Reception desk design – first impressions matter

The reception desk is the face of a company. It comes as no surprise, then, that it should help promote its values and philosophy.

They come in all shapes and sizes and their materials range from wood, through concrete, to marble. Some are minimalistic, others are extravagant but they all share one goal – they must communicate the values of a company.

Reception desks dictate the tenor of your workplace and as such, the rule is simple: if you want to make a lasting first impression, do not neglect them.

Here is a selection of eye-catching reception desks that feature a bold use of materials and captivating sculptural forms.

GDF Suez & Simply Energy, Melbourne, Australia

contemporary reception desk for GDF Suez Simple Energy
Artillery. Photography Andrew Iser

Reminiscent of a thunderbolt light, strips of light evoke currents of electricity for Australian energy provider GDF Suez.

Atelier Krikos, Punjab, India

sculptural reception desk at Atelier Krikos in India
Studio Ardete. Photography: Purnesh Dev Nikhanj

Asymmetry, sharp angles and a play on textures define the upscale reception area of Atelier Krikos. The two-tone reception desk stands out against the black mirror granite flooring.

10 Brock Street, Regents Place, London

A sculptural bronze reception desk stands proud as the centrepiece of a nine storey atrium. Its dynamic geometry is inspired by the faceted external facade of the building.

bronze reception desk at 10 Brock Street
Reception desk manufactured by Terence Conran's Benchmark Furniture company. Architect: Wilkinson Eyre.

Trading Technologies, Singapore

office reception desk at Trading Technologies
Software company Trading Technologies Singapore office. By Kyoob-id

An interesting blend of materials and styles makes for a striking reception desk built on contrasts. The wooden counter is fitted with a minimalistic cream panel that conveys warmth with a hint of modernism.

Satchi office, Guangzhou, China

sleek reception desk at Satchi office
Feeling Design. Photography © He Yuansheng

White prevails in this lobby and its crispness is highlighted by a deep blue carpet and sculptural lighting. In this reception area, less is definitely more.

Aberdeen Asset Management, Uxbridge, London

chic reception desk design
Laser cut screens by Miles & Lincoln

Miles and Lincoln created weave-patterned, laser-cut panels which add a golden touche of luxe in this corporate reception area.

Analog Folk, Shoreditch, London

cork reception desk
DH Liberty. Photography: Quintin Lake

The waiting area inside Analog Folk features a distinctive chipboard reception desk and polished concrete flooring, thus drawing inspiration from the digital advertising agency's love of traditional values and digital technologies.

Opening photo: Giant Pixel office by O+A. Photography © Jasper Sanidad

Creative restroom signage goes a long way

Restroom signage is a great opportunity to break away from traditional communication tools and convey individuality.

Wayfinding is crucial in public spaces - not only does it help users navigate through the built environment, it also gives the latter meaning. A successful wayfinding system relies on human behaviour and as such, particular attention should always be paid to restroom signage.

There are several reasons why universal toilet signs are not always the go-to choice for offices, restaurants or hotels.  

flamingo restaurant in Istanbul

Indeed, brands that opt for creative toilet signage are given a great opportunity to convey character and individuality. Likewise, landlords looking to up the value of their commercial property can rely on well thought-out restroom signage to stand out from the market. 

Photo source

In the design world, everything is in the details and smart commercial interiors have proven how critical those small, ostensibly insignificant design choices are.

In commercial real estate more than anywhere else, the magnitude of a well-kept restroom is not to be underestimated and a well-designed washroom goes hand in hand with a creative toilet sign. 

To prove it, here are several more images where restroom signage has been taken to a whole new level.

Mulini Beach, Studio 3HLD. Photo by Joao Morgado
Photo source
Novotel Hotel, Paris by Christophe Remy
PHOS Edelstahl Design
The Working Capitol, by Foreign Policy

Does your office washroom reflect your business?

How much influence can a space as small as a washroom have? After all, clients don’t come to your office to visit the restroom, they come to seal a deal. So why should landlords and tenants care about the quality of such an insignificant space? Because it is everything but insignificant.

 

When a potential prospect visits your business, the washroom may well be the first space they discover after the reception area. So why should clients feel respected if your washroom is neglected?

Often overlooked, commercial washrooms are increasingly becoming a benchmark for offices. Designed to create a positive first impression and reflect the values of the company, they are a valuable marketing asset for landlords and developers. “The world is full of people who’ll judge how good a place is by the toilet” says Argent’s Phil Harrison for the RIBA. In order to do business, developers have to understand how influential commercial washrooms are.

