Human touch

There’s no excuse for drab office environments any more, argues Anna Richardson. Indeed, imaginative interiors which offer a bit of privacy as well as great teamworking space are essential for bringing out that creative spark in staff

JUST AS a computer is no longer a desk-bound, 13-inch-plus-screened piece of hardware, most workplaces are not what they once were. With growing flexibility and mobility of technology, rows upon rows of desks have given way to more efficient and creative uses of space, encouraging collaboration and inspiration among the workforce.

One of the clients of interior design group HOK would spend 5 per cent of the budget on loose furniture (associated with breakout areas and informal meeting spaces) five years ago, says Andy Warner Lacey, design director of HOK interiors. Now they often spend 40 per cent.

Where once a couple of high-end sofas sufficed, creating breakout space is more complex nowadays. Designing places for work can span extremes, says Phil Hutchinson, joint managing director of BDG Workfutures. ‘One person’s quiet is another person’s noise.’

Providing intimate, private spaces is just as important as furthering collaboration and teamwork. Enrico Caruso, principal of Gensler London, says people use workspace in four work modes – focus, work, heads-down and collaborative – and a successful organisation has to balance these.

Another consideration is providing employees with a sense of identity and, in many cases, integrating different parts of the business.

HOK recently completed interiors for the Southampton headquarters for the Carnival Group UK, which owns various cruise companies. One of the main challenges was bringing the group’s five brands under one roof. ‘We wanted to bring everyone together,’ says Warner Lacey. As well as one single breakout space on each floor, the consultancy included an atrium to provide a space where people could come together, giving a sense of the entire organisation. ‘We encouraged them to think of the atrium space as a location that they could use for meetings outside of lunchtime,’ says Warner Lacey. The consultancy sought to represent the collective identity as well as support each separate brand. Drawing on existing knowledge and commonalities among the brands, each floor was named after a different ocean, while meeting rooms are named after ports.

In its work for Price Waterhouse Coopers, BDP is striving to create an environment that is motivational as well as functional to encourage more collaboration across the organisation – an approach that is already being rolled out in some of the regional offices. At PWC’s new facility at the More London development near London Bridge, which is set to open in January 2011, a lot of consideration has gone into employees’ activities, says Martin Cook, chairman of design at BDP. It’s not just a case of breakout for the sake of breakout tradition, it’s very much a replacement, whereby the choice of work setting is there to reflect activity and different levels of interaction.’

The zonal strategy is to provide more spatial flexibility, adds Cook, with spaces getting more private as you spread out from the heart of the building. ‘We’ve created the equivalent of Hyde Park in three dimensions,’ says Cook. ‘You have formal vistas and informal circulation routes. Conceptually, we’ve created a landscape concept as a working environment and translated objects and beacons in the space.’

The More London building will also include the first use of a new workplace system – although Cook is keeping quiet about details. ‘For the first time in 15 to 20 years we are seeing a new generation of designers with European manufacturers, providing a much more sensitive understanding of human activity,’ adds Cook, who believes the traditional furniture systems market is quickly reaching its sell-by date.

Warner Lacey also notes the number of workstation manufacturers developing an interest in loose furniture, and others highlight Pearson Lloyd’s new Parcs collection for Bene, which responds to workers’ need for privacy on the one hand, and community on the other.

As for interior designers, social networking will undoubtedly have an impact on how people use spaces in the future, Caruso points out. It’s important and right to consider activities and behaviours at the workplace, agrees Hutchinson. But there is another important consideration, he adds. ‘As designers if we can’t give our clients and their staff spaces which surprise them and they go “Oh, that’s fabulous”, we’ve missed the point,’ he says.

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