With regional experts weighing-in on current office design trends, Commercial Interior Design explores a number of issues that are affecting workplaces.
The latest Ventures ME report, prepared for this year’s Index exhibition, shows that the GCC interiors and fit-out spend in the commercial sector is expected to be worth $1.06bn in 2017, which is an increase from $787m over last year. Among the GCC countries, the report claims, KSA ($335m) is likely to register the highest interiors, and fit-out spend followed by the UAE ($250m) and Kuwait ($203m) in 2017.
The report indicates that sustainability, wellness, and employee engagement will continue to be major influences in office design throughout the year.
Looking at recently completed office projects in the region, such as LinkedIn Dubai office by Perkins + Will, Chanel office in d3 by Bluehaus Group, Pandora ME by Xworks or Virgin Mobile by Schwitzke & Partners, an open-plan remains a prevalent concept for modern workspaces. However, many companies are now diversifying their offices to include private areas where staff can work without being disturbed. In the last few years, we’ve also witnessed the emergence of co-working spaces with breakout areas, taking centre stage of design schemes.
Ben Woods, general manager at OFIS, with brands including Steelcase and Interface, says that the international industry trade association for business and institutional furniture manufacturers (BIFMA) is updating its categories to reflect this.
“Today, work happens more quickly and in more places as developing technologies offer variety and mobility to a growing community of creative workers,” says Woods. “As the dividing lines between departments and tasks are blurred, the desire for flexibility and comfort in the office is driving a shift toward more informal spaces that go beyond the traditional desk-and-task-chair combination.”
The changes in employee demographics and their attitudes toward work, swayed by technology advancements, affect the way designers approach office interiors.
Woods says that many companies tend to invest in technology and space as separate entities rather than approaching them holistically.
“Today, people need an ecosystem of interrelated places and devices to support the different stages and activities of creative work. A diverse ecosystem includes mobile and integrated technology, as well as spaces designed for individual ‘me’ work and ‘we’ group work,” he says.
Stressing the importance of nature-driven design, Interface, a modular carpet manufacturer launched DesignLab, a series of workshops on biophilic design. Since 2014, the company has been studying the subject of biophilic design, working with organisational psychologist Professor Sir Cary Cooper to determine its effect on workspaces. Results showed that natural design increases workers’ well-being by 15%, creativity by 15% and productivity by 6%.
“Maximising natural light, introducing greenery and nature-inspired materials are all biophilic design techniques that can have positive impact on both staff well-being and productivity and are easy to incorporate into the general office design,” comments Matt Hall, regional manager at Interface.
Hall further explains that when designing office spaces, the whole human approach must be considered and catered for in the workplace.
“Unusual furnishings and bold art installations can give an office a playful feel, as can flooring through the use of bold colour schemes and distinctive textures,” says Hall. “Accent tiles that mirror colours in walls or furniture, or blocks of bright hues and striking patterns, can also help to inject energy and personality into the space.”
The Liveable Office concept, launched by Oasis Furniture, integrates technology, furniture and people.
“With the cost of real estate at a premium, and a continuing demand for collaboration, innovation, and creativity, Oasis Furniture brings wider opportunities for interaction and smarter use of resources into the consideration,” says Ralph Ong, managing director at Oasis Furniture. “Easily configured in various permutations for different tasks and evolving teams, the layout of The Liveable Office strongly recognises that employees work in various modes and should be provided with a variety of spaces.”
Amir Ghossaini, operations manager – office solutions at Span Group, agrees that rental rates for offices are another factor influencing workplace design.
“The high cost of office rents results in companies opting for smaller offices; meaning less space for all of their employees, which in itself raises many challenges,” says Ghossaini. “In these cases, we strive to build functional spaces and design a healthy work environment for our clients. We also offer practical archiving solutions that enable them to store documents in an organised and compact manner, thus optimising on space.”
For effective space utilisation, Ghossaini suggests office partitioning systems.
