Industry leaders reflect on factors driving contemporary office design

Amsterdam – The Other Office 3 is out now. You can get your copy of this must-have reference tool on workplace design here, but while you are waiting for it to land on your doorstep, read what some of the featured designers have to say about contemporary office design and the future of the workplace.

What do you think are the biggest challenges in workplace design?
ALBERTO PUCHETTI, founder of Arboit Limited: Nowadays, work is not about simply processing what is falling on your desk, but about understanding new necessities and creating marketable answers. This new nature of work needs a different type of space which has to be liberated from the spatial formalities and hierarchies of the past to become instead a more open, flexible, engaging environment to facilitate the creative process that is needed to tackle new challenges. The office today is becoming a ‘thinking space’ as opposite to simply being a workspace.

JACOB VAN RIJS, co-founder of MVRDV: The biggest challenge designing MVRDV house, for example, was to capture and enhance the practice’s DNA. The new space builds on the progress made in previous offices and learns from how the team inhabited and worked in the previous building.

JO NAGASAKA, founder of Schemata Architects: The office is a place of production and so it needs to be a functional space. One of the biggest challenges is to bring out a company's essence, instead of simply designing a ‘stylish’ place. For Nakagawa Masashichi Shoten, Seijun Nishihata, who had been working with one of the company’s brands – Kaenjusai – which focuses on Japanese gardening culture with Japanese crafts, helped us bring the lush greenery found around the building to its interior.

Nakagawa Masashichi Shoten in Tokyo, by Schemata Architects. Photo Kenta Hasegawa

MVRDV House in Rotterdam, by MVRDV. Photo Ossip van Duivenbode

How do you approach office design and in what ways is it different from how you tackle other project typologies? 
MAXIME-ALEXIS FRAPPIER, co-founder of ACDF Architecture: As much as we like to design spaces imbued with some form of adaptability, an office design is, in most cases, short-lived and limited compared to buildings where a timeless design is sought after. This ephemeral side of interior design allows us to create spaces that are more often theatrical, playful and cutting edge. It is a nice way for us to explore, test and experiment new ideas and new paths of space creation.

DAVID GALULLO, CEO and Chief Creative Officer of Rapt Studio: Our process for the design of workplace is similar to that of any other project typology, in that our first activity is to dig deep, to discover our clients’ truth, to ask lots of questions, research and investigate the factors at play and to truly define the questions to be answered with the design – too many designers start to draw too fast, to answer questions that have yet to be asked. In order for a design to truly resonate, to solve a complex problem, to make a connection, it needs to be rooted in truth.

Lightspeed in Montreal, by ACDF Architecture. Photo Adrien Williams

Dropbox in San Francisco, by Rapt Studio. Photo Eric Laignel

Workplace design can help reform a company’s work culture, or simply become a mirror of a long-established brand. Which case do you think makes for the most interesting projects?
MAXIME-ALEXIS FRAPPIER: I think that all workspace design must contribute to a company’s progression. The development of new offices is a very important milestone for a company and a good office design, in our opinion, is a project that encourages a company and its staff to evolve – without ever denying their culture, history and core values – because a stagnating company is a slowly dying company.

STIJN DE WEERD, co-founder of Space Encounters: A self-critical approach is of great value. Companies that contemplate on their own culture and have their workplace design reflect this also happen to be the healthiest companies in the long run. They are also far more interesting since they keep on surprising you.

INGRID HEIJNE, co-founder of Zenber Architecten: Our designs always articulate the identity and culture of organizations. Because culture is defined by its surroundings, our aim is to get a profound sense of the individual, the working processes and the organization itself. Only if that understanding is taken on board in the design will users feel included, understood and supported by an interior. For us, a bespoke approach is about carefully coordinated interaction between people and their innovative work environment, resulting in more focused energy and increased creativity through inspiration and an experience of well-being.

Joolz in Amsterdam, by Space Encounters. Photo Jordi Huisman

Waterweg Wonen in Vlaardingen, by Zenber Architecten. Photo Roos Aldershoff

How have contemporary work habits, new technologies and new jobs changed the contemporary workplace?
STIJN DE WEERD: Thanks to technology our offices are becoming empty. Calendars, rolodexes and fax machines are extinct; paper, desktop computers and landline phones are on the endangered list. This leads to a strange new phenomenon: the ghost office. In the evening, after everybody goes home, there's no trace of humans left. In a way it's poetic…
It also means that we should design offices differently. For instance, the modern office floor can be more compact, leaving space (and budget) to add extra perks like spaces for contemplation, better furniture or more windows.

SHOGO KAWATA, founder of teamLab Architects: As technological developments continue to accelerate, many jobs will eventually be taken over by machines. In the future, as typically human traits like the ability to think and act creatively and working in teams become increasingly important, we believe that ‘co-creativity’ will affect office design. Our work focuses on encouraging changes in the relationship between people. In order to make the presence of others a positive experience, teamLab hopes that individual creative activities can be transformed into co-creative actions. in Tokyo, by teamLab Architects. Photo Tomooki Kengaku

Yahoo! Japan in Tokyo, by Flooat and Specialnormal. Photo Nacása & Partners

In your opinion, which such changes have had the biggest impact on office design?
MAXIME-ALEXIS FRAPPIER: We find that all communication needs have evolved the most. Borders are abolished, working from home is more frequent, and exchanges between colleagues are no longer only in situ but rather done from a distance. Virtual reality, intelligent conference room, holograms, digital assistance and many other technological tools will continue to change our work habits at breakneck speed. Rather than freeze the workplace in time, office space designs must instead migrate to a design concept that we like to call ‘a work canvas’.

ALBERTO PUCHETTI: Because of the new technologies and the fast developments of emerging markets the fast pace of the changing economy makes impossible to design floorplans without flexibility, plus moving the focus of the approach from a corporative type of philosophy towards a more individual, stimulating approach is a reflection of the digital culture we are living in, where the individual is at the centre of everything.

Cloud DCS in Guangzhou, by Arboit Limited. Photo Dennis Lo

What will the office of the future look like?
YUMIKA YOSHIDA, lead designer at Flooat: With the freedom to work from a place and with a tool of your choice, we believe the significance of a manual approach and face-to-face communication will become even more pronounced. We also believe the workspace will become more and more borderless, where everyone can work freely beyond the constraints of the company's framework, with people from various backgrounds.

JACOB VAN RIJS: The office of the future should offer flexibility and diversity for a range of users. We dream of more transparent, open, colourful, social, collaborative and more sustainable spaces. These will focus more on shared functions, consume less energy, and be spaces for interaction, with a balance of collective and individual spaces within the work sphere.

DAVID GALULLO: It will look like your house, like a hotel, like the gym, like a restaurant. The workplace of the future will be the space around us…


For more industry insights, get your copy of The Other Office 3, the latest edition of Frame's book series covering creative workplace design.

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