How can workplace design reinforce an organisation's culture?

According to the 2016 Australian Architecture and Design Forecast, the future of workplace design will see “less importance placed on the aesthetics of the office and more on the functionality of the space, furnishings and materials. This is not about returning to utilitarian working environments, but seeing the aesthetics as just one part of an ecosystem designed to facilitate optimal performance.”

Here, our workplace design team leaders, Ryan Loveday and Kate Tempest, share their thoughts on workplace design and the inspiration behind their work.

Ryan Loveday, Associate Director

Q: How can workplace design reinforce an organisation’s culture?

RL:* Unless you work in an assembly line, work involves people sharing information with each other. Whatever an organisation’s goals, every metric for highly performing individuals and teams relies on collaboration, mentoring and knowledge-sharing.

To translate this in design, you need to consider two things: who you sit next to, and who you meet in the corridor.
Proximity matters. Good office design depends on a small number of key people, where they sit and who they sit next to.

Equally important, are the informal networks built within the organisation that underpin its creativity, strength and agility. Good design enables chance meetings – in the lunch room or informal meeting spaces – that’s how these connections are made.

Q: You’ve just completed an office fit-out for the Brisbane Housing Company. What was the biggest challenge on this project? How did you use design to overcome it?

RL: Brisbane Housing Company was a really great project to work on.

Originally they wanted to simply condense their organisation, from two floors, to just one floor.

Whilst their expectations and budget were fairly modest, they saw the value in engaging design advice, as an opportunity to shake things up.

As the office evolved, from contained, closed-door offices, to a collaborative, open-plan environment, the biggest challenge was to provide reassurance to staff about privacy and concentration.

Q: How do you go about establishing a concept and an overall direction/ look & feel for a project? Do you have a particular process you follow?

RL: We always begin by asking our client lots of questions about themselves. We give them lots of homework to do, which they’re sometimes surprised at. The better we understand the organisation, what they do, their goals, their workflows and their rituals, the better the design. The project takes shape as you start to layer up the functional logic of the space around those needs. There is never a predetermined concept or style because every client has a different story to tell.

Q: How do you measure the success of a project?

RL: Every project has to meet the mechanics of time and budget. It’s crucial that we manage these things well to maintain our clients’ confidence.

Beyond that, it’s our job to create something special that, not only satisfies the clients’ brief, but allows them to have something or do something they couldn’t have, previously.

Architecture is always optimistic in that regard.

Q: What do you enjoy the most about working with clients?

RL: Every project you take on is a huge learning experience, and every client is different. You need to work hard to understand how they operate and what they need, and how the space will serve them.

It’s important to remember that it’s a steep learning curve for the client as well. Our role is to simplify this incredibly complex process for them.

Going through this process with the client is the best part: digging down to understand what they really need and creating something surprising that unlocks the solution in a way they didn’t expect.

Q: Why did you want to be an architect?

RL: Even as a kid I knew I wanted to be a designer and a maker of things. I was the kid that pulled his toys apart to see how they worked, and wondered if they’d be better with a few more wheels and a set of wings?

As I got older I became much more interested in the psychological aspects of human behaviour and motivation (mostly how to impress girls).

Architecture combines these two things: how people behave, and how to design useful things for them.

Q: Who are your architecture mentors and what have you learnt from them?

RL: I’ve always found people are more interesting than buildings. I read a lot, about everything except architecture, so I’ve never really focussed on architectural fashions or ‘starchitects’.

In my career, I’ve admired those quietly spoken architects who could apply technical knowledge to simplify complex problems, and could draw on a wider range of experience to inform their work and build relationships with their clients.

I’ve been fortunate to work with some good hardworking architects, particularly early in my career. Everyone you work with contributes to your pallet of architectural ideas, tricks and details as you go along. I’ve just tried to be interested and observant.

Kate Tempest, Senior Interior Designer

Q: Fulton Trotter Architects are known as being strong in the education, health and aged care sectors. How can your learnings from these sectors benefit commercial design?

KT: Working constantly across a range of different projects makes for interesting and creative design solutions.

There are always challenges in design. Though each sector is quite different, I often find an idea or a solution will cross over from one sector to another.

Having experience across a range of different sectors and scale of projects also keeps me motivated, and my designs are fresh and more inspired.

Q: What are some of the changes you’re seeing in workplace design?

KT: As open-plan offices become the norm, there is less obvious hierarchy and fewer individual offices. As a result, staff have more options to work around the office space, depending on the task at hand.

With that, there’s an ever-growing need to balance the traditional formal office spaces, with relaxed, casual meeting spaces, that encourage casual interactions and communication between staff groups or departments that wouldn’t normally interact.

There’s an increasing focus on materiality in the aesthetic, layering warm textures and strategically using colour to complement that.

Q: Biophilic design is regularly referenced in your work. How do you use it to create a positive workplace?

KT: Biophillic design has been found to have significant benefits on humans’ health and wellbeing. Numerous studies have reported positive behavioural responses: hospitals where patients heal faster, schools where children’s scores are higher, offices where workers are more productive.

Hand-in-hand with sustainable design principles, biophillic design is about creating spaces that reflect the natural environment, to enhance the human response. Maximising natural light, introducing greenery, creating external views wherever possible, and using natural materials, textures and patterns all contribute to our physiological state.

Q: You’re not afraid of using colour in your work. Why is this important?

KT: Colour is a great tool to highlight points of interest and define certain areas, or as a wayfinding feature in design.

It can often be used to sub-consciously influence our head-space and mood, to reinforce the purpose of a defined zone or area.

It can easily become a distraction if overused, so it must be applied carefully to ensure it enhances the overall design.

Q: How do you go about establishing a concept and an overall direction / look & feel for a project? Do you have a particular process you follow?

KT: The process is different every time, and is driven by the client and the project.

We create a bespoke design solution specifically for each project.

Generally, we start with an in-depth briefing process, where we discuss the client and their goals, culture, and the changes they wish to see.

From there, it’s up to us to find a solution for every issue, no matter how big or small the detail.

Q: What do you love most about your job?

KT: I love learning about our clients and their business, how the business and its staff operate – it’s fascinating.

It’s rewarding to see the way the interior can improve the culture and feel of an organisation – particularly when we deliver spaces that are better than they could ever have imagined!

It’s also nice to be invited to so many office warming parties!

Q: What’s the best piece of advice anyone has given you?

KT: My dad was an architect, so the apple didn’t fall far from the tree – he even worked under Steve Trotter!

He taught me to never stop learning and never give up.