“They are self-standing and modular, sound absorbent, and create a harmony in workspaces. Partitions are also very practical as we can embed storage cabinets within the system,” adds Ghossaini.
At the end of last year, German manufacturer Lindner launched two “room-in-room” space management modular systems dedicated to open plan areas.
“Cube is an extremely variable and perfectly integrated combination of partitions, doors and ceilings, fully relocatable and demountable whenever required. CAS Rooms is a high-performance acoustic solution with top-quality textile-clad modules,” says Giuseppe Fiore, head of specifications at Lindner Middle East. “Using the most modern and environmentally friendly techniques, we produce systems that are not only aesthetically excellent and easy to operate but also have no negative effects on health. With low-emission materials without any solvents or contaminants, we contribute to a better indoor air quality and an enhanced overall working experience.”
Office furniture has gained a prominence as a means to create a healthy work environment. From sit-stand desks and modular workbenches to collaborative furniture, desk pods and acoustics, furniture manufacturers are now presenting more holistic concepts and products to suit the personal needs of the individual.
“One size does not fit all and companies need to be ready for all types of work settings, whether it’s a private office or open concept area,” says Cathy Di Savino, marketing manager at Intermetal, explaining that employees need to have more say in how and where they work.
With activity-based working on the rise, Di Savino adds that furniture that can change throughout the day, both in height and direction and that encourages movement also needs to be incorporated into today’s office spaces.
“We have recently introduced SNAP 60/30, a series of durable aluminium workstation panels available in 30mm and 60mm thickness. The system also features a SNAP fastener, which allows for quick and trouble-free installation,” she says.
Equipped with power, data access and wire management system, Elevate is another series of height adjustable desks and workstations, recently launched by Intermetal.
An office can send a profound message about what a business stands for, according to Jean-Marc Garabedian, operations manager at Advanced Business Concept, which is an accredited partner of office manufacturer Herman Miller.
“Office design has changed a great deal since the 1930s when Herman Miller produced its first modular executive furniture, designed by Gilbert Rohde. In the 1940s, design director George Nelson created the first L-shaped desk for Herman Miller, to accommodate the proliferation of desktop technology (typewriter and telephone). Designers Charles and Ray Eames advanced new materials and forms in Herman Miller office seating, and in the 1960s Herman Miller’s groundbreaking Action Office system established the ‘open plan’ office.
“By acknowledging the importance of the human experience of work, and the way space enables people to do their best, an office becomes an investment with measurable returns.”
JG Group, a Barcelona-based office furniture manufacturer, is selling its products in more than 40 countries with Saudi Arabia as its biggest market in the region.
“I would like to see offices where the line between home and work does not exist,” comments Xavier Grau from JG Group. “Offices fully equipped with all kinds of connectivity solutions, intelligent desks, no wires, social areas to interact; offices that will make it easy and pleasant to work there.”
Completing office design, lighting is a critical element of any workplace. The greatest seismic shift in this sector for 60 years has taken place recently with LED surpassing fluorescent lamps as the medium of choice, according to David Clements, managing director of Future Designs.
“We are seeing major corporates making the switch to LED in new installations to get the benefit of better quality lighting with savings in terms of energy reduction, which can be as great as 70%,” he says, claiming this can be achieved in three years with a product life of more than double compared to fluorescent.
He says: “When we consider all the benefits of LED as outlined above it seems hard to understand why forward-thinking organisations are not falling over one another to make the switch.”
He adds that wellbeing has become the latest trend in creating the best possible workspace.
He explains: “LED lighting has proved invaluable in this through offering human-centric lighting, which takes into account the body’s circadian rhythm. This is achieved by utilising ‘tuneable white’ lighting, which allows the general lighting to alter colour temperature and intensity throughout the day to mimic natural daylight.”
Through its partnership with Dubai-based Acoulite, the company has successfully completed projects in the region including Deutsche Bank, Oracle, SAP, Adidas, Ford, LinkedIn, Schlumberger, Shell, HSBC and Honeywell Technology.