Sofia: Corporate interior design changes with the times. How has corporate design changed since the recession?
Julio: The recession has made many companies more inclined to project an understated image, internally and externally; they don't want to appear conspicuous or wasteful. Therefore, corporate design has become more cautious in terms of how construction budgets are spent. There is less allowance for expensive finishes and more for tools or spaces that increase productivity and are flexible to adapt to change. For example, demountable walls, flexible furniture, better AV equipment and wireless networks are being specified more often.
Sofia: How will it change once companies begin to rehire?
Julio: It won't change much. Companies will get to the threshold of maximum workspace density, before expanding their real estate portfolios. Also, companies who have portfolios with a closer ratio between personal and collaborative, shared, and support spaces vs. personal spaces—about a 50/50 ratio—are better prepared to reconfigure spaces to increase density, while still maintaining a high performance environment.
Sofia: How will personal technology change design?
Julio: We are already seeing how personal technology is changing design by breaking the link between "working" and "being in the office"—wherever people are connected, be it at home, at a coffee shop, or on the road, they are working. Technology has allowed people to work from home and from the road, and both have decreased the amount of time that people spend at the office, and have increased overall productivity. For designers, this change has meant that we can plan more efficient spaces; if a typical worker is not in the office 50 percent of the time, for example, perhaps a hotelling station or workstation with a reduced footprint is more logical.
Additionally, mobile devices and wireless technology allow people to work from different parts of the office environment; most areas are now suitable for multiple uses. This is a factor in designing efficient workspaces that maximize real estate. The combination of those two factors—technology enabling us to work well beyond the desk and the possibility to work in multiple areas of the office—determines a high level of variation in the occupancy levels of the office environment. A careful design of spaces and technology can accommodate the high occupancy levels with flexible personal, collaborative and shared spaces.
Video conferencing and web based interactive meeting software have significantly increased the level of virtual collaboration between team members. In a very short time, the only people going to the office will be the ones that require or benefit from direct interaction with co-workers; the offices will start to look more like homes, hotels, and airport executive lounges.
Sofia: Give us an example of a project that you worked on where the design was progressive or unusual.
Julio: We have been designing offices for a technology client, and the occupancy ratio is 1.4:1 between employees and workstations (for every 140 employees, for example, there are 100 workstations). In order for this to be successful, there were several requirements: a very detailed program and work-function analysis; a design with a precise balance between personal, collaborative, shared and support spaces; well-developed space use protocols; and a change management program.
Another progressive project was a headquarters for a financial client looking to house 4000 employees with 98 percent open offices. We designed a highly flexible modular plan so that conference rooms and private offices could be re-positioned to any point of the floors at close to zero cost and with minimal downtime, to accommodate teams or department requirements. An environment like this one requires column-free space; an under-floor air, power and data distribution system; a ceiling and lighting design that will perform well in open and enclosed spaces; and all demountable walls (glass and solid).
Sofia: Is the office environment becoming more of a branded environment?
Julio: Many companies understand the importance of using the work environment to communicate their brand and its values to employees, clients, and shareholders. Those environments allow them to reinforce and support what they stand for and it extends beyond use of branded colors and logos. Companies understand that brand is the essence of a company, and that includes core values. If transparency is valued, you may see more transparency with the design through features like glass-fronted offices and conference rooms. If the company is non-hierarchical, they may express this through an open office plan and not have any private offices.
Sofia: Have you worked with corporate design internationally?
Julio: Internationally, we focus on two types of corporate work: projects for global companies that require the services of a design consultant with a large network of offices and alliance partners, and projects that, because of their size and complexity, require design consultants with significant experience in that scale.
We are currently designing projects in Europe (Finland, Ireland, Czech Republic), the Middle East (UAE, Israel), Asia Pacific (China and Australia) and the Americas (Canada, Mexico, Colombia, Brazil, Argentina).
The new generation of buildings and projects outside the U.S. are highly sustainable and many of them are designed based on the guidelines established by the USGBC with LEED.
Currently we are in the process of certifying, through the USGBC LEED program, projects in Beijing, China and Medellin, Colombia.