What kind of society would we live in if architecture and design were merely just jobs instead of expressive art forms that articulated the beliefs and values of people, organizations and cultures? This is an age old question which faces designers every single day.
In conjunction with Australian health care provider Medibank, a creative collaboration of designers set out to express the values of health and wellbeing established by the company and in doing so have done far more than just their jobs.
Perhaps to the average person it’s a very cool set of stairs yet when you consider it from a design point of view it’s a successful and impressive feat of creativity.
Traditionally we place so much emphasis on the places and spaces we are going to and we forget to acknowledge the importance of the transitional points which get us there.
In this particular case the stairs are the focal point and they certainly don’t disappoint. They are not as much as a distraction to the eye yet more of a piece of art the eye can’t stop looking at. They are levels upon levels of curvilinear vibrancy, acting in an abstract way to shape the boundary of a light filled void space which sets the scene for this beautiful building.
They truly serve an important purpose.
Located in Melbourne’s Docklands, Medibank Place is a statement piece promoting the companies beliefs of ‘better health for everyone’, from customers to the people who come to work there every day.
The design of the new workplace was a further extension of a major cultural change from Medibank who have taken a particular focus on preventative health and wellbeing.
The aspiration of Medibank is to create one of the healthiest workplaces in the world. With this in mind the design teams of Chris Connell Design, Kerry Phelan Design Office, Russell and George and HASSELL Architects collectively set out to make this vision a reality.
It’s a workplace which is emphatic of movement, flexibility, freedom, creativity, interaction and engagement; all points which we associate with positive physical and mental health. It’s amazing to think the endless possibilities good design can have and in this case it now sets the benchmark for healthier workplaces and hopefully in turn a healthier society.
The buildings form has been established so that employees are able to roam freely and work in any of the 26 different work settings at their disposal. These spaces range from indoor quiet zones and collaborative hubs to wifi-enabled balconies and the buildings public park.
The stairs act as the heart of this operation and are a key piece of design in achieving successful movement from zone to zone. The intention behind this being that staff feel both empowered whilst encouraged to move around during the day which is crucial to staying healthy.
In essence these stairs are Medibank ‘walking the talk’ when it comes to promoting better health and equally important are an example of careful, considerate and socially conscious design. On any given day they can take you on a new and unique journey to being a better person and this is what good design is all about; changing lives and inspiring minds. - David Mousa. (Photography Earl Carter)
When Eileen and Jerry Ford established Ford Models Agency in their New York City home in 1946, they created a new kind of global beauty agency concept, and an entirely new business category. Since then, the agency has been the benchmark establishment for all others in the business of beauty.
Opulence and grand scale have always been key features of the agency’s offices around the world from New York City to Paris, Sao Paulo, Chicago, Miami and Los Angeles.
It is not surprising, that this culture of global luxury, plus the heritage of the Art Deco style Warren and Wetmore building on New York’s 57th Street, formed the foundation for the stunning design for Ford Models Women’s Division’s 5000 square-foot (464.5 square metre) penthouse headquarters at number 57 on 57th Street.
Rafael de Gardenas’ Architecture at Large juxtaposed the Art Deco features of the space with Gothic and Parisian elements and established an elegant environment with an imaginative feel of history and efficiency.
For example, the mixing of semi-industrial looking lighting with fantastic murals of flora and fauna by Leon Benn produces a dramatic effect, as does the no-nonsense, factory-like row of work stations positioned at a long desk in a former living room with a prominent fireplace.
Executive offices are located in a three-sided solarium with open terraces and spectacular views as special features.
The harmonious balance of old and modern is always difficult to achieve, but Rafael de Gardenas Architecture at Large has managed to do it graciously and confidently on many occasions. So far, their work in Ford Models Agency remains our favourite. - Tuija Seipell.
We cannot take our eyes off the eerie umbrella-holding human figures that dangle seemingly in mid-air in the 7,000 square-foot (650 square metre) office of ad agency Fold7 Farringdon (Clerkenwell, London).
The figures were created by Czech artist Michal Trpák who has used similar humans-with-umbrellas themes, most notably in his large-scale work, Slight Uncertainty, installed in an office complex in Prague in 2012.
In Fold7’s office, the humans float in the entrance area of the ad agency’s premises located in a refurbished 1980s office building. The sheer volume of the space gives the artwork the visual open air it requires in order to appear fun and inviting, as intended, rather than spooky and menacing.
