While the basic principles of doing business may remain the same, changes in employee demographics and their attitudes towards work — which are swayed by technological advancements — are significantly affecting the way designers approach office interior design.
With the present concept of designing not just the workplace but also to influence employees, well-being has now emerged as a new benchmark to be met within design schemes. Examining the complexities of today’s work, businesses too are starting to understand that the main value lies with their people.
The key to success today is providing employees with a number of diverse choices. Experts also point out that, when designing a workplace, it is crucial to understand exactly how occupants will interact within the space; and that one size does not fit all. This is the cornerstone of what the design fraternity refers to as “insight-based” design. “Technology has changed the way we work, no longer restricted to a desk or a cubicle. It’s no longer a place you go to but an activity you do. Workspace design needs to factor in this change. Offices are no longer looked at as just a place of work, rather a strategic tool for growth, collaboration and learning. This calls for layering of space to allow and provide for different kinds of spaces responding to different activities. The challenge is striking the right balance in doing so,” states Mehul Shah, partner, DSP.
Creating value within the space
“Space management is the keystone on which all successful office interiors are built. In today’s real estate prices, space utilisation and management are the order of the day. Though, largely, space per person or area per person on the overall usable space has not changed in corporate infra standards over time, what keeps reinventing itself is the individual workspace and the collaborative areas with supporting spaces. Currently, trends are not purely about density,” explains Kartik Punjabi, principal architect, VPCPL.
He further elaborates on the cultural shift towards creating more informal meeting spaces for collaboration within an open office layout itself. In a bid to encourage team work, creative spaces that may be called by various names such as breakout area, informal meeting zones, collaborative spaces, and agile areas serve a single purpose — to be inviting, funky, and infuse team work and brainstorming.
Flexibility in planning and operation with multipurpose spaces are the culture of the day in office designs. While cabin cultures have given way to open planning, remodelling, expansion and creation of different spaces within the office are routine today.
Another emerging trend that Punjabi emphasises is ‘design and build’, which has grown exponentially due to the speed with which fit-outs need to be implemented these days. Clients today are turning to design houses to implement and build conceived designs. It saves time during the bidding process and makes the design house accountable for the design. At the same time, the client can rest assured that what is visualised on paper is converted to built reality, as it is a single point of contact responsible for both design and build.
The new approach
The most significant change in workplace design over the last decade has been the fact that offices are no longer defined by row upon row of desks. Giving an example of one of his own projects, Vistasp Bhagwagar, principal architect, AVA, explains “Most designs today are based on the concept of connectivity. For a project, we designed to create the sense of ‘centrifugality’ in the plan. It consisted of a central nucleus that housed all the essential collaborations and meeting spaces — reception, meeting rooms, breakout spaces, etc — while the radiating arms around this zone were filled with hot desks and semi-circular tables that could be wheeled and adjusted, providing an “activity-based workspace”. The design addresses every function of the business in an orderly chaos, without a dull grid-based regimental plan.”
Pratyush Sarup, head of design at Dubai-based Spencer Interiors, adds a global perspective. He says, “The office of today gathers in an endlessly adaptive ‘townhall’ setting — a clearing in the office that can double up as a yoga studio, a community theatre, lunch spot or even a party space. It is just one of a series of collision points sprinkled across the office that become impromptu hubs for interaction, community building and, if you have seriously cool co-workers, a round of Jenga. Of course, there are endless possibilities in how one develops these hubs in the third dimension — but there too, I find a certain restraint. Themes border less on fantasy and more on familiarity. Interpretations for the region’s culture, geography and urban movements deliver offices that are relevant and contextual.”
In many organisations, however, creativity isn’t bubbling up spontaneously. Most employers say their organisations aren’t creative enough and most employees say they’re not living up to their creative potential on the job, according to Adobe’s State of Create 2016 study. Contrary to popular myth, creativity isn’t about a “Eureka!” moment that happens among truly brilliant people — it is a process in which everyone can engage, if the conditions are right.
Ninad Tipnis, principal architect, JTCPL, echos the thought, saying: “Workplaces have evolved into unique ecosystems with each office inhabiting diversity. On a larger perspective, people are often categorised basis their creative and strategic skills. But, diversity goes beyond the broad categorisation, which is generally focused on, for example, introverts and extroverts. It is important for designers to understand that their concepts don’t just passively affect the aesthetics but have an active impact on the functioning of a diverse ecosystem.”
Yet, despite the desire to be more creative at work, majority of people don’t believe they’re living up to their potential. “The solution is finding the right balance between convergent and divergent thinking, and having the right range of spaces and technology to support all the diverse stages of creative work,” asserts James Ludwig, head of global design and product engineering at Steelcase.
In conclusion, Sourabh Gupta, charts out the importance and fundamentals in office designs: “Corporate interior design is one of the most powerful tools to express a philosophy through design to the common man. The fundamental question of understanding the identity and the character of the company and its subsequent manifestation into the built form is an interesting phenomenon. By addressing the larger question on spatial and visual design, its legitimacy and its power, design allows an opportunity to talk to a varied audience. It distils the company’s corporate identity for the owners and stakeholders, uniting and inspiring employees with a strong ideology as well as communicating an introduction to the company for visitors and the larger external audience.”