Back to Basics

Back to Basics

Al Shaya, Bafco, DESSO, DTS, Herman Miller, SAS International

With an upturn in the interiors industry, office design returns to a simple and minimalistic form

The last decade has seen unprecedented change, driven by technologies that have forever altered how and where we work, so that not long from now, there won’t be offices — or at least, not offices as we understand them, according to Andrew Sibley, Desso’s regional sales and marketing director.

The office design industry is very competitive in the Middle East. With more than $200 billion worth of major projects awarded across the region, it will bring the GCC commercial fit-out and office refurbishment segment an exponential growth, said Aslam Dodhia, country manager furniture, Saudi Arabia, Al Shaya.

Andrew Jackson, director, SAS International agreed and said the potential for the industry is significant. “However, with so much space available how will building owners and landlords attract tenants to their space without de-valuing the letting market?”

“The office design industry here is going to be a mixed bag depending on who you are selling to, and to some extent, where you are selling,” said Gilbert Griño, marketing manager, BAFCO.

With the economic turmoil happening in US and Europe, companies with cash flow are continuing to look for offshore countries where potential for near-term growth is present, he added. This is what makes key areas such as UAE, Qatar and KSA still a good market.

Abdulaziz Al-Azem, executive director, DTS agreed and said after the recession, the KSA has shown good economic stability, making it a global attraction for investors.

Jackson added the regional market has traditionally not been design-led. However, now office space has to be created based on the right criteria: aesthetics, space flexibility, environmental/sustainable requirements, energy use, durability, maintenance issues and value for money.

In 2011, cost was an important consideration and spaces were required to be more functional, compact and minimalist, explained Griño.

Jackson added interiors were specified to enhance space flexibility which promoted durable, easy to integrate fixings and finishes. The refurbishment fit-out market is steady, where clients are taking spaces and fitting them out to their own requirements. “Despite the financial situation companies still want quality systems and finishes as they are seeking to maxmise value from capital expenditure,” said Jackson.

Rob Keddie, regional director, Middle East and Africa, Herman Miller said in 2011, open plan layouts increased, with benching becoming more popular.

“We are seeing a move away from hierarchical spaces and increased collaborative workspace, although this does vary by client and market.”

Dodhia agreed and said office designs are following a minimalistic approach where a lot of stress is given to open spaces to promote a collaborative work environment. He also said clients are looking for suppliers who can carry out turnkey/fit-out jobs.

Al Azem concurred and said modern design concepts which promote a more connected and productive environment are increasing, where ergonomics is a major factor in product selection.

“Interior designers are recognising that work of the 21st century is all about shared knowledge and collaboration and can better be fostered in an environment that responds to an employee’s needs at a human level,” added Sibley.

However, the buzzword for 2011, “sustainability” or “eco-friendly” had mixed opinions from the experts. Dodhia claims eco-friendly design has become mandatory for most of the projects in the region. “Every tender has the condition that products supplied have to be sustainable, with suppliers asked to validate the claim by providing certifications,” he added.

Griño countered by saying eco-friendliness is just being used as a marketing tool at the moment to impress the clients, but true concern for sustainable design is still low.

“Sustainable design has become a cliché in the Middle East,” he added.

Al Azem said governments are concerned about ecological issues, which promise a better future in design.
“I won’t say sustainability or ecological aspects in design have reached the point where they are supposed to be, but there is a very positive response from the clients,” he said.

Sustainability is still seen as a ‘push’ from manufacturers, rather than a ‘pull’ from clients, according to Keddie.
“We have a long way to go in terms of increasing demand for sustainable products and moving away from low initial costs with no regard for their long term impact and true cost,” he said.

Jackson claims this aspect is moving in the right direction where product choice no longer relies on the initial purchase price difference between materials. “The consideration of lifecycle costs and flexibility of products to meet the demands of occupants over a 50 to 60-year building lifecycle are also significantly driving specifications.”

He added rising energy costs and the desire for sustainability have had a significant impact.

Materials for commercial interior projects, which meet LEED environmental credits or Estidama’s Pearl Rating System, are increasing.

Keddie said office design trends in 2012 will be similar to what firms have seen in 2011. “With the current economic situation, manufacturers are cautious in what products they bring to market and clients are playing it relatively safe.” He added integration of technology will continue as will more mobile working spaces, with less people being tied to their desks.

Jackson was specific in his trend predictions and said there will be a demand for different materials to answer aesthetic and performance criteria for the fit-out of the interior environment. “The right product offering could help make properties stand out from the crowd to gain early rental.”

He explained occupant comfort, particularly acoustics, is becoming more important in the design and performance of offices, where productivity of staff is directly affected if this issue is not considered at an early design stage.

The recession had an impact on trends of fitting out, said Griño.

“People are adopting more simple and minimalistic approaches to save on costs, while planning new office premises. So I believe the trend of 2012 is going to be minimalism,” he added.

Dodhia agreed and said offices in the new year will be simple and minimalistic with an increasing use of more natural atmosphere and colours.

“From a closed cubicle design, open and collaborative work spaces will be present. With an emphasis on the environment and natural light, lighter colour combinations like green, white and beige in furniture, plants within office space, will be seen in 2012,” he added.

Local taste and culture will be considered in its design, according to Dodhia.

Griño claims in offices today, there are three to four generations of people working together with most of the people in the Middle East raised in various cultures that differ from each other.

“This is an opportunity and a big challenge at the same time, because trends happen here when people visit and bring their own ideas and merge them together. Because of this heavy activity here, I would say we have a unique Middle East trend we can call ‘Mash-ups’,” he added.

Sibley said three emerging factors – demographics, technological change, and climate change – represent a step-change in office design because it now brings together technologists, architects, interior designers and FM and HR managers in a different and collaborative way.

“It’s no longer simply about understanding the emerging technologies, but about involving everyone in an evolving design journey, to create work environments where people come first,” added Sibley.

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