Kuba Granicki, Alessio Lacovig and Mike Rassmann, the three partners behind Johannesburg-based Architects Of Justice, sat down to have a discussion on how an architect can add value to a client’s workspace.
What is changing in current workplaces?
Mike Rassmann: I think in particular in South Africa, there is a lot of awareness around costs with electricity getting more expensive, along with the environment which has been pretty much ignored up until now. Ten or twenty years ago it was acceptable to let the lights burn all day in the office, but now people want natural light. They also don’t necessarily want to be in an air conditioned space because they don’t want to get sick from the guy sitting next to them, so workers want more quality out of their workspace and offices need to provide that.
How are you currently tackling office design?
Rassmann: One of our recent projects, Rubela Park, was geared around tailoring the building to appear in a certain way. It was a very engineering-based look, so we had industrial, exposed services, but we designed some flexibility into it so that if someone wants to change it in the future, they can still put in a drop-in ceilings and make it look like a regular office space internally without having to gut the place. We took the approach to add that flexibility from the start, as the lifetime of a building easily exceeds tenants and trends. For this project, another big influence was natural lighting in the spaces so that you don’t have offices full of lights burning electricity all day.
Is adding flexibility into a new office build a common thing?
Rassmann: Last year we did a tenant fit-out in an existing building designed by somebody else and it was quite difficult to divide the space because of the way the original architects had designed the windows on the façade. For the office buildings we are working on at the moment, Alessio has gone to a lot of effort to try and get an optimal window arrangement on the façade so that when you start chopping up the offices you don’t have to have drywall partitions going halfway through the window. They can rather end up in a more logical position.
Alessio Lacovig: Which I will add is actually very difficult to do! The point is that we are conscious about it and we are thinking about it and that’s the value-add that you put into a building. It’s not just about how much light do we need and what’s the budget, it’s what is the best division, what height? It’s finding that balance between all those elements.
How would you generally add value to a client’s workspace to ensure that it remains flexible for a number of years?
Rassmann: On an office project on which we are currently working, the client has asked for full height drywall partitioning with glass at the top; in terms of future flexibility, we are being very mindful of the need for power supply and cabling, and are working this into the project from the start. In terms of finishing, we have selected certain spaces in the office which need to have a bit more of a ‘wow’ factor, such as the reception and meetings rooms, and have spruced these areas up a little more. Although these areas are designed specifically to impress visitors, the staff lounge and staff kitchen area have also received more money in the budget to ensure that the staff areas are not bland.
For both flexibility and longevity, the choice of materials is also of great importance. Areas of high and low traffic need to be identified and specified for correctly.
Do you believe that this is done enough in the architecture of today?
Rassmann: I would hope that other architects have these considerations as well. With many buildings today, a developer designs them with an architect, and then they are handed over to a tenant who does their own interiors. What we are trying to do, is offer a turnkey solution, so that when we are designing the façade, we are also cognisant of the interiors at the same time. Office buildings are not a one-size-fits-all scenario, and we like to be involved in both the architecture and the interiors to ensure an optimally performing workspace.
How do you balance following the current trends in design with incorporating a tenant’s future needs?
Rassmann: The obvious question to ask is, what is the expected growth of the company, along with the expected lease period? From there we can discern the client’s needs and desires, and then design the spaces according to the information we have received. Trends come and go, as do tenants, so architects need to ensure that a workspace is flexible enough to evolve, not only in terms of trends, but also as the company inhabiting the building changes.
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