The creative workplace presents several paradoxes. Its design must be stylish and contemporary, yet have a reasonably long shelf life. It should inspire, perhaps even entertain occupants, without compromising on productivity or efficiency. Having experienced the offices of a number of creative businesses over time, we compiled a few principles to help walk the tightrope between seemingly contrary design considerations.
This seems to be the universal rule of any creative environment, whether a large advertising agency with hundreds of employees or a one-room design studio in a residential apartment. When jeans are the preferred office attire, traditional, wood-veneered, closed cabins are unnecessary. Breathe life into a workspace by combining materials and finishes, types of furniture and decorative elements that are energetic but not distracting.
The former office of advertising agency Everest in Mumbai is a good example of balance between fun and functionality. The late architect Sandhya Savant wove the popular metaphor of a streetscape into the office. Benches, kiosks, a bus stop, café, balcony, zebra crossings, street lamps and a graffiti wall were some devices she used to create the feel of a lively urban community. At the same time, she took care not to overpower the work areas, choosing neutral tones for columns, cabinets and workstations. Iconic elements add novelty: a British-style red phone box (below, left) near the entrance became an attraction for visitors.
Collaboration is key
Most creative work is project-based, and entails multidisciplinary team members sharing ideas and information over specific, possibly recurring, periods of time. Any given ad involves the combined efforts of the creative team, account managers, brand planners, media planners, production teams and, of course, clients. But providing an assortment of different-sized meeting rooms to facilitate various types of group interactions can be expensive.
The London office of advertising agency Lowe incorporated a straightforward solution. An open-plan bar and cafeteria was located next to the reception, where agency employees could discuss ideas in small groups and meet visitors. Larger and more private meetings were held in separate closed environments.
Other solutions to promote collaboration include flexible, mobile, reconfigurable modular furniture for multi-tasking (offered by leading office furniture companies) and open lounges, an approach increasingly adopted by more traditional manufacturing businesses too.
Integrated design elements
For a creative workspace to be truly inspiring, its interior architecture must go beyond a cleverly executed theme. Every aspect of the space, whether lighting, furniture, material or layout, must be integrated to create an office that performs innovatively. For example, the idea of a rustic garden-office is interesting, but translated into four disconnected floors of a high-rise building, could leave the first-time visitor confused (see ‘Quite an Eyeful’, left).
An excellent example of getting it right is Leo Burnett’s head office in Parel, Mumbai. The advertising agency aspired to be a flat organization, housed in a visually iconic building with lots of colour and natural light. Kapil Gupta of Serie Architects carefully analysed the company’s work patterns to create a workplace that inspired behavioural change. Innovative mapping of human interaction, inside-out planning and an undiluted emphasis on integrating colour, lighting and materials resulted in a transformational workplace (below).
Aparna Piramal Raje is director, BP Ergo. Radhika Desai is a Mumbai-based interior architect.
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