Fold7’s founder Ryan Newey and Paul Crofts Studio acquired the art as part of the design of the swanky digs for the 45 Fold7 employees. A large part of the space is unassigned and functions as an open plan with various options for employees, clients and projects to move around as needed.
Fold7’s slogan, “Welcome to the Fold,” greets visitors in the form of a massive sign by Voodoo Design.
Paul Crofts Studio was established in 2003 in London by furniture design graduate, Paul Crofts, and it is known for creating interiors as well as customized products and furnishings.
Ryan Newey’s career began with the creation of the Ted Baker brand that was the founding client of his firm. Since that time, his Fold7 agency’s clients have include British Airways, Carlsberg, Disney, Nike and Reebok. - Tuija Seipell
The 250 square-meter (2691 sq.ft.) studio opened this past summer and is part of the 8,000 square meter (86,111 sq.ft) Vigoss/Bulur production and warehousing facilities located in Güneşli Kavşağı, an industrial area about 30 kilometers form the center of Istanbul, Turkey.
Zemberek created a fabulously functional working space for the designers and other team members who needed large flat surfaces to spread out the products, materials and accessories; easy access to the hanging pieces on the racks; and as much freedom to move around as possible. In this type of work, conventional desks, tables, chairs and standard space division will hinder rather than help, which is why the Zemberek team took a different approach.
Gently curving forms dominate the space that is visually homogenous and divided only by different levels horizontally, rather than by partitions, so that the entire area can be used for displaying, viewing and comparing products - mostly jeans and other clothing items.
The limited selection of materials – mainly smoked oak and concrete - makes this studio a great, minimalist background for working with and focusing on the product.
Zemeberk has created several other projects for this client, including showrooms, offices and stores in Istanbul and Moscow. Tuija Seipell
In our working lives, we are in many ways still stuck in the age of the Industrial Revolution. When the masses worked in factories, the office support personnel worked the same hours, or at least “regular working hours” and commuted daily to central offices.
Perhaps there was a sense that all workers needed to be under the watchful eye of the Master and therefore they needed to gather in one place to be supervised, like kids in school? Are we not past that phase?
We are challenging every single person to take responsibility for his or her own working environment. Let’s stop behaving as if we were still in the 1780s, looking for the masters to recognize our office sucks. Yes, it sucks, but what are you going to do about it?
At The Cool Hunter, we have been writing about interesting offices for a decade. Luckily, we are now well past the “ping-pong table in the hallway, M&Ms in the bowl, beer in the fridge” - stage of office enhancement, and we are actually seeing some real, meaningful change in our working environments.
But it is still too focused on just the so-called creative sectors (are there still sectors that are non-creative??) and the office-space upgrades are often seen as just gimmicks or additional perks , not something crucial that actually affects the results of our work.
Science is now proving this short-sightedness wrong, and we are calling for everyone to take charge. Do we even need an office? What we need to do is focus on results, not on hours worked, or worse yet, hours being in the office. Where-ever we work, we will be more productive and happier when we work in an environment we love.
Let’s start tomorrow
Let’s all start tomorrow by looking at our own working environment and coming up with at least four ways in which we can change it for the better ourselves. Bring in that new plant, or that favourite piece of art, or the comfy red chair, or the cool desk light, or the oriental carpet. See if anyone notices?
We bet the entire office will start to change once someone cares enough to start it. We cannot wait for the employers to take it on as they will likely see it as a cost. It does not have to cost a single penny to the employer and, when it does, the positive results will far outweigh the costs.
And, in the end, why are we even looking at it as an additional cost when all indicators point to increased productivity, decreased absenteeism, better morale, higher creativity and so on?
Central offices, open plans
Today, with the nature of work significantly altered, we still commute to central offices as a residue from the days of the Industrial Revolution. We now spend our days in open-concept offices wearing headphones to cut out the distractions, and texting and emailing our co-workers sitting just beyond our cubicle.
According to some estimates, nearly 70 per cent of us now spend our days in open-concept offices, a bad idea conceived and promoted by the American mechanical engineer Frederick Taylor (1856-1915) who called people “units of production” and promoted maximum efficiency at almost any cost.
Open-concept offices were designed for productivity of both workers and space but we know now that they have failed on both accounts.