Leadenhall building high-spec office washroom

Washrooms in the Leadenhall  Building, by RSHP. Credit: Paul Raftery

Inside RSHP’s Leadenhall Building, otherwise known as “The Cheesegrater”, everything has been thought-out, right down to the bespoke, cheesegrater-shaped basins in the washroom. The latter also feature RSHP trademark cadmium yellow steelwork, a finish which, coupled with Domus porcelain tiles on the floor and bespoke iGuzzini shades, helps create a high-specification space.

Specifying prestige materials and finishes in your washroom can not only increase the marketability of the overall space but also help sublimate the image of a cold, corporate restroom. Such materials include laminated glass, natural stones such as granite, marble or Corian, stainless or textured steel, cast acrylic and even unusual wood veneers for a warmer look. “Washrooms are becoming a key expression of the building aesthetic” says RIBA journalist Pamela Buxton. As such, a washroom which boasts higher-quality materials will stand for the value and potential of a business.

In the heart of Mayfair, at 54 Brooks Mews, the award for most striking space would undoubtedly go to the washroom. According to developers Enstar Capital, the 6,000 square foot space is London’s most expensive office space and the luxurious washrooms could well be the reason why.

London's most expensive office with luxurious washroom

Gold-plated mosaics and marble in London's most expensive office, by Einstar Capital. Photo source

Lined in a floor-to-ceiling, gold-plated mosaic, the washroom and toilets are more reminiscent of a five-star hotel than an executive office washroom. The mirrored washbasins with integrated water, soap and hand-drying facilities also feature iconic logos designed to echo the luxurious atmosphere of Milan’s Armani Hotel. “People spend a third of their lives at work, so this is why we have fitted these premises out to a luxury-residential finish” says Enstar Capital’s Simon Lyons.

As expectations are rising, new trends are emerging within the office sector. Are superloos becoming an alternative to traditional commercial washrooms? Reminiscent of a superhero name, superloos have their own special powers. These space-saving, single units, complete with a toilet, vanity and washbasin offer a way to increase rentable space while also saving on the cost of separate male and female facilities.

What image do superloos convey of a company and how can businesses profit from this trend? Should all commercial washrooms be unisex or are conventional layouts more functional? Are superloos beginning to change our perceptions of commercial washrooms as we know them?

"Feedback is really mixed on whether people prefer a superloo or a more conventional arrangement. I do think that women in particular want loos badged male or female," says Argent’s Phil Harrison.

Can superloos help developers increase the value of an office? The potential cannot be overlooked but the question remains open for debate...

In my experience, if you have to keep the lavatory door shut by extending your left leg, it’s modern architecture. Nancy Bank-Smith

The green wall gains popularity in the workplace

Green wall inside Slack's Vancouver offices

As the green wall becomes more and more present in the workplace, we take a look at some of the most inspiring offices that feature living walls.

Last month, we discussed the benefits of green walls in your workplace. Today, we take a look at 15 offices that have used greenery to their advantage.

Whether it be a creative studio, a co-working space or a law firm, green walls are a surefire way to give your tired office a new lease of life. 

They make for great room dividers in large open plan offices, they can act as a refreshing backdrop in your meeting area or waiting room, and if you lack the space (or budget), you can always replace a poster or two with bright green, wall-mounted planters.

Don't know where to start? Here are four ways to use living walls in the workplace.

1. Uplift the reception area

Office reception area with a living wall
Fuschia pink and natural green blend in inside Microsoft's Building 44 office reception area. By  ZGF Architects
Etsy Brooklin office by Gensler
Etsy's office in Brooklyn, New York features green walls and colourful ceiling decorations. By Gensler
Large green wall in Boston office
The Sonos offices in Boston feature a large green wall in a double-height space. By IA Interior Architects
Waiting area with green wall
Eclectic waiting area with industrial elements and a lush green wall inside Maritime data analytics firm Windward's Tel Aviv office by Roy David Studio

2. Freshen up the office lobby

Large atrium with living wall
Large living wall inside Yoga clothing retailer Lululemon Athletica's office atrium in Vancouver, British Columbia. By Gustavson Wylie Architects
Insurance law firm office with living walls
Sculptural staircase and mini green walls punctuate the waiting area at insurance law firm Wotton + Kearney. By futurespace
Green wall inside Slack's Vancouver offices
Exposed brick walls, contemporary lighting and a bright living wall inside Slack's office Vancouver, British Columbia. By Leckie Studio

