Aidan Imanova speaks to Swiss Bureau CEO, Joakim de Rham, on the challenges of designing his own office space that holds two sister-companies.
The growth of Swiss Bureau and its sister company, Ezelink Telecom, led the firms to move to a new office space, which they designed, focusing on the objective of housing both under one roof while maintaining a sense of distinction and harmony.
At one end of the space is Ezelink Telecom, a Wi-Fi hotspot solution provider, while the opposite end houses Swiss Bureau, the interior design firm behind the twin office concept.
Its CEO Joakim de Rham explained that the motive was to create an open office model, which was achieved by choosing floating ceilings that link the two companies. The open ceilings are contrasted with an industrial dark grey, which creates a division between the firms as well as emphasising space.
“One of the ways we tried to differentiate one company from the other is by placing an elevated meeting room in the middle as a visual barrier. It is transparent on purpose and gives it an open feel,” says de Rham.
Located beside the floating meeting room is the shared reception area, linking the two firms. It has a neutral grey wall with a concrete appearance that represents the firms’ involvement in the construction industry.
“When you reach the IT company, you will see that we used colder materials with low partitions that are clad with white ceramic tiles that give one a sense of being in a laboratory, as well as more fluorescent lighting. We tried to make this part of the space look more high-tech,” he says.
A sense of continuum is created by the use of parquet flooring that stretches across both ends of the office, with de Rham adding that the incentive was to use the motto ‘less if more’ – a design principle that he personally identifies with.
“When you arrive at the interior design side of the office, you will directly notice a difference in elements such as lighting, which is warmer, and the use of wood. We tried to create a homier feel on this side of space by adding features that resonate with comforts such as more design-savvy suspension lamps and a library,” says de Rham.
At the centre of Swiss Bureau’s office is a marble-top high table used for discussions and document storage. It also features a large samples wall displaying all the most important suppliers used within different projects and categories.
Another aspect that unifies the two firms is the element of nature in the form of a vertical wall, installed opposite the shared meeting room.
“Nature is part of everyone’s wellbeing,” says de Rham. “A vertical garden is something that is quite common and people are starting to use it more. We started using them five years ago. The one we have that is located opposite the meeting room, in the middle of the two offices, is there to provide a green impact. We pass by this green wall about 20 times a day so it is very monumental. It is positioned in a way that everybody can see it from both sides of the office.”
One of the challenges Swiss Bureau faced was optimising the space between the two companies.
“We tried many different layouts before settling on the one we have today, so there was a lot of head scratching,” de Rham jokes. “There were many different options, but at the end of the day, we needed to rationalise. And to rationalise you need to maximise the space, as well as anticipate the growth of the company. So you have to include a maximum number of working stations but always with a good ratio of passage space and circulation. And then it is also a question of compromising on some priorities.”
An integrated pantry located behind a hidden door was one of the many methods used to optimise space for staff and visitors. As there are no windows in that area, the pantry is designed as a small coffee shop with a warmer atmosphere. It features wall tiles and pebbled tiles for the floors, as well as a classic kitchen unit and coffee tables.
But with IT and interior design industries being on such opposite sides of the spectrum, Swiss Bureau also faced the challenge of diversification to cater to the different needs of the firms.
“At Swiss Bureau we do a lot of collaboration – there is a lot of interaction between the staff – so we didn’t want to use any kind of partition to create a sense of flow for collaboration,” explains de Rham.
“With Ezelink we had placed low height partitions which hid all the computers from the passage space, and because there is a lesser need for circulation. We also have the lab, which is always the messy part that is also slightly hidden from the passage.”
He adds: “Layout is one of the most important parts of the design but once it is decided and everyone is happy, it is time to shape it, and to imagine how you can make it something special.
“For this office, it was not easy because we wanted to create something that is unique and only made for us, but we also needed not to put in too much because as interior architects there are so many ideas.”
The design team also wanted to use Swiss Bureau’s office space as a showcase for their clients in order to outline the various uses of detailing across the space, including the very complicated laminated parquets and the use of frameless flush doors.
Another important factor for Swiss Bureau was creating a ‘wow effect’ which they appropriated within the entrance of the office.
“Upon entering the office, you directly feel like you are entering into another world as you are walking through a fully-covered, long red tunnel that is completely covered by carpet. With this we play with the emotions of the visitors,” says de Rham.
However, the most gratifying part of designing ones office, de Rham explains, is being able to create a space that feels comfortable to work in.
“The main challenge is not to over-design and push too far, and to always stay calm,” he advises.