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.
Walls don’t often strike us as exciting, but in this office project for ON Headquarters, located west of Mexico City, we really do like the large surfaces. We also like the subtle, elegant lighting, and the subdued colour scheme.
ON provides services to the oil and gas industry, so the designers at LSA Arquitectos and BLANCASMORAN (Imanol Legorreta Molina, Pablo Sepúlveda de Yturbe and Abel Blancas Morán) selected surface materials and textures that reflect the passing of time.
The boardroom exterior walls and the directors offices are covered in walnut veneer, the lobby walls and the customized assistants’ blocks in the concourse are of Iranian Travertine marble, and the interior walls of the boardroom are of wool fabric.
The floors in the lobby and concourse are covered with metal sheeting, and in the directors’ offices with oak
Much of the furniture is custom-made, including the welcome desk that is made of metal sheeting and black Emperador marble. The chairs are desks are by VITRA and the lighting by Construlita, Delta Light and Tom Dixon.
The overall effect the designers have accomlished in this 780 square-meter (8,395 sq.ft) space is calm, opulent and restrained. - Tuija Seipell. (Images by Rafael Gamo)
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Our fascination with cool offices continues. This time, we are attracted to a Victorian building in Dublin.
This past June, after only six months of elaborate reconstruction and renovation, global insurance firm XL Group plc moved into one of the most prestigious addresses in Dublin, Ireland.
The former private club building at Number 8 St. Stephen’s Green is a protected structure, which made the job of RKD Architects that much more challenging.
RKD’s not-so-easy task was to respect the original building and its later reiterations, while making sure XL Group’s staff and management had all the tools and comforts of a modern office.
The building dates back to 1792 when it was constructed as an imposing, five-bay, four-storeys- over-basement residence for Lord Mountgarrat. From 1847 to 2003, it was owned by the Hibernian United Services Club and operated as a private club.
After the 6.5 million Euro (about $8.2 mil. US) renovation, the grand scale, elegance and drama of a private gentlemen’s club are still intact, and the unseemly practicalities of air conditioning, IT and plumbing are discreetly and stylishly hidden behind cabinetry and other structures.
Reinforcing and restoring the best parts of the building has left, for example, the grand Portland-stone staircase as the central eye-catcher at the entrance, and given the staff and clients an impressive environment that demands attention.
We love the ceilings, the exposed brick, and the mirrors and subtle insertions of colour in the modern offices.
In even the most updated of the spaces, there is some aspect that reminds of the past and shows off the peculiarities of the grand, old building. - Tuija Seipell.
If only we had a spare historic Barchessa in Italy and an extra million lying about, we, too, would build an office and showroom, just like fashion house Rubens Luciano’s in Villa Gritti, Stra, near Venice.
We’ve covered many a gorgeous office over the years in our quest for the world’s coolest offices, and although many of them a grand in scale and lavish in budget, each one has ideas just waiting for any of us to emulate in our own, perhaps more modest, surroundings.
In the case of the Rubens Luciano office architect Simone Micheli mastered several copy-worthy feats: The use of natural light and glass to create the feeling of openness; the combination of old and new in a way that is not pretentious; and the exquisite attention to detail.
Several of Micheli’s other hallmarks are also visible in this project: smooth, flowing lines; shiny, seamless surfaces; rounded edges; and organic-looking, bulbous shapes. We also love the meticulous detailing and the minimalist, clean overall look.
The four-year-long renovation collaboration between Simone Micheli and his friends, fashion-house founders Rubens and Luciano, was unveiled at a great party on September 1, a date that also marked the 49th birthday of the architect. - Tuija Seipell.
If we at TCH were to establish a new office, this is what it could look like. A clean, minimalist space, with a touch of history and elegance.
The 150 square meter office is located in Kortrijk, Belgium, in a historically important, restored textile weaving factory from the early part of 1900.
Vincent Van Duysen Architects handled not only the restoration of the space but also the interior design, and the design of much of the furniture.
The office consists of a large main space and smaller offices for the four staff members. Most interesting about this elegant project is the fact that the office is not for a design studio or architectural firm, but for Belgo-Seeds, a business involved in global importing and exporting of agricultural products, especially seeds. A shelving unit with beautifully lit glass containers of seeds is the only direct reference to this.
The brick ceiling and cast-iron columns are restored nods to the industrial past of the building, while the dark timber wall paneling, light oak floors and soft hues of fabrics and furnishings add a comfortable feel.
Most of the furniture was custom-designed by Vincent Van Duysen including the desks, all storage units and the pendant lighting. The office chair used in this project is the brown leather version Van Duysen’s design for Bulo. The coffee table is a custom version of Van Duysen’s Surface for B&B Italia:.
We love the lack of visual noise; the spaciousness, openness and sophistication achieved with the intelligent use of glass, screens and lighting. - Tuija Seipell