There has been a tectonic shift in how we view and use workspaces over the past decade. Increasingly, more and more companies are rethinking their approach towards office design, and its influence on productivity, not to mention employee well-being. This is illustrated in the case of Emirates National Investment Office (ENI), a real estate-based investment company. Inspired by architectural volumes, the design references industrial rawness. An olive tree planted in the centre of the office is not only a conversation starter, but also makes the space more emotive.
“We decided to place the olive tree as a central feature of the office; it’s the first thing you see in the office, visible from all angles,” says Joakim de Rahm, principal designer and founder of Swiss Bureau Interior Design. He further opines that today, in cities people are craving for a direct connection with nature more than ever. The olive tree acts as a connection point, where the firm’s staff can gather and use it as a lounging space. “The tree also represents knowledge, strength and unity, as well as being a feature inspired by the ENI logo,” explains de Rahm. Apart from the fact that transporting the olive tree presented a logistical challenge for the team, it has now become the feature which best reflects the company’s ethos.
Spanning over 723m2, the design team has completely exploited the premium location and panoramic views of the office space overlooking Dubai’s Business Bay area. Following the client’s brief to create a minimalist design with a muted colour palette, de Rahm rearticulated it to express an elegant industrial design language. However, the hard-edged characteristics have been softened with the use of plants and warm wood.
The space comprises a reception, a pantry, the CEO’s office, a large corridor, a majilis, a meeting room, an open workspace as well as big storage units on the side of every work station. Since the overarching theme of the project is minimalism, de Rahm and his team created simple volumes throughout the office with rectangular dimensions. “The biggest and most significant example of this task is the main black rectangle right in the centre of the office,” he says. “The length of this black block features managers’ cabins, and also provides a visual flow of movement within the office.
The design team envisioned this space as an architectural building, where the space follows the brutalist framework of glass partitions which create a big scale and navigate the space with different spatial responses. “We’ve tried to expel the notion that offices are stiff and inflexible by modifying the structure of the space and making it more adaptable to the requirements of the company,” says de Rahm. To achieve this, the design team demolished the entire wall around the core, which gave way to an even bigger open plan to create a more light-filled, and spacious environment.
Predominantly open, yet well-defined spaces have been emphasised by playing with various materials and different ceilings heights. “The firm cares about their employees and their space, so they wanted to keep the space warm and welcoming for the staff, while also retaining a formal corporate personality for visitors and clients,” says de Rahm. “Most of the employees sit by the glazed windows to receive natural light, while the managers occupy the enclosed spaces on the opposite side.” The recreational areas were also given as much importance as the other task-oriented spaces.
“We also incorporated design elements such as a raised floor, open ceiling and micro-topping on the walls, as well as plenty of joinery works,” says de Rahm. Modifying the interior structure was made more challenging by the fact that the team had to work with a fixed budget. “We tried to bring in as much natural light as possible into the space. Every detail is designed with a purpose and the overall scheme attempts to comply with the daily operations of an office environment.
The material palette is decidedly industrial, but with a contemporary flair. This includes a micro-topping cement finish for all internal walls, framed glass partitions, Dutch velvet, camel leather and walnut veneer, all of which complement the edgy theme. The ceiling’s recessed spotlights create a bright, yet restrained effect. “We’ve used only LED lighting for the new office, which delivers 62% annual energy saving,” says de Rahm.
Explaining about the sustainable applications in the space, de Rham shares that environmentally-friendly materials were a big consideration. For instance, the carpet was sourced from an ethical supplier who carries cradle to cradle brands. “It has no toxic materials and can be recycled or upcycled at the end of its life cycle,” says de Rahm.