths and more outdoor spaces. This approach helps mitigate the impact of costs while fostering a more engaging and adaptable workspace.

From a technological perspective, we are now on the cusp of leveraging data to drive design at a detailed level. For the first time, we can collect data reliably without relying heavily on manual processes. However, the next significant challenge for the industry lies in extracting meaningful insights from this data and using it to become more adaptable.

What key exhibitions, events or other sources help to keep you inspired?

Organisations such as CREW and BCO regularly organise tours of venues and insightful talks, which help facilitate the cross-pollination of ideas. I also rely on publications such as FX and Mix for industry insights. I find exhibitions at renowned institutions like the Serpentine, Tate Modern and the Design Museum are also excellent sources of inspiration.

I firmly believe in the power of travel as an influencer, as it opens our minds to so many flavours and influences. Yet, there is no denying that London is a hive of creativity and influence; having the ability to walk around and see the living, breathing city in all its glory is still one of my main inspirational tools, and I recommend we should all get out and walk around more, take in the sights and remember to always look up.

Various sensors can be installed that monitors air quality, noise levels and even humidity to ensure modern offices are comfortable places to be. Image Credit: Stijn Poelstra.

Can you remember Niels Torp’s vision of a new office landscape 30 years ago at BA’s Waterside? Was this the most radical thinking in offices to date?

Niels Torp’s vision of a new office landscape at BA’s Waterside, known as the campus concept, was groundbreaking at that time. Integrating waterways and grasslands and creating a sense of community offered a clever and forward-thinking solution for out-of-city-centre offices. Our cities often provide similar amenities and infrastructure, with even more choices. But it does remain up there as one of the most pioneering ideas in office design. Yet more radical thinking is now required – the future lies in creating buildings and spaces that utilise new and advanced technologies but are rooted in the simple brilliance of the past. By this, I mean working with natural elements like passive cooling and solar power, making our buildings self-sufficient and autonomous.

The next phase must incorporate strategies to reduce and eliminate waste and give back to the grid. We have a groundbreaking project in progress that utilises PV panels and technology for the façade and the roof and has onsite renewable power generation and mixed-mode ventilation and water treatment facilities. The site will also create a much-needed social connection with the community by providing connected event spaces.

Fundamentally, we must use all the natural provisions on site – using all the natural elements that interface with the building to maximise its impact and minimise the environmental impact.

Which office design or other project has inspired or influenced your own creative thinking?

There are a few buildings that have influenced me over my career to date; the Richard Rogers Lloyds building has always been a happy place for me. Its groundbreaking architecture and design challenged the status quo – that resonates with me and I am passionate that, as an industry, we shouldn’t stand still but continue to push boundaries.

The Office in the Woods by Selgas Cano greatly inspires me. Its seamless integration with nature, extensive use of glass, and the sense of being away from the urban environment is both restorative and energising. I never tire of that connected aspect of design, people and nature.

More recently, I have relished the experience of some of the repurposing projects. There are two more recent examples that really capture my imagination and excite me. These are the reworking of the Battersea Power Station in London and then the Dyson regenerative project in St James’ Power Station in Singapore, a shining example of future workspaces.

Both these exemplify how we can create wellconsidered, well-detailed, beautiful interjection, celebrating the original building use, whilst respecting its place in history and service and creating a new purpose and home for a business and its people without a detrimental impact on the planet.

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