3. Infuse character into the breakout area

vistaprint office with a living wall
Contemporary breakout area with a green wall at Cimpress and Vistaprint. By Margulies Perruzzi Architects
Breakout area with green wall inside coworking office Hong Kong
Coworking office The Work Project in Hong Kong boasts an eye-catching green wall. By Bean Buro
Breakout area with green wall
Collaborative space with a green wall divider inside Multinational food and beverage company Mondelez International Madrid office. By Areazero 2.0
Skyscanner Budapest office
Skyscanner's Budapest office is bursting with greenery. By Madilancos Studio

4. Spruce up the common areas

breakout area with a green wall
Colourful furniture and well-lit green walls at Facebook's Tel Aviv headquarters. By Setter Architects
Green walls at BKM headquarters
Green accents add personality inside BKM headquarters by Hollander Design Group
Yandex office replete with living walls
Living walls inside tech company Yandex in Moscow. By Atrium

Green with envy: the world’s most sustainable offices

From wind turbines and CO2 monitors to foam flushing toilets and treadmill desks, sustainable office buildings around the world are raising the bar for innovation.

Three years ago, Angela Loder, then an adjunct professor at the University of Denver and a researcher in health, buildings and urban nature, highlighted three key elements in the field of sustainable buildings

  1. Materials and ventilation
  2. Daylight 
  3. Proximity to nature

It comes as no surprise, then, that the green contenders on this list have all mastered at least one, usually all three of the above. 

The Edge, Amsterdam

the-edge-amsterdam-sustainable-office

Until recently, The Edge was billed as the most sustainable office building in the world (Bloomberg's new European HQ in London recently stole the show in October 2017!) Designed by PLP Architecture. The sophisticated design, coupled with the use of innovative technologies resulted in an astonishing 98.36% BREEAM score. Home to Deloitte's headquarters, the building harvests rainwater to flush toilets and water its gardens. It also gives staff full control over temperature and light, both regulable via a smartphone app. The building produces its own energy through the use of 800 solar panels and its roof boasts a floor-to-floor scanner that detects when rooms are not being used, thus helping reduce electricity consumption.

Manitoba Hydro Place, Winnipeg, Canada

 HTFC Planning and design +  planning, urban design and landscape architecture firm PFS Studio

Located in Winnipeg, Manitoba Hydro Place uses passive design and natural ventilation to cement its place as one of North America's most energy-efficient office buildings. 

The building uses a geothermal system to heat and cool the interiors, triple-glazed windows to maximise daylight and reduce the need for artificial lighting, and exposed radiant ceiling slabs that help maintain the temperature at a comfortable 20 degrees Celcius all year round. By applying these techniques, the building achieved 65% greater energy efficiency.

The Sun-Moon Mansion, Dezhou, China

Photograph: Alex Hofford/EPA

Shaped like a sundial, the Sun-Moon Mansion houses the headquarters of the world’s largest manufacturer of solar thermal water heaters - Himin Group. With over 15,000 square meters of solar panels, the 750,000m2 building is one of the world's largest solar-powered offices.

Bank Of America, New York City

Photograph: David Sundberg / Esto

The first high rise building to get LEED Platinum certification, the Bank of America Tower at One Bryant Park in Manhattan, is one of the most sustainable skyscrapers in the world. Complete with CO2 monitors, dry urinals and LED lighting, the building also produces 4.6 megawatts of sustainable energy in its own power station.

The Shanghai Tower

Photograph: Connie Zhou/Gensler

With its 200 wind turbines, rainwater collection and reuse system, plant-filled sky lobbies and double-skinned glass facade that allows for natural ventilation, the 121-storey Shanghai Tower achieved LEED Platinum certification in 2015.

Autodesk's Spear Tower, San Francisco

Photograph: Michael Townsend/Gensler

The 3D design software company's 21,000 square metre office in San Francisco holds a LEED platinum rating, with particular emphasis on sustainable sites, water efficiency and innovation.

With its reclaimed wood ceiling, living wall and treadmill desks in an effort to keep staff active, Autodesk's minimalist office space puts an emphasis on functionality.

