Commercial space designing a functioning working environment

Design is about more than creating beautiful spaces. The practical use of areas in the most economical way becomes particularly important for commercial properties and offices.

As such beautifully designed spaces must, in addition to providing function and form, also support the working relationships and atmospheres relevant to its tenants.

Some design projects start with a strong vision. “A great project for us all to see is the Dart project,” says architect Robert Towell.

“When you actually walk into their facilities, it is one of those things where you feel comfortable, you feel all the light is natural, it is a nice open office concept.”

Other commercial projects, such as the Walkers building, stand out by being very different in an attempt to make a statement.

“Some architects design from the outside in and they want the building to look like something specific,” says Towell. These architects first achieve the look and then make the spaces inside fit in with the design.

More commonly though the approach is to take different elements in terms of style and requirements and separate what is desired from what is not wanted and let a project take on its own dynamic.

The actual work environment inside a building can also be influenced significantly by the architect’s design

Form and function
Icon Architecture’s Louis Mussington believes that a successful design of any commercial structure really relies on understanding the user’s operations and the building’s relationship to its existing environment.

The project architect of one of Cayman’s latest commercial projects, the new FedEx home in George Town Industrial Park, says the functional plan design of the FedEx Building was a combination of marrying the logistics company’s modules of operation with the constraints represented by the building shell size and form and local authority ordinances.

A pre-engineered metal building was chosen, as this satisfied all the multi-dimensional requirements, says Mussington. It provided large open volumes which could be divided into separate floors levels, provide the necessary hurricane resistance and most importantly meet the client’s budget.

One disadvantage of using such a building type was the perception of a lack of aesthetically pleasing facades, as the simple form, metal skin and large overhead doors can often be viewed as industrial and not commercial in its appearance, he explains.

Much emphasis was therefore placed on the aesthetics of the building along Dorcy Drive. A decorative folly wall was created to draw the eyes away from the large overhead doors.

Formalised entries were created with a tiled entry porch with metal framed, meshed crowning elements. A metal shading element with hanging rod support was employed to visually create balance between the façade elements and also to create a high tech appearance indicative of the logistic functions of FedEx, explains Mussington.

Designing the interior
The actual work environment inside a building can also be influenced significantly by the architect’s design. Architecture is about being practical, says Cindy O’Hara, partner and project architect of Cayman Enterprise City.

CEC will be designed with LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) principles in mind, she says.

This will include narrow buildings, so that natural light can penetrate throughout.

Conventional office design will be flipped, with office cubicles close to windows and dividers positioned in a way that they cannot block the light.

Storerooms and bathrooms will be at the core of the building. Glass will be used in the interior to create an open, collaborative working environment and also maximise the use of natural light.

The increasing social element that goes into many designs will be reflected in roof gardens on the buildings that will create communal spaces where colleagues can socialise. The vision is to build a collaborative community and O’Hara hopes the architecture will help to create this sense of community.

The idea is to make the working environment as pleasant as possible, given how much of one’s life is spent at work.

“Many offices are embracing this interior design now, but it is a mindset – it has to come from the business owner. They have to care about the comfort and well being of their employees,” says O’Hara.

“We cannot dictate how a business arranges their office.”

Yet buildings that do not support the workflow and work atmosphere wanted by the tenants, can be very frustrating to the users.

Mostly this is due to “someone not asking the right people the right questions”, says Towell.

“You really have to talk to the people of each department to find out how they work.”

The proximities of critical work stations and how they interact have to flow into the design scheme.

The process
Interior designer Lori McRae agrees, saying that her work begins with an analysis of a client’s requirements, such as office space, reception areas, lunch and meeting rooms or the boardroom. From this the need in terms of usable square footage can be derived, she said.

In the next step, a space plan will put this analysis on paper and give a first indication of how the client might fit into the premises. Further discussion around the space planning process and tweaking together with the client will typically ensure that the premises are working in the way the client wants them to, McRae explains.

This is then followed by a design and development stage that addresses questions of corporate identity and how a client wants the brand to reflect who they are.

Some companies have formulated corporate standards that get into details such as space standards for various rooms and work stations, standards for finishes, lighting, data and communications and environmental issues, notes McRae.

Data and communication uses are an important factor when designing a boardroom, which nowadays is commonly used for videoconferencing. The selection of lighting and furniture must complement the usage.

Depending on the activities of the tenants, for example a law firm or a media house, furniture selection can also vary tremendously.

The same applies to the general office layout.

“There was a move several years ago, which is still underway, that we refer to as flattening the hierarchy,” says McRae. This will involve pulling people out of private offices into more open plan work stations.

“There are some corporate cultures that have made that shift. Here in Cayman, however, when it comes to the law firms and accounting firms, people still tend to like their private offices,” she says.

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