What five key elements do you look for when commissioning a new workspace interior?
Daylight is top of the list, the location, usability in terms of the natural shape and form of the space, sustainability in terms of its systems and energy performance, and finally efficiency.
What is the future of the traditional office as a workspace, how will it adapt to mobile working?
It fundamentally depends on the nature of the organisation and on the management culture within that organisation. Those businesses that are more objective focused rather than process focused will naturally find it easier to have more hub / club type workplaces with people floating around in other spaces. Environments that are more process oriented will probably need, for the time being, a lot more presence in that workspace.
Do you think it is a simple split between creative and corporate mentality?
I agree that the corporate and creative are often seen as at odds, however I think we are seeing a lot more learning from each other. I think the example of how Google has changed over its life is an interesting one in terms of being the small start up at one point to becoming a large corporation. Businesses do change over time and [Google ] was very different when it started to the way it is now and they will probably argue good reasons why it is the way it is now.
So I think they will be influenced by each other. I think there is certainly a lot to learn from the start up culture and environment. We are starting to see corporate spin bits of their business operations off to go work in these more creative environments.
Some of the new Google office interiors are designed with features, such as slides that could be seen as gimmicks. What is your opinion on this type of workspace interior?
From my own perspective the jury is out on the use of gimmicks, [however] some people think that injection of fun is fantastic. I heard about a drinks company recently that had themed meeting rooms that everyone thought were great, that it was really boosting productivity and morale because they thought, "Wow, we're not meeting in these stale old corporate meeting rooms anymore. We can go and meet in "the pub" or "the English garden".
When you get third hand reports of those types of places you think "well maybe there is a key role for this, that it helps the brand and so on." But I would wonder about the longevity they have because gimmicks per se have a short lifespan. If you can build in gimmicks that can be changed regularly to keep things fresh and interesting I think there is more scope from a design point of view.
In terms of the interiors that you have commissioned what place has posed a particular challenge to you?
In my previous role I did a lot more work in developing markets and remote places. It's interesting trying to translate corporate objectives into remote communities. I learnt that in small communities,where people are all friends and live and work together,we have to be very sensitive introducing what we think of as "the corporate standard" into environments that might still be part of the corporation but have a very different landscapes. So my most difficult projects have been those that require some immersion in the local social arrangements and then trying to incorporate the corporate objectives and trying to balance all that. We need to be sensitive to the environments we work in.
How often to do you spend abroad and where do you go?
I go on holiday to Bournemouth! We have a small flat on the coast and it's good for the kids. My travel patterns have changed with my jobs. My last job was Europe, Middle East and Africa so I was travelling every week. With this job there is less travel but trips are greater distances.
But we have a telepresence network now which is fantastic so a good chunk of the trips that I might have done previously are now removed. You create all of the rooms in exactly the same finish so that when you are sitting there you are sitting opposite a life size image of people who are all in other locations. There have been stories about people actually getting up to shake hands at the end of the meeting because it is that real.
Where's your favourite place to visit?
For the number of projects I did and tracking it over time it is probably Prague. Our agent once said "We are moving from one building to another. We'll try the walk just in case people say it's too far." But there was snow on the ground a metre thick so we were walking through the suburban area of Prague 4 and we got lost. There was half a dozen of us, in freezing cold, deep snow and we said, "Leon, let's face it, we're lost." We asked people at bus stops which way to go to get to our other office development. It was good, we got to see [the city] as it really is.
Finally, could you explain the concept of the "Third Space" within the office, which you will be discussing at 100% Design?
Third space is space outside the office not inside the office to me. A friend of mine has a lovely definition of it which is "Our place, your place, any place" - home, work and anywhere else. The third space is the anyplace, it's the coffee shop, the library, the health club or any place you can get a seat and a signal and you can work. And so the notion of the third space in the office is a wrong notion and I will be discussing this. In the same way that people are comfortable working externally as long as they have the tools, inside the office we are finding the same too and so as the fundamental building blocks of the traditional office used to be the private office or the workstation, what we are getting more comfortable with now is that the fundamental unit doesn't have to be the workstation anymore, it can be the diner bench or the hotdesk or a sofa because we don't have to be sat behind a great big computer screen.
So realistically I think within offices we are almost getting to the stage where most spaces are third spaces in that sense, but it's still the office, the fundamental place of business. Third space is everything within the urban environment.
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