For most office commuters in a city as motorbike-mad as Saigon, an average day at work starts with a lungful of toxic fumes at some dark and miserable underground parking lot. Then, after a cramped elevator ride, the working day in a tiny cubicle begins, bringing with it the eternal battle between scorching sun rays and overactive air-conditioning.
Walking into the new Dreamplex office building in Thao Dien is a whole different experience. Instead of rubbery tiles, it's natural stone. Recirculated air gives way to the delicious aroma of dark roast coffee wafting in from the Cloudnine by KOTO cafe, with its folding doors thrown open to let the fresh air in.
The open space, natural sunlight, maple wood furniture, mature outdoor garden, welcoming smiles of the receptionists, and contented hum of conversation make the design-conscious office look like a 5-star retreat. All that's missing is the ocean and the sand.
In collaboration with T3 Architects, the Dreamplex team used their workplace management expertise to deliver a sustainable co-working space that uses natural materials, light, and smart temperature controls to optimize the experience for maximum productivity and comfort.
We visited their newest location on Ngo Quang Huy street in Thao Dien, District 2 to ask Daan van Rossum, Chief Experience Officer at Dreamplex, his team, and Charles Gallavardin, the founder of T3 Architects, about the design concept of the space, what it means to center your office around the people, and what the future of co-working spaces could look like.
Two heads are better than one
Daan: When Dreamplex took on this project, we knew we needed to create something special. Even before COVID-19, the concepts of ‘well-being’ and sustainability were a crucial next step for companies, as employers were beginning to see how a good office design can enhance workflow.
This meant finding somebody who understands these concepts and who is familiar with the quiet charm of Thao Dien so as to make sure the space we create would fit in with the rest of the neighborhood. And we came across Charles and Tereza from T3 Architects, an architecture firm that just happens to specialize in design that emphasizes both well-being and sustainability and is located within walking distance from Dreamplex!
Charles: We're quite selective with our projects, but this was a great opportunity for us to dig into the future of office spaces. It was definitely a challenging process coming up with a modern solution, but T3 Architects is always looking to work on meaningful projects for Vietnam.
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Center the office design around your people
What are some of the best office spaces you know? And what are they doing with their office space to attract and retain the best talent in the world? The Googleplex, for example, was inspired by the everyday college campus – an extremely multi-faceted place designed to help you discover yourself. Sometimes you go there to get work done, on other occasions to collaborate on projects with other people or to hear from an interesting speaker.
So, inspired by projects like Google’s, the goal was to create something that wasn't just a place where people come to get work done (because you can do that anywhere). It was about creating a more productive, creative, and collaborative space that centers on the employee instead of the company (what the people actually want instead of ‘how do I make this space productive as efficiently as possible from my point of view’).
From a solar oven to a breezy boutique
Charles: The building was a solar oven before we renovated it – the metastructure had single glazing and was completely exposed to the sun. The fact that it was painted black did not help with the heat either. This is the worst thing to do for a building, especially in a tropical climate as hot as Vietnam’s!
The best way to protect your building from the weather is to have balconies all around, or a double ventilated facade as a second skin to save energy, keep the main walls of the building cool, and protect you from being completely exposed to the sun and rain.
We started by breaking down the concrete walls on the ground floor and replaced the glass partition with a sliding facade for an entirely open space that connects to the outdoor garden to allow natural air to flow through.
It allows the building to breathe with an additional touch of green, which has proven to reduce stress and increase productivity and naturally integrates the building with the serenity of Thao Dien.
The original building was a canvas for something new. Creating the ideal workspace for us meant fitting the little puzzle pieces together to create a bigger, more beautiful picture. From the bamboo to the plants in the garden, everything is sourced locally. And besides creating an exterior facade that is sustainable, we invested in the little details for the furniture as well. We removed all the artificial wood from the original building that was coated in glue and paint and brought in different teak and ash wood tables.
On cloud nine
Daan: Something to keep in mind is that with architectural design, you can't copy and paste whatever pretty thing you find on Pinterest… because it's not just about the physical space. You need to create something that fits with the respective location of your building and the people that are going to use it.
There's only so much you can do by adding an extra glass window, or plants at every corner. How do you create an atmosphere that feels like it was made for you? The answer is a combination of the intangibles.
It's kind of like mixing the air or the coffee from Cloud9 with the music that's playing and the people greeting you when you walk in... it's a combination of all these minute details that create that first great impression.
The future of co-working space
So what is the future of co-working? According to Daan, it may not exist: What we want is for offices to learn and borrow from the idea of co-working. Not only should they have a more employee-centric design point of view, but should also take what traditional offices offer in terms of privacy, branding, and company culture, and add the social aspects and flexibility that comes with co-working.
At the new Dreamplex for example, there are 12 different ways you can work, based on the tasks you need to get done, the time of the day, or simply the mood that you're in— from a standing desk overlooking the garden to a private meeting room to work on a business proposal.
But it’s hard for companies to offer all these features (a cafe, a social lounge, independent and collaborative working stations, etc) because they usually don’t have the know-how, resources, or even passion to create it.
You have your own private office and all the shared amenities — the best of both worlds. So even though it’s a “co-working space”, it really is just a better office building — a view into what office spaces of the future will and should be!