Doing Justice To Office Design

The three partners behind Johannesburg-based Architects Of Justice, sat down to have a discussion on the workplaces of the future, determining a client’s needs, and adding value in office design.

Bongani Rainmaker Logistics by Architects of Justice in collaboration with On-Target Interiors. (Dominic Barnardt Photography)

Kuba Granicki, Alessio Lacovig and Mike Rassmann, the three partners behind Johannesburg-based Architects Of Justice, sat down to have a discussion on the workplaces of the future, determining a client’s needs, and adding value in office design.

One of the major challenges nowadays in office design is that in the modern office, workers are no longer as tied to the office as they were in the past. “There are international companies with offices all over the world and they are delivering a service 24 hours a day, and whichever branch is awake at that time is doing the work,” explains Granicki. “Those sort of global accelerations are the things that are affecting the workplace, but in my opinion, the workplace is the slowest to adapt to them, and once it does, it’s already evolving again.”

From our experience, the office space has changed dramatically, and it is continuing to evolve,” notes Rassmann, citing the trend of people working from home, where spaces such as the study are disappearing. “Your office is becoming the dining room table, your bed or a coffee shop – your office is a bag and a laptop and you can literally fold it open and fold it shut. Yet we are seeing this played out in offices spaces as well.” Architects Of Justice are currently proposing offices for a medical company and the client wants them to include a number of hot desks as the staff will come and go as they please. “Due to the nature of work of staff in many businesses today, they do not have to sit at the same place all the time, so they don’t even need their own things there. Just somewhere to sit, plug-in, and work. Obviously some people still like to have pictures of their kids floating around, but for a lot of people, that’s not the way they work anymore,” he says.

When tackling an office project, it is imperative for the architects to try to understand the client’s business. Lacovig explains that they tend to ask the client a number of questions before embarking on the design; “How do your salespeople work? Do they come into the office every day or are they mainly out on the road? What are their needs when they get back to the office? Yet firstly we need to find out if the client themselves understands their own business as it stands now, and how it will evolve in the long term.” Granicki agrees; “A lot of clients just know that they are not happy and they need a change. From there you have to dig it all up – is it growth, do you just need a new look, or are you changing your business structure?”

As for future trends, the partners from Architects of Justice believe that despite all the new technology infiltrating businesses, offices might be places where staff go back to connect to physicality. “Look at the library for instance; you don’t have to go there to get a book these days, but people go there to study because it’s quiet, and maybe the office space is going to be something like that. Yes, you can work at home but maybe home can’t give you the fancy coffee machine and all those things you need. It’s not about your desk anymore, it’s more about the environment that you are in – maybe that’s the next big thing,” suggests Rassmann.

“At the end of the day, people still need a space to work in,” says Lacovig. “Ergonomically speaking, you need somewhere to sit, somewhere to stand, somewhere to put your things, so those smaller elements of an office space don’t change. The change is how that office space is defined. Is it an amalgamation of lots of little desks or is it a flexible environment to allow you to have a meeting here, a conference call there, a boardroom table in that space? 

Google, as an example, are a company which has changed the game according to the partners at Architects Of Justice. “They feed you, they take care of your washing, they have people to take care of your every need. When you are at Google, they get the best out of you because they make you comfortable in your work environment,” says Granicki. “I think that a lot of other companies want to claim that they are like Google, but they haven’t restructured their entire company to work that way.”

Lacovig notes that the sway of millennials in the workplace is playing a huge role in office design, but that the effects of their influence will only be seen in the next decade. He believes that much of the design though is driven by cost and economy. “Offices went from everybody getting their own office, which is obviously more demanding in terms of space, to the cubicle scenario where you are trying to cram more people into your building. Then the partitions were removed so companies could jam more people into the space, with obvious negative ramifications. Therefore modern office environments need to be flexible to accommodate a number of scenarios.”

One of their 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,” says Rassmann.

Architects Of Justice are conscious of the need to build flexibility into every project they design: “that’s the value-add that you put into a building,” says Lacovig. “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.”

I would hope that other architects have these considerations as well,” adds Rassmann. “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.”


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