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?
My sense is that the workplace design sector is in a really strong position, evident across the myriad of amazing projects now being realised as the first cohort of post-Covid generation schemes completes. We are seeing intelligent designs that balance an ever-increasing set of complex requirements – and doing so with real consideration. Whilst the role of a designer has, in my experience at least, always seen us wearing multiple ‘hats’ in a ‘Jack of all Trades’ sense, it now seems evident that clients require a service that is even more tailored. On top of our broad range of traditional design skills, a designer is now also well-versed in topics spanning sustainability, wellbeing, human behaviour and psychology and smart technology.
Office designers no longer have to abide by a ‘biggest is best’ mantra, especially as real estate footprints are decreasing. Instead, they have to provide bespoke solutions that not only encourage work, but also include all the amenities and trappings expecting of today’s hybrid environments.
How proactive are clients on thinking ahead for projects for next year or beyond?
This really does vary according to the scale, the type of scheme and more often than not, on our position within the project team. On the larger, multi-disciplinary schemes, we are seeing a pattern of developers engaging with interior design much earlier in the process, which is great. This is a positive reflection of the recognised value that we bring to a project, and also hugely assists us in being able to truly shape and influence a project’s vision – and ultimately what we can deliver upon.
What would you say are the seismic changes from office design pre-Covid and now?
We’re navigating beyond the traditional mindset that ‘biggest is best’. The general trend we’re seeing is that the size of the occupier’s real estate footprint is decreasing and consolidating, with the focus increasingly on the quality and not just the quantity of space. It’s a great time to be part of this as an interior designer, working with clients to help them see how great design can shape this fresher approach.
Office designers no longer have to abide by a ‘biggest is best’ mantra, especially as real estate footprints are decreasing. Instead, they have to provide bespoke solutions that not only encourage work, but also include all the amenities and trappings expecting of today’s hybrid environments. Image Credit: Tom Bird
What have been the biggest design challenges and opportunities to emerge from the shift in the role of the office in recent years?
For all the negatives related to Covid, conversely, we have a lot to thank it for in the way it has elevated the wider debate around office design. The big question ‘Why do I need to come to the office when I can do that at home?’ has opened up so many new, fresh and innovative ideas around the purpose of the physical office space, as well as around how we work and how we’d like to work ideally.
Clients each have their own take on the amount of flexibility and days split between home and office according to what is applicable for their businesses. If there were to be a reoccurring theme, it is a belief in the commitment to delivering a great quality (physical) space – one that nurtures team cohesion as a form of cultural home or hub.
What key exhibitions, events or other sources help to keep you inspired?
As a team, we make a conscious attempt to...spread our time across as [many] events and trips as possible to ensure we’re getting inspiration from the widest possible net. Key exhibitions we attended over the past 12 months include the Milan del Salone and Clerkenwell Design Week. We’ve also been active with the BCO and its programme of events.
We also enjoy the time, when possible, to get away from the screen for a couple of days and soak up the sights and atmosphere of somewhere new. Whilst not built around a formal event per se, these trips never fail to get the creative juices flowing. Between us, over the past year, we’ve been to Munich, Edinburgh and on a lovely trip to the Czech Republic to the home of Brokis Glass.
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?
Niels Torp’s great leap forward was the probable catalyst for the end of the trend for ever-larger and increasingly soulless corporate open-plan offices. He introduced both the language of retail – the ‘street’ – and also of the domestic – the ‘house’ – into office design, ensuring we all kept in mind the fact that end-users were real people who wanted and were used to human-scale environments in the other parts of their lives.
If that scheme represented a macro vision of the future, I think the radical steps since then have been on a more closefocus, micro level. Recognising that within ‘human-scale’, there are different personality types, as well as non-NT people, for example, who like to work in potentially quite different environments. Physical wellbeing through improved ergonomics and accessibility, as well as designing for mental wellbeing have all improved hugely since the millennium. We also know much more about designing to influence productivity and about the importance of sustainability, biophilia to maintain a connection to nature, plus better light and sound management.
Office designers no longer have to abide by a ‘biggest is best’ mantra, especially as real estate footprints are decreasing. Instead, they have to provide bespoke solutions that not only encourage work, but also include all the amenities and trappings expecting of today’s hybrid environments. Image Credit: Billy Bolton
Which office design, or other project, has inspired or influenced your own creative thinking?
I don’t think I can pin this down to one or two. I like to think as myself as a bit of a magpie and I seek inspiration from all over. I have been really fortunate over the past two years to be a part of the BCO Northern Awards Judges panel and, as part of this each year, we have the opportunity to visit loads of great office spaces. These span a variety of building types, size, client brief, budget, location and context. It’s such a rich and fun experience.
I guess if I had to name-drop a couple that have truly resonated with me, it would be Sunderland City Hall by Faulkner Brown Architects because of the overall gusto of the client’s vision and the entrepreneurial force of the local council – coupled with an exquisite design resolution. The Calico building in in Manchester by Hawkins Brown also stands out for its bold and thoughtful approach to reimagining an existing building.
Generally speaking, we love anything by The Office Group. Their approach to quality design and the mix of great designers they chose to collaborate with is impeccable. They never rest on any laurels. www.ekho.studio