SAN FRANCISCO – As the industry continues to tackle questions about the format of the office of the future, is a testimony to today’s myriad creative interpretations that support our continuously evolving methods of working. Three months after the release of this must-have reference tool, St-W speaks to Primo Orpilla, co-founder of Studio O+A, about the firm’s approach to office design, as well as the future of the workplace.
What do you think is the biggest challenge in workplace design?
PRIMO ORPILLA: The challenge is always to strike the right balance between different ways of working, different generational expectations, different approaches to collaborative and private work—and to do all this within a coherent framework that tells the client’s story. You want to offer users a variety of options, but at the same time it mustn’t be a spatial cacophony, there needs to be continuity and meaning.
How do you approach office design and in what ways is it different (or similar) from how you tackle other project typologies?
Our approach is the same for any design in that we always ask, ‘why are we doing this?’ In the particular category of workplace design, the main problematic has become how to facilitate certain modes of work. The rituals we all go through to get to our best work may take several steps just to get us into the flow. So we look at all those postures, habits and places where the work takes place, as well as the spaces that lead up to work, and we use them liberally around the facilities.
We also realize that all companies are different and some cultures view work differently. We need to make sure we understand those differences and customize our solutions accordingly.
Workplace design can help reform a company’s work culture, or simply become a mirror of a long-established brand. Which case do you think makes for the most interesting projects?
I think that in all cases the main thing we are doing is creating places and experiences that transcend the visual appeal of a design. That’s the real power of a well-designed environment. You can always tell a poor design because it doesn’t move you, you forget about it, it doesn’t last. The power to reform is probably at the heart of many designs or at least it should be. I think the most interesting projects are those with clients who think they know themselves, but through the design process find out who they really are.
How have contemporary work habits, new technologies and new jobs changed the contemporary workplace?
Many things have contributed to the change in the contemporary workplace. We have a generation that is more technically astute, able to retrieve information faster and in more detail than ever before. We have access to research. We’re able to read opinions and ratings on workplaces as well as a company’s culture, and the level of design awareness among employees has risen. Now our workplaces are more than simple places to work, they became an experience that allows the individual to create social bonds, align more directly with a company’s vision and feel respected and part of a collective. The contemporary workplace is dynamic, responsive, culture-building, nurturing and inclusive.
What will the office of the future look like?
I think we will be working everywhere in physical space and in virtual space. We will still have offices, but they may be more nomadic. Companies may have virtual headquarters scheduling and booking meetings as easily as we book a room on Airbnb, but people will still need to see and talk to one another.
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