Office: Focus - Q&A: Kate Mason, Woods Bagot

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

Edited By Cathy Hayward

THE OFFICE has seen perhaps the biggest and most rapid transformation ever since the pandemic halted ‘business as usual’ and prompted a sea-change in mindset for employers and workers alike. Conventional notions of what the workspace needed to look like – and how much of the working week people needed to physically be there – were upended as remote working took on a new resonance.

Rumours of the death of the office have been wildly exaggerated, however. Instead, the spaces in which we work have been reinvented, updated, sometimes downsized, but also revolutionised. We ask a selection of experts in the field for their take on the opportunities, challenges and creative inspiration to be had from striving to ensure that the workplace of the future delivers versatile, productive, positive and balanced places for people to spend at least some of their working week.

The post-Covid office is a place of work, but also one of play and socialization. Image Credit: Shannon Mcgrath

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

Flexibility is key at the moment. We’re also finding that understanding behavioural patterns is fundamental to ensuring the workspace is agile enough to withstand consistent change. This often means drawing on our industry experience to help clients navigate a sometimes complex journey to find the right solution for them.

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

We’re finding that clients are much more cautious than they were prior to the pandemic. There is real uncertainty around workspace requirements, what changes may happen over a given lease period, and whether a delivered space will uphold the change.

What would you say are the seismic changes from office design pre Covid and now?

Since Covid, it would appear there is more autonomy given to employees. The workplace is about experience now, and understanding how users want to experience their space matters more than ever.

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

We’re designing complete flexibility into our workspaces – this is so that clients can adapt to an ever-changing workplace. User control on all levels also plays a major role in how we design spaces. There needs to be technology to adapt to hybrid meetings, ensuring engagement for all meeting attendees, both in the room and on VC.

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

I find that the awards ceremonies are great for seeing all the best recently completed projects. Our industry in London is very close, and having a broad network from all corners of consultancy and construction also gives us a peek into what is happening.

Offices are now not only places to work, but also destinations in and of themselves. Image Credit: Shannon Mcgrath

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 on offices to date?

I think a lot has changed since then. For example, with hybrid working, we have launched headfirst into this way of working and this was quickened by the pandemic. Placemaking is also at the forefront of what we do, ensuring the office is a destination more than ever.

With the post-Covid world still in flux, designers need to keep a careful eye to the future. Image Credit: Shannon Mcgrath

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

I really like the National Australia Bank (NAB) at 700 Bourke in Melbourne. This is one that our Melbourne studio worked on and it is one of the most dynamic, intimate and activated spaces I have visited. This is a tricky achievement on a project of this scale.  

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