What exactly is the point of gathering up – at great cost to the environment and ourselves – daily in a boring office building, if the one thing that it gives us - being face-to-face with our coworkers - isn’t even relevant any more, or isn’t possible or natural in a distracted and stressed out environment?
There is now significant scientific evidence that open-concept offices are not good for productivity, do not increase workplace happiness and in fact fail by any measure to meet the needs of today’s creative, focused, results-oriented team. And this applies to workers of any age, including the multi-tasking younger generations.
Clearly, today’s workplaces need to change quickly. We have had time to reconsider ,and yet so many of us are still working in environments that are not stimulating, interesting or helpful in any way to produce the results we are expected to produce.
And of course, our working habits ARE slowly changing, but not at a speed or scale they should and could. We are working at home, free-agenting, telecommuting, flexible-work-daying. But in many cases, we also need to gather in an office.
Many organizations around the world are taking a serious look at the nature of work today and coming to the same conclusions: What matters in a project-oriented, results-oriented, collaborative workplace is the tone that the environment sets. Just like packaging matters in products, the package inside which we create our product, be it ideas or services or products, affects how we feel about our work. And our role within the company.
We have all read about the famous example of the Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, California, that Walt Disney built with the proceeds from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The entire campus on the site was custom-designed by Ken Weber with the help of Walt and his brother Roy, and purpose-built in 1940 for the process of animation, with ideal natural light conditions, theatres, sound stages, inking rooms, a state-of-the-art commissary, and lots of green space and benches. It was a campus designed to encourage creativity, efficiency and collaboration. It was an ideal working environment
Another famous example with similar goals is the Pixar Campus in Emeryville, California, custom-created with Steve Jobs’s personal supervision in 2000 . From central gathering places and all-encompassing services to individually personalized offices, the Pixar Campus (owned by Disney) has become the destination for all who want to witness a cool, caring and fun workplace.
These are exceptions, of course, as both are large, creative companies and fature new custom-designed buildings. Most of us will not have the opportunity to be part of such a wonderful experience. But we can do a lot about our own environment. Let’s all – both employer and employee - start paying attention to the office.
Why are we working where we are? Why are the offices the way they are? Could we all sit down and brainstorm ideas about quick, inexpensive ways to make changes? What if we all came in one weekend and painted the walls? What if each of us really put some effort into creating our own space to mirror our own interests and passions?
What if we set a goal to fix what ails our working environment? And, more important, how long are we willing to do nothing and pretend it does not matter? - Tuija Seipell.
Images via our offices section
Architect and designer Helle Flou, founder of Copenhagen-based HelleFlou, was responsible for the design of the offices for the Danish Fashion and Textile association (Dansk Mode og Textil) and Kopenhagen Fur.
The offices are located in the fabulous 1835-built, heritage-listed A.N.Hansen mansion at the corner of Fredericiagade and Bredgade in the Fredriksstaden neighbourhood of central Copenhagen.
The move together of the two organizations established a anew home and innovation centre for their cooperative effort called KicK initiative(Kopenhagen Internationle Center for Kreativitet). KiCK’s focus is on collaboration between the European and Chinese fashion industry.
Flou’s design reflects the idea of a “Nordic Diamond.” In an interview, Flou was quoted as saying that she was inspired by “. . . the Nordic nature and a special Scandinavian light that gives a strong sense of history, atmosphere and experience. . . The diamond is hardy, but at the same time extremely elegant; with its beautiful facets it creates rigorous order and transparency at the same time. The two elements have jointly created the guidelines for a balanced and harmonious space.”
We agree. The neo-classical frame of the building is evident in the staircases, doorways and gold-painted accents and friezes. Contemporary and classic Danish designer furniture and fixtures fit seamlessly in the black & white, gold & gray colour scheme, and also help establish a level of easy and cool comfort. Natural light finishes off the harmonious, spacious design. - Tuija Seipell
Working in a shared space - in a café or a rented-by-the-hour office - is nothing new, but sometimes a concept pops up that is worth a second look. Now into its third week of life, Joint Café + Workspace in Bangkok stands
out in its whiteness.
We will not speculate on what it will look like after a few months of coffee spills and foot traffic, but for now, it appears inviting like a new notebook, all ready to be filled with people, ideas and inspiration. The space, designed by Thailand’s 56th Studio, is located on the 12th floor of the Asia Hotel’s car park building.