BrightHR, Manchester

Photograph: Jonathan Pow

All work and no play shines through as the motto of Manchester-based BrightHR, where staff can benefit from office space hoppers, scooters, game consoles and ping-pong tables. The office also prides itself on a double bed for power naps and an 18-metre lawn with football nets located at the heart of the office.

 Pearl River Tower, Guangzhou, China

Completed in 2012 and designed by Skidmore Owings & Merrill, the Pearl River Tower utilises cutting-edge technology including a radiant ceiling cooling system, solar panels, double-glazing curtain wall, demand-based ventilation air, 

SOURCE: Xinhuanet Guangdong Channel

and daylight responsive controls to claim a spot among some of the world's greenest buildings. The tower's design also helps draw wind to giant turbines that, in turn, generate clean energy.

Co-operative Group HQs, Manchester

Photograph: Christopher Thomond, via the Guardian

Just like the Shanghai Tower, the 15-storey building at One Angel Square boasts a double-layered glass facade and an open atrium designed to facilitate natural ventilation and lighting. Rated 'outstanding' by UK certification body BREEAM, it is powered by a plant oil fed system that uses rapeseed oil grown in The Co-operative's own farm.

Medibank Place, Melbourne

Photograph: Earl Carter/Hassell Architects

The design of Medibank Place was highly influenced by a thorough research on workplace design, the results of which led to a dynamic office building which promotes wellbeing working with sit-to-stand workstations. With almost 5,000 plants outside and in, 520 modular planter boxes adorning the facade, a landscaped roof garden and a 25-meter living wall, nature plays a key role in Medibank's sustainable image.

 

Is the multipurpose staircase a solution to tired offices?

Why choose a simple set of steps when you can opt for a staircase that doubles as a meeting space or breakout area?

Stairs can be ubiquitous in the workplace, particularly for bigger companies with larger floor plans and open plan layouts. They are so popular because they are built with an obvious goal in mind, and that is simply to facilitate movement from one floor to another.

Sculptural, multipurpose stair inside software company Atlassian's offices in Austin, Texas. By lauckgroup

But what if you could encourage interaction in a space as transient as the staircase? What if you could you take it up a notch by incorporating extra functions? Could a multipurpose staircase that doubles as a meeting space or a breakout area be the solution to your tired office? Could it be the way to a cleverer, more dynamic workplace?

Benches, seating areas and breakout spaces make for a great addition to a staircase, provided you have enough floorspace. The most important requirement for an efficient multipurpose staircase is to define a clear space for movement. Balustrades, a clever layout or a simple change of materials can help set boundaries.

Stair and bench space in Arnold Worldwide's Boston office. 
Staircase doubles as meeting space inside international ad agency Wieden+Kennedy's New York offices. By Work Architecture. Photo: Bruce Damonte via designboom 

Stairs can also serve multiple purposes when adorned with lush living walls, vibrant office murals or even feature walls. And since greenery and art in the workplace both have an impact on your wellbeing at the office, why not integrate them to your central staircase for everyone, including prospects, to marvel at?

Informal meeting hubs withing Soho's Living Staircase in London. By Paul Cocksedge 
TripAdvisor's Needham, Massachusetts headquarters, by Baker Design Group
Dentsu Aegis network offices in Shanghai boast a lush living walll. By PDM International
Colourful office mural inside coworking space Le Campus, Paris. By Virserius Studio

The Rio side table will lend warmth to your office waiting area

Luxurious and comfortable, the Rio side table strikes the perfect balance between corporate and homey.

Current design trends show that commercial and residential design aren't as far apart as they may seem. With 35% of our waking time spent at work, feeling at home while at the office is becoming a necessity for our wellbeing. 

Unsurprisingly, furniture can play a big part in making employees feel more at home. Instead of corporate tables and chairs, more and more offices are adopting a residential feel. Think soft seating, plush pile carpet, paintings and sculptures, anything that exudes warmth and comfort.

Office receptions, waiting areas in particular, can greatly benefit from said warmth. A careful selection of the furniture will ensure that clients and prospects are greeted with care and attention. With its textural feel and dynamic shape, the Rio side table might do just that. 

Originally designed by Charlotte Perriand for Jacques Martin's home in Rio, the Rio table was re-released by Italian furniture designer Cassina. A round side table constructed from six wedges of alternating sizes with a hole at the centre, the Rio table will lend warmth and character to your office waiting area. 

It is available in three different finishes: natural oak with a Carrara white marble top, black-stained oak with Marquiña black marble top, and natural oak with Viennese cane. 

