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The Evolving Workspace
From a public pool turned co-working space to the emergence of the club office – as both an interior layout and a furniture collection – we keep tabs on the latest hybrid interiors.
Co-working space at Kerry Centre in Shanghai
Once a Public Swimming Pool, Now a Communal Office Hangout
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Epix modular office furniture collection
These Modular Furniture Collections Refresh Any Office Space
2/7
Office by Bill Dowzer of BVN
Architect Bill Dowzer Re-Imagines the Future of Work
3/7
Vitra Club office in Basel
Vitra Hits the Club – and Everyone’s Invited
4/7
Aro Attach acoustic privacy screen by FilzFelt
Keep It Down: 4 Easy Acoustic Solutions
5/7
Open Air carpet collection by Interface
These Nature-Inspired Carpet Collections Bring Serenity to the Workplace
6/7
Modular office furniture by Studio Komo
Studio Komo’s Wooden Block Collection Simplifies the DIY Office Layout
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The Evolving Workspace
Co-working space at Kerry Centre in Shanghai

Upon entering the third-floor swimming pool of the Kerry Centre in Shanghai’s historic Jing’an district last year, Alex Mok, cofounder of Linehouse, instantly knew what needed to be done. A shared amenity in the commercial complex, the 680-square-metre space was notable primarily for its defects. Dark and lifeless, it was certainly not — as it was meant to be — bustling with swimmers.

Asked to transform the facility into a multi-functional space for office tenants, Mok and her team sought to reinstate its vitality, inspired by its commanding oval skylight. “We knew that everything had to be centred around that,” Mok says. “So we envisioned this radiating structure that came from the skylight itself; that’s how we conceived the idea of a hearth.” By linking the commercial scheme to the domestic realm — specifically, the idea of the mantel, where people have long gathered to stay warm, bond and exchange ideas — the renovation would fulfill Kerry Centre’s wish for an enticing communal spot.

Along with a variety of seating options within the converted swimming pool, Shanghai-based studio Linehouse ringed the former deck with separate meeting rooms, private pods and a pantry.

The updated skylight illuminates the open town-hall heart, accentuated by oak fins fitted with customized tube lights that radiate from its centre. The pool itself is now a sunken amphitheatre, circumscribed by a double-sided banquette at the far side and a high bar leaner in the middle, which echoes the elliptical curvature above. On one end, the panelling extends into vertical screens that separate functional nooks and quiet workrooms.

Rather than opting for (overused) terrazzo, the designers applied a speckled vinyl by Tarkett.
Sections of the original concrete wall were retained, injecting areas like this nook with a pleasing tactile quality.

Opposite, it meets bare concrete, an artifact of the pool’s shell that Mok retained to give “tension between the rougher, old elements and the new finishes,” like the blue lacquered wainscotting. Disenchanted with the industry’s overreliance on terrazzo, Mok lined the steps and seating with Tarkett’s speckled vinyl flooring instead. “It’s softer, with really good acoustics,” she explains, and it complements the beige and pink leather seating and the earthy Calico wallpaper in the private phone booths nearby.

Co-working space at Kerry Centre in Shanghai
An array of seating gives the interior an eclectic, relaxed feel.

Although Mok set out to provide an area for workers to escape their staid offices and inspire creativity, even she is surprised by the variety of events that have already occupied what is now referred to as the “social space.” From one-off dance classes to yoga sessions, each new assembly challenges preconceived notions of what a workplace should be. It’s also a subtle reminder that the hearth, while providing warmth to its admirers, is only as vital as those who congregate around it.

Epix modular office furniture collection
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Epix

Intended to future-proof offices, Epix — a first-time partnership with Sweden’s Form Us With Love — comprises chairs, tables, shelving and storage (another first for the brand), all made entirely from recyclable materials. The reconfigurable pieces are aimed at creating distinct gathering spaces that foster creativity.

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Cabana Lounge

With their short depths and upright rounded backs, the single-seat, two-seat and corner sofas in Cabana Lounge encourage postures that facilitate engaged work. The compact modules, designed by Patricia Urquiola, can be fitted with privacy screens in two heights, along with power, tables (attached or freestanding) and more.

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Vettore

Designed by Milan’s Toan Nguyen, the Vettore modular lounge series is built around a uniform low-profile metal base that can be topped with a combination of upholstered sections (with or without backs and arms) and clean-lined tables (veneer or laminate). Multiple fabrics and finishes are offered.

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Free Address 2.0

Expanding on the original, Free Address 2.0 tackles both storage and separation needs with higher-backed sofas, taller tables, cubbies and lockers in various sizes, screens and planters. Ideal for smaller footprints and flexible scenarios, the components can be arranged for groups of any size.

