As cities evolve, people are taking new perspectives to work and the criteria of what makes an ideal place to work continues to change. With the advancement of information technology and the rise of online engagement, a growing number of multinational corporate giants have announced or are considering to make remote work at least part of its routine operations. In this context, how does our future workspace look like and why do we still need a physical office? How does it affect future design? We spoke to two LWK + PARTNERS Directors whose commercial design expertise may illuminate the architecture and interiors of where we work, touching on ongoing changes and the ways to create humanised but functionally sound environments where users feel at ease.
In recent years, office architecture has diversified both in look and feel and spatial programmes. The new normal has additionally sharpened people’s awareness of their surroundings, be it landlords, tenants or individual employees, and no matter which sector you serve. This has become the latest variable in the constantly changing trend of architectural design. Ferdinand Cheung, Director and leader of the practice’s Commercial Design Team, anticipates that change in our workspace will be defined by two major factors: user needs and the mode of work.
“The office is where a person does most of their daily activities,” said Ferdinand. “It’s a venue for various users to come together to accomplish tasks and not all kinds of work can be performed remotely. As architects, our task is really down to bettering this user experience so that people of diverse backgrounds or professions can collaborate freely.”
For city dwellers who are constantly switching between roles, Ferdinand highlights the importance of a hospitable, friendly workplace where the wellbeing of users is properly catered: “We want to blur that line between live, work, and play. And we want to strengthen efficiency, community and flexibility. Creating a space where people are willing to dwell. A space that inspires.“
“Take Gallium Valley Science Park in China’s Hangzhou province. Our scheme proposes an office-park development model where myriad kinds of greenery are weaved in between labs, shared offices and other lifestyle elements. It aims to create a business hub that nurtures innovation, interaction and a sense of belonging. Striking the right balance between work and life.”
For Ferdinand, COVID-19 has merely accelerated ongoing trends in the industry; flexibility is the buzzword behind the likes of mobility, flexible work and cross-border living. While the introduction of new or upgraded hardware may boost employees’ performance, corporates might also consider reviewing their work culture.
“We are seeing big corporates willing to break away from traditional frameworks to stand up for the needs of their staff by adopting newer forms of office solutions.”
LWK + PARTNERS Commercial Design Team puts experience at the heart of their designs and has been creating a diversity of new-generation commercial complexes. It lends global experience and an understanding of economic conditions and urban development progress to its projects in response to people’s aspirations in life.
“None of our office-related projects, regardless of building form, are singular in their programming. We bring in elements of diversity, convenience, and user experience. So office spaces don’t just exist by itself, but need to create dynamics with other usages and programmes to build humanness to it and create an interactive experience.”
In the face of constantly changing market expectations, Ferdinand said one must stay ready to subvert the conventional: “With Aoti Vanke Centre, also in Hangzhou, we reinterpret the ‘podium+tower’ typology and blur the line between work and life. We want to encourage users’ participation.” The office development, which opened last year, has successfully attracted take-up by large companies with a unique programme that addresses the changing corporate identities and modes of work.
Moving into the interior space, we are curious what kind of workplace design can respond to the call of our time while offering a humanised environment for the hardworking beings who commute to work every day. Kelvin Hui, LWK + PARTNERS Director and leader of Interior Design Team, has witnessed how client needs have changed over the past years and reflects on the challenges and opportunities designers face.
Kelvin and his team design workplaces for commercial clients of different types, including regional headquarters for major companies. When we asked what the future workplace would look like, he said: “Mobile work and co-working spaces have shot up globally, while the pandemic has prompted employers to endorse remote work. The smart office has become the way to engage staff, customers and the management in close communication. But of course this also raises electricity requirements, which makes energy-efficient designs and environmental credentials merit points for landlords looking to lure tenants.”
“Standard offices may have offloaded some of its initial functions, but new ones are also coming in quickly,” said Kelvin. “Today, it’s a place to meet customers and so we’re really talking about shaping the office into an interactive venue that conveys an appealing image of the company, hence better business.”
And because of this expanding ambassador role, there is a growing interest of art in the office. As Kelvin notes, “Curating a distinctive taste of art can be a great way to showcase your brand. It’s also a great community commitment to promote local art development. For some international firms, artworks are also an investment asset.”
Flexibility is a key consideration in today’s office design. While the number of people working in the office varies by condition, the function of each space is also highly fluid. The use of mobile or detachable furniture can turn pantries into collaboration zones or temporary workstations, while open spaces can be used for lunchtime yoga.