Photos via Minima Home

The history of coworking – how did we get here?

A work trend long on the rise, coworking and the concept of office-sharing isn't as new as you might think.  

'Coworking' is on everyone's lips nowadays, but how did this revolutionary concept come about and what caused the spike of the coworking movement? We went hunting for facts and compiled them into a brief timeline depicting the history of coworking.

1995: Berlin sees the birth of C-base, one of the first hackerspaces in the world

Considered as one of the first pre-models of coworking spaces, C-base is where the history of coworking begins. A little like today's coworking spaces, C-base was a physical, community-oriented space where like-minded people with a shared interest for computers gathered and worked together under the same roof.

Along with Metalab in Vienna, C-base directly influenced the birth of hackerspaces in the United States.

Betahaus Berlin, via Creative Economy

1999: Coworking is coined, but not as we know it today

In 1999, American game designer and fun theorist – one who studies the benefits of games (yes, we are serious) – Bernard DeKoven coins the word 'coworking'. For DeKoven however, coworking is used to describe the concept of "working together as equals", as opposed to "working together, yet separate," the definition of coworking we are more familiar with today.

That same year, 42West24 break into the New York City market. A pleasant work environment with flexible desks and cancellations made possible on short notice, 42West24 is a real breakthrough, despite the lack of emphasis on the community spirit that drives coworking spaces today.

Neuhouse New York, by David Rockwell

2002: Vienna opens community centre for entrepreneurs

Two Austrian entrepreneurs partner with architects, PR consultants, freelancer and startups, and put an end to working from home. Schraubenfabrik is born but is officially defined as a community centre for entrepreneurs instead of a coworking office.

Verizon coworking space in London, via Business Insider

2005: San Francisco inaugurates world's first official coworking space

Programmer Brad Neuberg launches the first official coworking space in San Francisco. The association first offers 5 to 8 desks two days a week, free wifi and shared lunches. A year later, the coworking space closes to make way for the Hat Factory in 2006, now closed.

In 2005, Berlin opens one of the first cafés to offer free WiFi and welcome laptop users as guests, not parasites. In 2007, France follows suit and opens La Boate in Marseilles and in 2008, La Cantine and La Ruche in Paris.

La Ruche, Paris

2007: Coworking trends on Google

Since it was first seen as a trend on Google's database, the search volume for coworking' increased by a factor of 20.

Later this year, 'coworking' gets its own Wikipedia page in English. It must be official!

The Den in London, by The Collective

First impressions are the most lasting, especially in commercial real estate.

You only have seven seconds to make a great first impression –  or so you thought.

In 2014, psychologists from the university of Glasgow, Scotland and Princeton, US, showed that a simple “hello” is enough. In other words, you may only have a tenth of a second to make a strong first impression.

A tenth of a second is barely enough time to crack a smile. So exactly how do we prepare for this crucial moment? How do we introduce ourselves to the world?

We dress appropriately, we smile and we strive to look confident. In the event of a misunderstanding, we sometimes get a second chance and turn to words to make ourselves understood. But what about a building?

.

How does a building make a good first impression?

If entrances, lobbies and washrooms could speak for themselves, what would they say and most importantly, how would they say it? 

I enter a building, see a room and – in the fraction of a second – have this feeling about it, Peter Zumthor.

Thinking about first impressions is particularly beneficial in commercial real estate where business is key, investments are not light and the word ‘profit’ is on everyone’s lips.  

An entrance becomes the mirror of a company, a chance to convey your brand, convince of your abilities and show that you care. Just like you want to impress your future employer in an interview, you want your office reception to impress your future client, tenant, or prospect. 

So what do you have to do to impress?

Good design and emotions go hand in hand

In his book titled Atmospheres, architect Peter Zumthor, known for his sensuous architecture and attention to materiality, says that architectural quality correlates highly with emotions.

"What do we mean when we speak of architectural quality? It is a question that I have little difficulty in answering. Quality in architecture … is to me when a building manages to move me. What on earth is it that moves me? ... One word for it is Atmosphere."

We often talk about atmosphere and quality of space in the workplace but what about those public spaces – defining spaces – we all experience on a daily basis? How and, just as importantly, why should you strive to create this atmosphere in your office reception?

Design is a powerful tool

A successful office reception should set the tone and create a positive experience for your staff but also any potential prospect: clients, suppliers, business partners should all be engaged as soon as they cross the threshold.

