More than one year since the COVID-19 pandemic started, millions of people around the world have been working from home instead of going to the office.
We used to feel low-spirited when thinking about going to work every Monday morning, but now, the office has become nostalgic as social distancing regulations are being applied. However, is the workplace really just where eight hours of work are filled with deadlines and stress, or is there something more to it?
In 1994, the architectural firm Progetto CMR was founded by Massimo Roj - one of the most famous architects in Italy. For 25 years, Roj and his associates have designed more than seven million square meters of office space from Europe to Asia. In Vietnam, Dreamplex Thai Ha is the first office project of architect Roj, also where he shows a lot of similar design philosophies between Italy and Vietnam.
What kind of place should the office be? Why are we attached to it more than we think? Vietcetera spoke to Massimo Roj to find out the answers to these questions.
A place where you can work comfortably and with peace of mind
Architect Roj began by explaining the most basic concept of “office”. The root of the word “office” is in Latin - “opificium”, which means “to work”.
An office is not just a physical location. This place is created to encourage people to work, think, and create to reach the highest efficiency. That can only be achieved when they are truly comfortable and secured in that space.
So where does this sense of comfort and peace of mind come from? It is thanks to the layout and design of every element in an office. It comes from the tables and chairs' arrangement to create enough distances for employees to both connect to colleagues and enjoy their own private areas; from the colors that stimulate creativity, or create a feeling of relaxation, positivity, and stress reduction.
“In the Dreamplex Thai Ha office, we use green and ivory as the main colors, combined with the arrangement of green areas, adding gray and yellow sofas.
Yellow can boost creativity, and green is good for the eyes which are always exposed to blue light from the computers. Gray brings a sense of calm to relieve stress. And finally, ivory white color brings about a clean, professional-feeling, and not so chilly.
The ceiling lights are intentionally designed in an uneven shape, this idea comes from my childhood experience. Back then, when I needed concentration but it was too noisy around, I used to put egg strays together, painted and glued them to the wall, similar to creating a soundproof room. Reminiscing that idea, I decided to design the lights that hang from the ceiling to the desk.”
Reminiscence of experiences
With a design philosophy of focusing on the people, Roj believes that the experience and feeling of the users are the most important. Instead of explaining what makes a design beautiful, he discusses the five most basic human senses: sight, hearing, smell, touch, and taste.
“When I start designing an office, I think about the people who will work in it. What will they see first? What is the sound they often hear? How far should the distance from the common space to the kitchen area be so that the smell of food is not disturbing? How far is ideal for people to get to the sleeping room?
Office design is user experience design. And an office with an optimal design will provide a good experience.
Each part of the office must be linked to create an overall space that users can perceive with all senses. They could hear the sound of the elevator opening and closing, the sound of the coffee machine, see the sunlight shining through the windows, feel the material of the tables and chairs, or smell the aroma which diffused from the coffee machine in the pantry.
Those elements create a physical connection between the users and the office, thereby eliciting a mental connection. When you leave that space, what you remember is not the tables, the chairs, or the machine, but the experiences you have when spending time there.
A miniature culture
Every country or culture has its own aesthetic values that have existed through centuries, which are presented in people's living habits and activities. The offices are no exception.
In Europe, in Italy specifically, the principle of design is putting the desks not too far from the windows. The Italians want every corner of the room to be exposed to natural light and closest to nature. Meanwhile, in the US, the stairs are often built in the corner to save space, and partitions are also used to ensure privacy.
When it comes to designing offices in Asia, architects then have to consider feng shui factors. This is the spiritual principle of Asians, directly affecting the users’ mental and energy.
“Before designing the office at Dreamplex Thai Ha, we conducted many interviews and surveys to find out people’s needs in the workplace, the habits and culture of Vietnamese, especially the young generation. My design has to meet three factors at the same time: the needs of many different types of people, the Dreamplex principle of focusing on user experience, and the compliance with the Italian design style.”
Office design towards sustainability in the future
In the past year and a half, the world has changed a lot due to the pandemic. Everyone now needs to learn to adapt to new circumstances and the concept of “new normal”; and the office is no exception.
After settling in the new headquarters of Progetto CMR in Milan, Roj and his associates' first thing was to expand the team to include special appearances of psychologists.
“People’s mentality definitely will change after the pandemic. They will have new requirements, new ways of thinking and working. If the colleague sitting next to them is too close or too far away, will their productivity be affected? What makes them more secured or more insecure? We need to study deeper to understand the new psychological states of people, to know their needs and desires.”
For example, with recent designs, Roj decided to go with the open ceiling structure so that users can clearly see the pipes and structures just above the ceiling of the room. “You know what’s up there and see it clearly. Compared to the traditional closed ceiling design, this structure brings a sense of friendliness and reduces insecurity.”
Besides, the questions of sustainability and closeness with nature have never been left open. Architects now tend to choose more eco-friendly materials, use technology to reuse old materials, and the furniture needs to be multifunctional, can be moved and changed for different purposes.
“Coming up with a new way to reuse old materials is the future of sustainable design.”
Adapted by Thao Van