Office by Bill Dowzer of BVN

“Increasingly, organizations will need to offer a new experience to their people,” says Bill Dowzer, a principal at global architecture firm BVN. “And shared work environments are key to this.” Dowzer and his team should know. They recently completed And-Co, a hospitality-inspired co-working space in Vancouver (shown above).

Set to open this fall, the four-storey, 3,437-square-metre interior offers not only a highly sophisticated design but also an abundance of communal spaces, including an on-site restaurant and a fully equipped fitness centre with treatment rooms. Dowzer’s preferred phrase for this 360-degree experience: the “office as clubhouse.” As he explains, “In a world where choice is now available to everyone, an environment that feels inclusive and nurturing is absolutely essential — and it’s the future of the workplace as we know it.”

You can’t argue with the fact that where you work can have a massive impact on how you work. For more than a year now, the collective “where” has been significantly displaced. And while remote working has its perks, something integral is missing at the kitchen table–turned–desk — namely, a collaborative office culture that encourages creativity. Providing this social aspect in reimagined ways will be the proverbial sweet spot for companies that want to entice their employees back to the office. After years of studying co-working spaces, Dowzer offers his unique perspective on how to conjure a desirable atmosphere within a setting used by many diverse companies:

Office by Bill Dowzer of BVN
Creating inclusivity is paramount

A strong culture is important for an organization and the well-being of staff — folks need to feel like they belong. As we’ve seen, a strong culture can also survive online and across time zones, but an emphasis on providing spaces to collaborate and grow, network and learn in a safe environment, rather than just coming together in traditional closed offices, will support this.

Spaces can impact behaviour

You can walk into an environment and instantly get a feel for the culture of that organization. A traditional cellular office space reinforces a hierarchical culture with many doors to go through to access people; a more open plan can reinforce more open behaviours, like knowledge-sharing and collaboration, and prioritize the power of the team, rather than the individual. In a co-working space like And-Co, it’s exactly the same, just at the next level, where organizations can learn and grow together through serendipitous and unplanned encounters that can yield new opportunities. It’s the optimum environment for innovation and growth. One feature of And-Co is the ability to bring your four-legged friend to the office. Pets are huge for combatting anxiety and generally lead to higher office morale.

Focus on the user

Individual offices for focused work are not really needed anymore — people will want to do this at home if it’s for a longer period of time. Private spaces are still needed but can be shared. The economics of having a huge empty office space no longer make sense, but the employee experience does. This means that many organizations will look for “other” environments for their people to work in, and set-ups like And-Co are going to be special places for people to grow.

Vitra Club office in Basel

Aside from minding one’s hygiene, 2020 taught the global masses that they can and will find ways to work remotely. As the months wore on and people mastered group productivity tools such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams, ad hoc home offices became more established and efficient. But now that the post-pandemic trickle back into physical offices is underway, employers and employees alike are contemplating why they should even bother. What does it offer, other than a return to crowded commuting and rigid daily schedules? At its own headquarters in Basel, Switzerland, furniture brand Vitra is exploring this matter with the “Club Office,” a practical lab of sorts aimed at defining how the office of tomorrow can better serve those who use it.

Furnished with Vitra’s Alcove Plus seating (by the Bouroullec brothers) and the Soft Work sofa system (by Barber Osgerby), the casual welcome zone of Vitra’s Club Office is conducive to both collaboration and private conversations.

“We took this moment to go back to the fundamentals and consider the intrinsic motivation and productivity that make us human,” says Vitra CEO Nora Fehlbaum. The company surmised that people who will choose to go to the office moving forward will do so primarily to meet with their colleagues and feel like part of a larger whole, as well as to complete objectives that may depend on others’ expertise. Fostering and supporting collaboration with an inviting atmosphere was therefore front and centre in the Club Office concept.

Since each office environment has unique requirements and complex working relationships, developing a club-like program that suits all employees is not a one-size-fits-all approach. As Christian Grosen, chief design officer at Vitra, explains: “It’s important to get a 360-degree perspective on the company in question to understand its goals and strategies, while involving individual employees in the process. The office isn’t just a place of production — it’s a platform for people to live the company culture.”

For Vitra, this translated into three distinct zones — all part of the Club Office concept — that move from open and free-flowing to more structured and contained. First is a relaxed, welcoming public area that accommodates both spontaneous, informal meetings and socialization — a main reason people will return to the mother ship.

The second zone, for collaboration, is set up to enable teams to swiftly construct their surroundings to best suit their projects, whether for a day or for many months, and reconfigure them when needs change. Finally, a private area with unassigned desks for more focused work serves those who prefer to tackle assignments headsdown, yet decide to come into the office rather than log in from home; it recognizes that some degree of remote working is likely here to stay, but carves out a niche within the communal office to replicate its comforts.