In order to achieve this, you can choose to make a bold statement, like Gensler did for Olswang, an international law firm with over 500 employees.

DSC05210.jpg

Olswang's headquarters in London. 

Olswang’s headquarters, located on 90 High Holborn, in London, stands out with its 6m high, backlit onyx feature wall, visible from the street. The warm, amber glow of the onyx and its expressive, organic patterns, make it a focal point of the lobby, thus an inviting entry to a firm that describes itself as pioneering, with a distinctive approach to business law and an immersive culture.

A feature wall is a great way to engage visitors but there is a lot more to consider when designing an office reception. According to a 2014 Forbes magazine article, colour psychology can have a great impact on human behaviour and emotions. Choose your colour palette right and you could change the way visitors perceive the temperature of your reception area.

“Business owners can use this to their advantage by saving on heating and cooling costs. For example, if you live in a cold environment, painting an entryway a warm color may cause people to think your establishment is a few degrees warmer than actually is. This may allow you to keep the temperature at a slightly lower setting” says psychotherapist, speaker and college psychology instructor Amy Morin.

While different colours can give the illusion of a warmer or cooler entrance, they can also be used to convey a certain emotion. “Painting a common area of an office building blue is likely to satisfy the majority of people” Morin continues to say, so be sure to choose wisely if you want to maximise the potential of your reception area.

Broadgate tower's main lobby with colourful escalators

London's Broadgate Tower, main lobby. 

So colour schemes can alter your perception of the space. What about patterns? And have you thought about flooring, chosen your furniture, agreed on the lighting and decided on the temperature? Is your reception area accessible? Is it sustainable?

Although they may seem like a series of unnecessary expenses, thinking about and focusing on such elements can turn a public space into a sales point for your office building.

What if high-quality design could lead to higher returns on investment?

Good design adds value

This is not news to anyone: London is expensive. In 2014, The Economist published an article entitled ‘Bodies, bombs and bureaucracy’ and even though it may well inspire the title of a horror movie trilogy, it actually reflects on the capital’s costly construction.

Narrow, medieval streets, conservation areas, protected vistas and to top it all, unexploded bombs from WWII found on construction sites… “All this raises costs, which are passed on to business tenants.” According to The Economist, the rent of an office space in the West End was “twice as expensive as in Madison Avenue in New York" in 2014.

Knight Frank's newly released Skyscrapers Index, part of the Global Cities 2016 report, puts a number on this, with a London office rental price averaging £79 per sq. ft. per year, not including taxes or service charges – enough to make our heads spin.

At this rate, landlords and developers can’t waste an opportunity to optimise every space and make it cost-effective, even those forgotten spaces we often neglect: washrooms.

Good architecture has its price. But bad architecture – or no architecture at all – will cost you more, Ruth Reed

Let’s think about it for a second. Washrooms are the first place a client might visit when they come to your business. Along with the reception area and the lift lobby, your washroom should convey a positive image. Clean lines, durable materials, high-quality design that shows clients and staff that you care.

As expectations rise, landlords should see commercial washrooms as valuable marketing assets  in other words, an opportunity to help attract prospective tenants or buyers.

High-quality washrooms reflect you and your business

There are countless factors to take into consideration: hygiene, cleanliness, privacy, suitable lighting and ventilation are only a few of them. Details are of the utmost importance: smooth-locking mechanisms, sensor-activated taps, high-performance materials such as Corian or laminated glass, solid vanity units for a seamless, contemporary look (less joins also means less dirt-infested gaps where overtime, germs can accumulate).

Durability is key, particularly in high-traffic spaces. Designing commercial washrooms with that in mind will help reduce further costs related to maintenance. Non-corrosive metal fittings, resilient laminate panels are hygienic but also cost-effective options.

Modular, integrated-service vanity units are becoming increasingly popular too, pre-plumbed systems can help save time and money when it comes to specification and installation.

Commercial washroom in Broadgate Quarter, by Maxwood

Maxwood's washroom for Broadgate Quarter, London. Photo source

The new tenants of Broadgate Quarter in the heart of the City of London benefit from luxurious washrooms featuring innovative materials such as Swisslamex glass. Designed by Maxwood, in collaboration with fit-out specialists ISG, the washrooms also include lockers and benches for the rising number of London commuters who cycle to work; according to The Evening Standard, an average of 155,000 a day cycled to work in 2015.

