There’s a quiet revolution taking place in the way offices are being designed. The scale and nature of work is changing in an increasingly globalised business environment. Successful businesses are working across time zones, 24/7, enabling their staff to connect with foreign bureaux and clients as needed, not just in local working hours. Such a change calls for a new working environment – some way between the frenetic ballet of the trading floor and the crèche-like gimmickry of Silicon Valley. Open-plan, strip-lit spaces no longer seem appealing…
Natural materials in HSBC’s Shanghai HQ
Shinichiro Ogata in his Simplicity HQ in Tokyo
Not To Scale’s London office is filled with finds from vintage markets
Office 1 (Andre Balazs' Properties, New York): Balazs’ office with bookcase door
Office 1 (Andre Balazs' Properties, New York): Meeting couch and resting area
Office 1 (Andre Balazs' Properties, New York): Office kitchen
Office 1 (Andre Balazs' Properties, New York): Meeting room
Office 1 (Andre Balazs' Properties, New York): Couch and seating area in separate office
Office 1 (Andre Balazs' Properties, New York): Employees looking over plans
Office 1 (Andre Balazs' Properties, New York): Main office
Office 1 (Andre Balazs' Properties, New York): Kitchen table
Office 3 (HSBC, Shanghai)
Office 3 (HSBC, Shanghai)
Office 3 (HSBC, Shanghai)
Office 3 (HSBC, Shanghai)
Office 3 (HSBC, Shanghai)
Office 4 (not to Scale, London): Entrance and reception desk
Office 4 (not to Scale, London): Wong’s birch desks with Formica coloured tops
Office 4 (not to Scale, London): Scented candles, vintage furniture and lighting set the scene
Office 4 (not to Scale, London): O’Rourke and Thomas on the sofa bed
Office 4 (not to Scale, London): The meeting room with Eames chairs
Office 4 (not to Scale, London): The ground-floor reception area
Office 4 (not to Scale, London): Desks are customised with eclectic finds
Pentagram is a global, multi-disciplinary design firm with a renowned, forward-thinking approach to its company and office structure.
How is Pentagram’s structure reflected in the design of its London office?
Pentagram is a cooperative – all the partners own the company and the building, the desks, the nuts and bolts. We are paid the same and receive the same bonuses. This democracy is replicated in our office design. It’s like a working studio. All the partners sit back to back in a row and all the design teams for each partner sit on the open floor. Everyone has the same desk and computer, and partners get given an Eames chair when they arrive, which stays with them until they leave.
How does the structure affect the way you work?
The office design drives the culture of Pentagram. We walk around constantly and see what everyone else is working on. This means everyone contributes their ideas and expertise to everyone else’s projects. Each partner’s team is a profit centre. All partners share the profits and losses equally. The office is constantly evolving in its design and everyone gets involved.
What about lunch?
[One of our founder’s firms] was featured as a pioneering company in an article about free lunches in The Sunday Times in 1968. At Pentagram every day we sit in long rows to break it up and avoid cliques. Three chefs come and cook for us on rotation. It’s the epitome of a collegiate, open culture.
Kim Herforth Nielsen
Founder and principal of 3XN architects
Danish architecture firm 3XN has been responsible for some of the most forward-thinking office designs of recent times, including the Saxo bank HQ in Copenhagen and the Middelfart Savings Bank.
Do you notice a change in the way companies want their offices to be built and structured?
Most companies are bringing their employees’ wellbeing and job satisfaction into focus. This is clearly reflected in the way they want their physical surroundings to be and often leads to open, learning environments with plenty of room for informal meetings, social lunch rooms and more private areas.
Why do you think this is?
Obviously the recession is part of the reason. Also the physical appearance of a company’s office is increasingly considered a mirror of the company. In this way, the image of the head office is often an integrated part of the company’s branding, marketing and recruitment strategy, and thus highly prioritised.
Is there a direct correlation between office design and a company’s success?
Yes, I am convinced that a good working environment and the team spirit it creates contributes directly to a company’s success in terms of increased efficiency and productivity. Not to mention fewer issues with absenteeism, sick days or staff turnover.
Why do you think Scandinavia has been ahead of the game in creating humane work environments?
Our ‘form follows function’ tradition promotes the use of natural materials, plenty of daylight etc. Also Scandinavian culture is characterised by equality and democracy. I believe that these flat hierarchies have influenced how we design our work environments.
The former speechwriter for Al Gore has written four books about the changing nature of work.
Why are work places changing?