Unassigned desks in the private area offer dedicated spots for employees who come to the office to work uninterrupted.

Since the Club Office emphasizes achieving these malleable settings via adaptable furniture — rather than undertaking costly permanent buildouts — the concept is ideal for retrofitting existing workplaces. It enables businesses to move with the current, creating environments unique to those using them at the time. In a sense, Vitra’s proposition could be future-proof.

Aro Attach acoustic privacy screen by FilzFelt
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Canvas by Carnegie

The Canvas series of freestanding dividers features a dual-sided fabric skin that can be specified with a wide range of the brand’s textiles, including Xorel Limestone (shown), the most recent addition to its acoustic solutions. Its aluminum frame can be fitted with floor plates or a caster base.

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BuzziCee by BuzziSpace

With its namesake C-shape, the BuzziCee bench promotes active conversation while still allowing for distance. Made with acoustic foam, the seat contributes to noise reduction in open offices and other public spaces; it can be used alone or in multiples that group together to create expansive landscapes.

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Illi by Luxxbox

Featuring sculptural PET fins and a high lumen output, the Illi fixture meets the demands of bustling office environments. The pendant is available in two sizes — Landscape (shown) and Portrait — and 13 colourways that range from subdued neutrals to more vibrant hues like red, green and orange.

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ARO Attach by FitzFelt

Combining sound absorption and privacy, these easy-to-mount acoustic solutions come in wrap- or back-screen configurations, can be custom sized, and feature rectangular or triangular ribs. Made from 100 per cent wool in 96 colourways, ARO Attach can be installed on most desking systems.

Open Air carpet collection by Interface
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Canopy by Shaw Contract

Combining abstract depictions of the natural world — tree canopies and jungle landscapes — with lush textures, the nature-inspired Canopy carpet collection by Shaw Contract introduces a serene sense of escape to traditional office spaces. Nine complementary patterns are included, along with two tile sizes, broadloom and custom formats.

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Open Air by Interface

Organized into four categories — geometric, organic, textured and linear — the 22 patterns in the Open Air series come in a variety of neutrals, transitional styles and bright colourways. Made from 100 per cent recycled nylon, the tiles are ideal for defining zones and way-finding across large areas. 

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Modern Refinement by Tarkett

Updating three classic techniques through present-day processes, Modern Refinement brings the look of cozy knot stitch, elegant corded cloth and blended linen to today’s hard-working office. The collection features textures that range from luxurious to utilitarian and is offered in tiles, planks and broadloom.

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Shape & Flow by Mohawk Group

Designed to replicate rippling waves, Shape & Flow‘s selection of two patterns in eight river-inspired colourways blends beauty with performance. Made using Color Pulse technology, it’s also kind to the environment; the water-free dye formula results in less waste.

Modular office furniture by Studio Komo

Modular office furniture is far from new. But it takes a measured approach to turn the oft-cited concept of a movable, adaptable working environment into a reality. Studio Komo, a design practice based in Stuttgart, Germany, may have hit the nail on the head, so to speak. “At first glance, everything looks so simple, but to turn simple boxes into a working system requires a bit of a developer mentality,” says co-founder Rene Rauls.

While Studio Komo painted the blocks in striking red and pink tones for Urban Spaces, the system can be custom coloured per project.

Made of 2.1-centimetre-thick pine boards (with a three-millimetre-thick MDF reinforcement to hold weight at the recessed threads), the Komo collection is a reconfigurable system that can be used as amphitheatre seating, a stage or worktables — among other options. The modules themselves are rudimentary wooden cubes — and that’s what makes them special, according to the studio. “It’s one of those ideas where you see it and think, ‘I could have come up with that.’ The details only become apparent at second glance,” says Rauls.

Reminiscent of form ties in a concrete wall, threaded inserts are embedded into five sides of the boxes to hold the volumes together from the exterior; supporting connectors with one semicircular end are easily fastened with a hexagon screw and an Allen key. “Ikea has popularized the Allen key — everyone knows how to use it,” explains the designer. “The idea is that the conversion from one configuration to the next should be simple.”

The connector plates can also be used as railings for the back and side edges of the amphitheatre configuration.

Though they don’t look like it, the pieces are actually quite heavy. The largest weighs in at 16 kilograms, which, as Rauls notes, is optimal for two people to transport: “We think the arrangement of the modules could then be part of the teamwork that goes on in an office space,” he says.

Modular office furniture by Studio Komo

After installing the structures at Urban Spaces, a local co-working office that commissioned a custom arena-like area, Studio Komo received positive feedback and has toyed with the idea of turning the one-off into a commercially available product. “The flexible application possibilities are what they were most surprised by,” recalls Rauls, noting the tailor-made aspect for corporate set-ups. “Many companies are looking for creative environments for their employees. Our system is perfect for that.”