Office: Focus - Q&A: Square Dot

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?

Ironically, Covid should have been the most radical and influential event on the office. On the whole, it certainly woke up all those lost souls that thought they knew the future.

As workplace design consultants, we are perfectly positioned to help businesses understand what space they need in the first instance and how they should be occupying it in the second. We need to analyse what their individual requirements are because, if one size didn’t fit all before Covid, it certainly doesn’t now. It was always the wrong agenda to plan in swathes of workstations and make everyone work in the same way. So, if Covid has brought about a sea change in a design approach, then at least some good has come out of the pandemic.

Choices are bringing out a plethora of settings that will suit both introverts and extraverts and should be pushing the boundaries for manufacturers to be thinking along the same lines and bringing to the market a whole host of new and variable products that need to match the new horizons. All designers in whatever field they are working in need to play their part in creating that ‘wow’ experience, because that’s what it needs to be about. Innovation – [It’s] time to draw up a new landscape, which supports building new relationships and settings in an environment to encourage and have a sense of belonging.

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

On 26 March 2020, one client advised us that they were suspending all activities on their project, since the government advice was to stay indoors as part of the lockdown strategy. I asked them what they were going to do, to which they replied, ‘Adopt flexible working, have an open approach and, above all else, trust our staff to do the right thing.’ This should have been the programme well before Covid and if presenteeism hasn’t been consigned to the history books after the pandemic, then surely it never will. The clients who have an opportunity to make a difference, maybe because of lease breaks or the need to move, together with an appetite for boldness and brave decision making, are already benefiting from making those changes.

But too few clients are taking the opportunity to re-engineer their offices to be appropriate for future needs. The key will be adaptability going forward as we are still in a state of flux and change – the only thing that’s pretty certain is the uncertainty on how businesses and office space will adapt to future working practices. As Charles Darwin stated: ‘It’s not the strongest or fittest that will survive, but those that are most able to adapt to change.’

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

The move away from banks of workstations is a clear visual and operational change. The reality though is understanding the influences and alternative solutions. If collaboration is a new buzzword in place of ‘hot desking’, we need an environment to support not only meetings, but social gatherings and changing behaviour.

Definitely, the move away from desk numbers is the norm, and the shift away from space allocation, x amount of people does not necessarily equate to y number of desks – and why were we ever addressing this?

With an evolving office landscape, perhaps the term ‘workplace’ is too restrictive. Image Credit:  Son Of Jack Photography

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

Technology. Less about plates full of cable spaghetti and more about freedom to move anywhere and work anywhere. How businesses would have coped if Covid had struck 10 to 15 years ago without the advent of MS Teams and Zoom is anyone’s guess. But it made a difference in 2020, and continues to have a huge impact on how we communicate with each other. Furniture manufacturers have certainly responded to the need for a new setting, but have the concepts evolved sufficiently? Or are we manufacturing too many ‘me too’ products? Equally have we simply gone full circle and are heading back to the screen-hung system furniture?

Talking to an estates director of a university recently who suggested that if you lost hot water, they might get a complaint from students after a week. Lose Wi-Fi, and there’ll be a riot after 20 minutes. People yearn for a sense of purpose – to make a difference, so the workplace should Square Dot have been designing office interiors for almost 23 years. Their principals, David Kramer and Kris Krokosz, reflect on the changes, influences and office identities since 1984 become a tool for motivation.

I think acoustics is now a real challenge within the office. The fashion for stripped out ceilings and exposed services can have a devastating effect on the demand for quiet spaces or pods, or more people conducting video calls or online meetings from the desk in open plan.

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

We prefer the smaller fringe type of exhibitions to see innovative products or uses of materials. The larger shows, simply foster an abundance of the ‘me too’ products. Clerkenwell continues to be a focal event for the industry, but is it pushing the boundaries sufficiently?

Perhaps the term ‘workplace’ has become far too restricting and we all need to be more inquisitive, questioning and challenging why and why not more often – are we in danger of becoming lazy with products that take our fancy and not being inventive?

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 vision of inclusivity for British Airways offers different global themes in blocks along a central street. The central street is the focus for the whole building as an active work environment towards which people gravitate to collaborate, meet and eat. His vision is only marred in hindsight by the loss of these activities in the sub-culture of each block. So today’s environments need to go further to ensure it is truly inclusive in every building. The building, though, is still heralded as a new way of working for a large corporate BA.

More than ever, this is very much linked to understanding a business culture and personality of its brand, the tone of voice that’s established to support and reflect the business through its staff and their behaviours, the design of the environment and associated facilities.

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

For me [Kris Krokosz], when I first visited Macquarie Banks’ new HQ facility in Sydney, Australia I was genuinely taken aback. This is a building developed back in 2008/2009 that needed to house 3,000 staff but offered only 2,000 positions. 1,000 of those are assigned, the other 1,000 were shared by the remaining 2,000 staff. It offers focal points both in a central ‘street’ way, but also locally so more people can benefit from the varying settings and environments.

I [David Kramer] see elements, materials and creative solutions within other environments that inspire me, such as retail, exhibitions and museums, and therefore I believe we could all benefit from a wider view and to becoming more inquisitive about design and our surroundings generally, and to understand our interaction with interior environments, buildings, materials, nature and all objects.

Progressive Media International Limited. Registered Office: 40-42 Hatton Garden, London, EC1N 8EB, UK.Copyright 2024, All rights reserved.