White collar offices until recently were governed by the principle that in order to function everyone needed to be visibly present. Now everyone is connected and the tools people need in order to work can be accessed from anywhere at any time.
How has that changed the role of the office?
The office is now somewhere that should encourage employees to interact in a way that makes them do their job better.
How is this done?
Enhancing a work environment to make employees more efficient at working together. You don’t have to go as far as Google but it’s the same principle; adopting a humane design approach that encourages natural interaction like you’d have in a home.
Why are companies slow to embrace these ideas?
Such a shift doesn’t happen quickly – look how long it took to go from blue collar to white collar. The case studies you’re showing are early adopters but they’ll be reaping rewards – attracting new business and the best employees and getting the most out of them.
What’s the core message that CEOs need to understand?
That the design of an office today isn’t just ornamentation, it’s vital strategy.
Director, Indoor Garden Design
Indoor Garden Design is a pioneering London-based indoor landscaping company that specialises in introducing plants to offices.
What is Indoor Garden Design’s mission?
To bring nature into the workplace.
Why do you think there’s a rise in office planting?
Increasingly, architects, designers and clients are appreciating the benefits of a more ‘domestic’ work environment, and the many positive attributes that a well-designed planting scheme can provide for a workforce. By choice, most people would prefer to sit beside a tree than a photocopier.
What are the most significant effects of introducing plants into an office?
The physical and psychological health benefits are enormous. Recent research by the Flower and Plants Association, Plants for People and the European Federation of Interior Landscape Groups [eFIG] proves that they remove carbon monoxide from the air, reduce anxiety and combat fatigue. As well as improving people’s concentration and memory retention, plants help relaxation, calm and wellbeing.
What is the value of the office plant market in the UK?
We’re in the process of creating a White Paper on the many benefits to be derived from a ‘living office’. We’re lobbying government with the UK Green Building Council to recognise the importance of interior landscaping in creating positive work environments. In the future we hope a ‘living office’ philosophy will be adopted on a larger scale.
Ten tricks to get your office up to scratch
Overhead lighting bleaches the life out of your office. Wastberg is a young Swedish company that commissions lights from the very best designers who understand people, such as Studioilse, Jean-Marie Massaud, Inga Sempe and Claesson Koivisto Rune. Chipperfield’s elegant brass w102 task lamp is perfect for the desk, while Ilse’s w093 wall-attached, adjustable pendant will warm up meeting rooms.
Invest in bins from Swedish firm Lundqvist. They are sculptural but practical and available in a range of colours. They’ll also encourage staff to recycle.
A few sofas in an office instantly add an air of homeliness. Getting the right one is crucial. Opt for a material upholstery – Finn Juhl and Jens Risom combine a handsome look with a lounge feel.
Get the help of a local, small-scale architect, joiner or carpenter. Divide open spaces into partitioned areas that encourage different environments and interactions. Russell Pinch or Blumer Schreinerei will do the job.
5 Bicycle street storage
Nola has a good range of bicycle furniture including these hoops by Broberg and Ridderstrale, which are bold, graphic and smart. Impress clients with the fitness of your staff and their tidy bicycle storage too.
Jean-Marie Massaud is the current designer to head to. His family for Arper this year is neat and refined, but the best bet was last year’s Flow range for MDF Italia. Flow comes in black or white, soft or hard upholstery, with or without arms and with five wheels or four sturdy oak legs.
7 Desk accessories
Providing your staff with a neat set of desk accessories doesn’t just encourage tidiness and order, it shows you see them as more than just a cog in a wheel. Singaporean company D-Lab makes everything from wooden pencil holders and copper pots to fine glass carafes, cups and wooden trays.
8 Conference room table
A statement conference room table shows you mean business. Angelo Mangiarotti’s Eccentrico in black marble, reissued by AgapeCasa this year, has a perfect mix of confidence and character. Brokering a deal feels better on marble than veneer.
Don’t head straight to the contract market. Either commission your carpenter to create a system that’s tailored to your space or buy domestic shelving. Naoto Fukasawa’s laddered lacquered birch system for Artek is modular, sophisticated and affordable. A perfect example of Finnish-Nippon skill at combining manufacturing with craft and function with clean looks.
Carpets hold dirt, dust, stains and don’t improve with age. As anyone who’s walked through Copenhagen’s Kastrup airport will vouch, a solid wooden floor feels smart and smells wonderful. Historic Danish company Dinesen sources wood throughout Europe and are the best floor layers in the business. Choose oak.