Given so many of us spend some 50 hours or more each week in an office, it's a little surprising that workplace design is not given the degree of thought it deserves. This shouldn't simply be a matter of open-plan versus boxed-in, how high the cubicles are, or just how many go-get-'em slogans adorn the partitions. A joined-up thinking approach should focus on the individual and collective needs of all users, resulting in a space they feel happy to be in, not somewhere that fills them with a sense of dread as Sunday evening approaches. And of course, happy people are far more productive than their miserable counterparts.
Water cooler conversations are studded with stories of dysfunctional work spaces, which in the extreme may become fully fledged sick buildings. Somehow everything is wrong in these offices. Furniture is precisely in the wrong place. The colour scheme induces nausea. The kitchen, through the misguided but wellmeaning attempts of management, ends up looking like something from a 1970s Polish Ikea catalogue. The road to hell's office is often paved with good intentions.
Anyone who's walked into a WeWork office in one of 48 cities around the world will be struck immediately by just how un-office-like they are. Gone are the cheerless cubicles reminiscent of the mazes used to test the behavioural responses of rodents. Instead, there's bench seating, cubbyholes, sofas, murals and staff areas that take inspiration from an eclectic range of sources. Kitchens are more akin to upmarket diners than dark and dingy corner spaces.
All this is borne out by the interiors of WeWork Tower 535 in Hong Kong, where Nelson Chow of NC Design & Architecture has partnered with WeWork's team to craft the interior of a 60,000 sq-ft space in Causeway Bay.
Chow will be familiar to readers of this magazine. A 2016 Perspective 40 Under 40 winner, his work spans many areas of design — retail, residential, media, product, and bars and restaurants — the latter including the Krug Room at the Mandarin Oriental and Foxglove bar and lounge on Duddell Street, featured on the cover of last year's May issue.
WeWork specialises in providing co-working spaces that lend themselves to interaction and creativity. Rather than letting offices to just one company, it provides flexible working solutions, whether it's a one-person hot-desk space in a communal area, to private desks and team rooms. No two of its offices look the same, and most reflect cultural aspects taken from the world cities in which they are based. As one would expect, its in-house design team has very strong ideas about what these spaces should look like. So why bring Chow on board?
"WeWork saw our designs for Foxglove and Mrs Pound [a burlesque-inspired bar]," says Chow. "They liked what was done by our studio, and they felt a subtle reference to local cultural context is what's needed, carrying a global identity whilerespecting the local community. Our team worked very closely with their in-house design team to make sure the design carries their brand identity, while we infused it with local elements."
While this all sounds highly laudable, it could be viewed as a tall order. But translating lofty ideals into reality is exactly what Chow and his team excel at, having had ample experience of that through the company's many projects in so many areas ofeveryday living.
This is an excerpt from the “A new way to work" article from the Jul/Aug 2017 double issue of Perspective magazine.
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