The space is flexible and can be rented in various configurations for workshops, lessons or meetings. Joint Café + Workspace looks more like an office and less like a café, which may make it a unique proposition in that it will not become a coffee shop where people hang out for hours working on their laptops and tablets over one cup of coffee. - Tuija Seipell.
We are now officially suffering from office envy and the object of our feelings is located in Poland, in a former cable factory in Zabłocie, a post-industrial district in Kraków. It was designed for the web technology consulting firm u2i by architect and urban planner Justyna Friedberg of Kraków-based Morpho Studio.
The obvious breathing room – so often lacking in offices – is clearly evident here. White, ash wood, natural light. Somehow we can imagine thoughts flying freer in a space like this, with this much openness and light.
The real gem of the 800 square-meter (8,611 sq.ft.) office, and the part we covet the most, is the central indoor porch, or chill zone, with its swing and potted plants. A simple, fresh idea, beautifully executed.
We suspect that herbs and favourite flowers will be grown here by the team, and that it will turn out to be not just a passive space with the surroundings fitted and provided by someone else, but that it actually will live as a real porch or garden where people can putter around and exercise their green thumbs. Or just chill in the swing.
With this open porch, the basic, large, rectangular space has become more of an environment and less of a set of offices. And what we like most is that the porch does not have the omnipresent sad pool tables or soft-drink dispensers that still seem to denote “cool office” to some. - Tuija Seipell.
Flamingo Shanghai’s swanky new office, The Attic, is a grand example of how the intelligent use of scale and natural light, and the minimalist approach to materials can create cohesive unity that looks both fresh and imbued with patina.
Shanghai-based Neri&Hu effected their special brand of design philosophy on this cavernous industrial 620 square-meter (6673 sq.ft.) attic, and created a dark-hued and angular open-concept office for the creative agency. The attic includes offices, conference space, exhibit space, observation areas, quiet room and kitchen.
The hard materials and cold surfaces project efficiency and focus. We assume that the natural light through the large skylight windows, together with the presence of people, will balance those aspects with softness and creative life energy.
Husband-and-wife duo, Lyndon Neri and Rossana Hu established their own design and architecture practice Neri&Hu in Shanghai in 2004 after having moved to China two years earlier to work with Michael Graves. The Philippines-born Neri (b. 1965) has architecture degrees from Harvard and the University of California at Berkeley. Taiwan-born Hu (b. 1968) was trained at Princeton. - Tuija Seipell.
We have yet to experience anything even closely equal to our incredible six days at Castello di Reschio in Umbria.
So it should not have come as a surprise to us that their office building would turn out to be stunning as well.
But it just feels somehow unfair that some people really do get to call this restored 1940s tobacco processing factory as their everyday office.
Late last summer, Count Benedikt Bolza, the talented managing director and chief architect of the Castello di Reschio estate, and his team finished the restoration of the estate’s tobacco factory building so that the estate offices, design studio, workshops and exhibitions could move in.
Heritage and history are exquisitely balanced with contemporary style and cool elegance, yet the space does not feel pretentious or contrived. It feels completely natural; there is a sense of ease, as if it had always been like this.
Part of the reason for this is that Bolza left several key elements of the industrial building intact. For example, the stairs that lead to the offices where 13 team members now work are exactly as they were when more than 50 factory workers sorted tobacco here on long wooden tables – many of which are now in the estate’s private restaurant, Osteria.
Reclaimed and repurposed steel, wood, stone and other elements are prominent throughout the estate and in the Tabaccaia as well. Our favourites are the large floor lamps made of reclaimed heaters Bolza found at the Tabaccaia, and topped with perforated stainless steel sheet shades. Another favourite are the large sculptural rings hanging from the ceiling. They are repurposed wine barrel rings from the castle’s wine cellars.
Bolza says that although sound proofing was initially a concern in this hard-surfaced space, it has actually been a blessing in disguise. Repurposed wide wooden planks help muffle sound throughout the open space but no additional sound-proofing was needed “because the magic is that everybody talks at low level creating a sort of spiritual working environment. It is quite amazing and all are in such good working mode because of it,” he says.
And while it may seem that the team is roughing it in this rustic environment, under-floor heating and LED lighting throughout bring the comfort level well beyond that of most ordinary offices. - Tuija Seipell.