In a report titled “Good design – it all adds up", Ruth Reed, British architect and former president of the RIBA, states there is a "danger that in the rush to cut costs we lose more than money from our building projects. To avoid diminishing the quality of life that good design brings, it is necessary to identify the value created by thoughtful and responsive architecture.”

What is good design and how to use it in commercial real estate?

There are countless trends for commercial interiors, from large-scale geometric patterns to collaborative, break-out spaces, but what about the bigger picture? How can we use design to optimise a reception area all the while turning it into an asset?

The recently unveiled Hiscox office in York could teach us a lesson or two about optimising while generating more revenue for the owner. Designed by MAKE, the office boasts a spacious atrium, featuring a 12-metre-long, decommissioned Soviet missile as a centrepiece and a grand staircase with balconies designed to encourage interaction.

Hiscox office building by Make architects

The Hiscox building boasts an airy, mixed-use atrium. Photo source: supplied. 

Aside from the bold statement the atrium makes, the latter also serves multiples functions, gathering a reception, a café, an informal meeting area and a break-out space for staff all in the same area.

Flexible spaces help landlords enhance their revenue

The 2016 Gensler Design Forecast report states the importance of mixed-use commercial office buildings. “As workers gravitate toward social settings, apart from home and work, new and repositioned “office buildings” will make room for them. Openness and connection to adjoining buildings and districts will gain importance. As mobile workers switch between office space and “third place” alternatives, owners and developers that focus on transit-served, mixed-use districts may have an edge in attracting them.”

Taking cue from residential properties and hospitality, office buildings with mixed-use lobbies could generate more revenue for owners by integrating settings that will draw traffic, even outside of work hours. Coffee shops, restaurants, conference halls, retail and even concierge services will raise the destination value.

Sustainability is a front-and-centre issue

For tenants looking for a new office space, sustainability is also a much sought-after factor and developers should see this as another resource to further drive innovation and efficiency.

A ‘green’ office reception can convey the right image and set the tone. Where possible, entrances should be bathed in natural light. Not only does this reduce the need for artificial lighting, it also creates an inviting entrance and positive atmosphere.

“Going green is good business” says Johan Karlström, president and CEO of world-leading development and construction company Skanska in the 2013 Business Case For Green Building report. The latter also states that “as investors and occupants become more knowledgeable about and concerned with the environmental and social impacts of the built environment, buildings with better sustainability credentials enjoy increased marketability.”

Green office buildings attract tenants easier and this philosophy needs to be clear from the onset. Not only will this command higher rent, it will also increase marketability.

Reception desk in the Ampersand Building by Darling Associates

The timber reception desk and wall graphics create a striking first impression. Photo source

The Ampersand building, completed in 2015, boasts a sustainable, light-filled reception intended to draw passers-by into the reception area, made accessible to the public. Designed by Darling Associates for developer Resolution, the office and residential building embraces sustainability through the use of passive design and energy efficient materials. As for the reception area, it doubles as an art installation – proof that furniture can make or break a space.

So how important are first impressions in commercial real estate?

Landlords who understand that good design adds value, also understand the importance of high-quality reception areas and washrooms. If an office reception imparts a positive feeling, if a washroom tells a story of quality, then the rest of the space is bound to follow the same principles.  

Ergonomic furniture, exquisite materials, eye-catching details, all join forces to ensure those public spaces make a good first impression. Such functional, optimised areas will increase the office marketability, particularly if sustainability is taken into consideration.

Reception areas that integrate amenities such as coffee shops and retail will also generate more revenue for owners, thus making mixed-use spaces particularly profitable.  

In the words of Oscar Wilde, “you never get a second chance to make a first impression”, especially in commercial real estate, where valuable customers like being identified as such. So if your business relies on a fraction of a second, how will you make it count?

The sound of silence: pitch-perfect acoustics in the workplace

Bad acoustics are a by-product of busy open-plan offices that continue to thrive. Is it time for a change? 

Fine-tuning the open-plan office

Offices are inherently loud, open plan offices even more so. Loud conversations, phones ringing, keyboards clicking... Energy becomes dissonance and poor acoustics end up hurting wellbeing and productivity in the workplace.

By its virtue, sound reverberates with every surface. Picture an office with a polished concrete floor, an exposed concrete structure and a glazed facade - every ringtone and phone conversation bounce from one hard surface to the next until finally, it is absorbed by nothing other than the ears of the workers. Before long, employees lose focus and the workplace turns into chaos buzzing with distractions.

