Working design: Reviewing 3 different architecture studio offices
While architecture is very much about serving the community at large, studios across the world need their own spaces. It is in these offices that all buildings, from the loftiest skyscrapers to the tiniest micro homes, are plotted from concept to execution.
The thing is, no architectural practice is the same. Some are one-man bands; others multinational, globe-spanning organisations. So, the design and layout of architect’s workplaces differs as much as the works they produce.
In this article, we’ll take a look at how three different sized practices tackled the challenge of designing and building their own unique work spaces – and how the size of their operations determined the makeup of their office environments.
BetweenSpaces’ Office – Bangalore, India – BetweenSpaces
Bangalore-based architecture firm BetweenSpaces believes that architecture should be a “dialogue between spaces”; conversations between the mortar, bricks, glass, water, light and even air. They are also fascinated by the way their projects interact with their surroundings and the way they occupy the environment.
Their north-facing studio in the southeast of Bangalore reflects these beliefs and fascinations. The studio is a harmonious dialogue between the “contradicting” materials the studio is built from; concrete, kiln burnt bricks, and several types of wood and steel in their unpolished state. All of these materials vary widely in terms of tones, colours and textures, but they have been manipulated in such a way that give a certain sense of cohesion when used together.
Both the interior and the exterior of the building share certain features that lend an industrial quality to the structure, including exposed brick walls, concrete elements, and black steel railings. The architects also opt for grey Indian Patent Stone (IPS) flooring in the studio.
The materials are deliberately chosen to achieve an urban, contemporary look, and using these same materials—treated to a similar finish—both inside and outside of the building adds to that sense of cohesion. The entire structure is made of straight, rigid lines with minimum curvature for a minimalistic effect.
The defining feature of this studio lies in its façade; the two upper levels of the building are screened off with folding steel shutters that can be opened and closed—as the company puts it, forming a “covered veranda thinning the line between the inside and outside”. It changes the way the structure interacts with its environment.
When opened, the physical barrier between the inside of the studio and the outside world is virtually eliminated, revealing the interior of the studio to the outside world and changing the perspective for the people working inside of the studio.
When closed, the inside of the studio will be shielded from view, closed off from the outside world. The perforations, however, will still allow rays of daylight to stream in. The sliding aluminium glazed window behind the perforated shutter panels allows for natural light to stream in while also allowing uninterrupted view of the tree-lined streets.
“The concrete fins, the wire cut brick walls in rat trap bond and perforated metal sheet sliding folding shutters add certain ruggedness to the building and at the same time bring lightness into the structure,” the architects explained, “The simple strategy of a single material [perforated steel shutters] helped in achieving a very minimal yet dynamic façade.”
The building stands four storeys tall in a relatively new suburb—the two upper levels are used as the office/studio, while the two lower levels house BetweenSpaces’ co-founder and principal architect, Divya Ethirajan. There is a dedicated stairway and entrance for staff and visitors on the side of the building that will lead them straight to the reception and waiting area in the studio.
Living areas are also shielded from view using concrete fins to preserve some privacy while allowing daylight to enter. The residence goes for a similar, yet slightly different aesthetics compared to the studio—where the studio uses IPS flooring, the residence uses yellow oxide flooring to add warmth.
A further variation in tones and textures comes from the different types of timber used in the furniture of the studio—the panelling in the pantry and printing area uses pinewood over ply base.
Images: © Kunal Bhatia
MVRDV Rotterdam Headquarters – Rotterdam, the Netherlands – MVRDV
There seems to be a growing trend towards having offices that do not necessarily look like offices. From Googleplex with its nap pods and massage rooms, to smaller start-ups with exposed brick walls, hot desks, and complex coffee machines, the idea is by prioritising employees’ comfort and contentedness, as well as encouraging collaboration, productivity can be ramped up.
