Soft borders: how to use curtains to create dynamic work environments

After decades of opening up, spatial design is now reacquainting itself with the means and methods of subdivision. Interiors are being transformed from terrains across which you (and any microorganisms you might carry) can free roam to pockets of privacy and containment. Thus far many employers have looked to rigid screens – either fixed or mobile – as a quick reoccupation strategy for their workplaces. We’ve already done a rundown of what we feel to be the best examples on the market.

But what if you want to segregate a larger area than is functional using screens? What if you want to create a sound and air barrier that stretches the full height of a space? And what if you want to develop a dividing system that your staff will inherently understand how to operate? The answer may well be to employ curtains.

Curtains can be used to easily adapt existing floor plans with minimal structural intervention, maintaining many of the positives of modern open-office spaces whilst also making them easily adaptable to new requirements. Yes, the vogue for the open plan was already facing criticism pre-COVID-19, dismissed as too noisy, too impersonal and too universally applied. We shouldn’t be reactionaries, however. That excess of space did bring manifold benefits, often resulting in buildings that were less hierarchical and more accommodating of different uses and users.

What curtains provide is a middle ground, neither open nor closed, but an approach that can flex and fold as need dictates. They’re semiotically also more attractive, avoiding the sudden imposition of hard borders within familiar workspaces in favour of something softer and more sensorially engaging. Below we look at three pre-pandemic office spaces that nonetheless show how curtains can create workplaces that fit with our current context.

 

Transformation through transparency

Last year, innovation lab SPACE10 enlisted design studio Spacon & X to rethink its 1,000-m2 office. The team decided that a truly flexible office didn’t need standardized fixed panelling, as a single space might serve different purposes. Spacon & X thus worked with three materials that would provide a variety in density: Echo Jazz panels for acoustics, made from recycled plastic, Valchromat high-density fibreboard for more private spaces, and translucent polycarbonate panels that let sunlight shine through. But when the latter divisions need to create more secluded sections, a humble solution comes in: the design team added a curtain behind them. This helped modulate transparency within what was previously an open-plan space, whilst also removing the need to insert anything as definitive as a traditional doorway, an impediment to the flow of both people and ideas.

Read more here.

 

Making a map for movement

New Berlin co-working space Spielfeld is located in a former post office on Skalitzer Strasse. The listed redbrick building wasn’t one naturally given to channelling the fluid dynamics of a host of digital agencies and startups, but that was the task presented to Lxsy Architekten. One key tactic was the inclusion of steel armatures that carry curtains throughout the space, with their layout mirrored in floor markings that teach users how each area can be sectioned. Realized using traditional colour themes – ‘a historical pigeon blue shade as well as the striking rust and fiery red tones’ – help to visually bridge the gap between an old building and its modern ethos. The curtains create huge, interchanging tonal expanses as spaces merge and divide, while the bright steel rails that wander throughout define the various borders at which action, be that entertainment or inspiration, might spring up.

Read more here.

 

Changing space at speed

When Appodeal – a monetization service for developers – raised a new funding round and decided to use some of the capital to improve its workspace, it wanted to make a statement about how they saw the future of tech offices in the context of other creative industries. Through a sensual use of ceramic surfaces, the inclusion of brightly hued curved entryways and a series of plush nooks, the result, designed by Studio11, looks more like an atelier than current fashion offices do.

The team made sure to use sound insulation in open spaces, but also included glass partitions that would make the space as dynamic and easily modifiable as possible – with the added bonus of allowing developers to write on the walls. But for partitions that do the job while bringing in an aura of cosiness, they also added curtains as space dividers. The Belarusian designers found it an ‘elegant and airy’ solution to visually mimic the quick pace of production inside a tech startup.

Read more here.

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