EchoPanel ® office partitions by Kirei

1. Sound absorption

Using sound absorbing materials can provide some acoustic relief and restore much-needed levels of peace and quiet in virtually every area of your office. Think reception areas, conference rooms, breakout spaces and open plan offices with activities ranging from phone intensive to focus work.

Where can you use sound absorption? 

Acoustical ceilings

The American Ag Credit Union headquarters in Santa Rosa, US boast a smooth visual ceiling with total acoustic performance, by Armstrong Ceiling Solutions

To absorb a significant amount of noise in your office, you can use high performing acoustical ceiling tile with an NRC rating (Noise Reduction Coefficient) of .75 or higher. The NRC rating indicates how absorptive a material is. Ratings of .50 (50 percent) are typical of an average acoustical ceiling tile while some of the best acoustical panels boast a rating of 1 (100 percent.)

Although not a favourite in terms of aesthetics, acoustical ceiling tiles are easy to drop into your standard ceiling grid, thus making for a quick fix to bad acoustics at the office.

Sound absorbing panels

Felt acoustic wall panels, Cleveland House, London. Designer: Anne Kyyro Quinn

If an acoustical ceiling is not the right design approach for your office, you might want to consider baffles or decorative acoustic panels, both available in ceiling and wall-mounted versions and in every shape or form imaginable.

How do you choose between baffles and ceiling panels? The main difference lies in the mounting. While panels are fixed horizontally, baffles are mounted vertically – the former allows for optimal sound absorption while the latter is perfect for busy ceilings or in offices with skylights that wouldn't be blocked.

Acoustic panels come in varying forms and sizes, from large discs to leaf-shaped panels and by placing them in strategic, loud places in the office, the noise levels can be significantly reduced. 

Cork board tiles

Composite cork tile. Lars Beller Fjetland for Spinneybeck

This is your ticket to blissful acoustics with added aesthetic value. Expanded cork wall sheets offer a perfect vibroisolation, thermal insulation and acoustic isolation. Cork panels can be left to shine or finished with paint, lacquer or wood stain.

Use warmly textured cork panels to lend character to your office and, depending on location, transform parts of it into a decorative yet functional tackboard for ideas to be pinned down. 

Acoustic office furniture

Soft Seating Collection for common areas, by Boss Design

Sound absorbing furniture is yet another creative way to manage poor acoustics in the workplace. From high-back acoustic sofas and privacy lamp shades to sound absorbing dividers and work bays, there is a plethora of innovative acoustic furniture designs on the market.

Perhaps best suited to intimate meeting spaces and waiting areas that are part of open plan office, wrap-around furniture offers a cocoon of silence that fosters privacy.

There is plenty of research that shows that the most destructive sound of all is other people’s conversations.

Julian Treasure

2. Sound masking

Interestingly, sound masking is the physical opposite of sound absorption – instead of removing sound, it adds it. It isn't about making the space noisier though, but rather about distracting the ear from other noise.

Small speakers placed in the ceiling or mounted to posts emit pre-programmed, frequency-appropriate white noise designed to mask conversations. The soft, uniform background noise elevates the ambient noise level so that conversations at a distance becomes unintelligible.

This technique is ideal in offices where quiet is too quiet, where the sound of a pen dropping or a bag of crisps being cracked open echoes throughout the space, making for an uncomfortably eerie environment.

A well-tuned sound masking system will deliver uniform sound at the right volume and within the right spectrum, halving the radius of distraction from an average of 13 meters to 6.

Cost-effective and easy to install, a sound masking system will not affect the aesthetics of your office; it will however highly improve its acoustics.

The Bridgespan Group office with integrated QtPro™ Sound Masking System by Cambridge Sound

Which acoustic solution is best for me?

Many variables come into play when deciding which solution is best for your office but the likely answer will often be: a little bit of both. Most open plan offices often sway between loud and dead quiet several times a day. In such instances, absorption would help subdue the loudness while masking would ensure the right levels of privacy between desks with the help of a quiet hum.

Fine-tuning your office may be hard but it is not impossible. With a little help from a professional, your office can quickly become an acoustic feast for all five senses.

We experience every space in five senses so it's strange that architects design just for the eyes

Julian Treasure
Opening photo: Architecture Research Office Collection - wool felt modular panels by FilzFelt