Dutch architecture and urban design firm MVRDV has recently moved into a 2,400 sqm space in the warehouse-like building complex Het Industriegebouw that does not look like your standard office space. Het Industriegebouw was designed by Hugh Maaskant, a post-war architect, in 1952, and is home to several creative, technical and entrepreneurial industries. The complex also has several pop-up cafes and restaurants that act as social hubs for the people in the building.
MVRDV’s new central Rotterdam studio is bright, airy and colourful. It has features not commonly found in other offices and also spacious enough to accommodate ever growing number of employees, currently at 140-person strong. What sets this office apart is its “home style”.
“The expanding MVRDV family needed a new house; so this is exactly what we tried to capture. Everything that the home requires, a living room, a dining room, a sofa for the whole house to sit together,” explained Jacob van Rijs, co-founder of MVRDV. “This was also a chance to capture how we work and function as an office, then tailor-make new spaces that would boost our working methods and output—efficient spaces that enhance the collaborative ways in which we work.”
The new workspace is aimed to accommodate for “future, flexible growth and collaboration within the building”. The family house feel the firm is trying to cultivate is further enhanced by the presence of a wall lined with family pictures.
The new MVRDV House has several multi-coloured meeting rooms to one side of the studio, spread over two levels and with a ceiling that gently curves upwards. Each meeting room is completely painted in one colour, from floor to ceiling to all the fittings. The colour assigned to each room corresponds to different functions—green for informal meetings or friendly games of ping pong, dark blue for larger formal meetings or presentations, and red for the room with a television set.
One side of each meeting room is built glass-fronted—as MVRDV puts it, it is “like a section through a doll’s house”. The glass walls enable project teams to scribble doodles and diagrams to illustrate their points, while also going for a collective atmosphere. As the company described, you can always see other people within the space. Other rooms include a drawing room for workshops, a game room, library room, and a lounge, with a courtyard on the way.
To access the rooms on the upper level, employees will have to go up a staircase that also acts as a communal seating area, where employees can sit together and have a nice chat. Across this staircase is the circular reception. A minimalistic “vegetation chandelier”, circular in shape and made from light-coloured wood with plants tumbling down from the top, floats above the reception.
The new office places an emphasis on MVRDV’s collaboration culture and aims to foster strengthen the sense of community in the workplace. This is visualised from the communal spaces within the office. In addition to the staircase that doubles as a set of bleachers, there is also a 30m long communal dining table stretching across the “family room”, where the employees in the office could sit together for a meal and have social interactions.
The new office also has a large tribune with a projection screen that can be used for several important purposes, such as to watch lectures, office presentations or football matches.
The central working space, dubbed The Atelier, occupies a large open space with high ceilings and no partitions. The décor here adopts a more common black-and-white colour palette, unlike the sectioned meeting rooms. It is brightly lit, due to a number of skylights and large windows that flood the room with sunlight.
The directors, on the other hand, opted to occupy a somewhat darker corner near the printer and coffee corner.
Images: © Ossip van Duivenbode
Treetop Office – Adelaide, Australia – Mark Pritchard Architects
Adelaide-based Max Pritchard is an architect whose studio has received more than 40 awards and commendations. One of his most recent works that has received a commendation is a tiny studio that he built as a satellite structure in his own residence, a small cylindrical structure no more than four metres in diameter. The studio consist of two storeys and measures 6 metres in height, with an overhanging flat roof to protect the building from the elements.
Pritchard built the studio from scratch as an addition outside his gleaming metal-and-glass self-designed home rather than modifying the house to add studio space in. The construction work includes a circular wooden table built with timber offcuts, lending it the same colour as the structure.
He undertook all the construction work other than the electrical work himself. “I think many architects would benefit from making the time to get this sort of experience,” Pritchard said in an interview with Dezeen. “I’m probably going too far to say designers should be able to build their own designs, but certainly if they could build small structures it would help their understanding for the construction process and materials.”
The studio provides a contrast to the main residence in a number of ways—while the main residence consists of straight lines and sharp edges that form a linear pavilion, the studio adopts a circular form. In the architect’s own words, the circular shape of the studio gives a “sense of enclosure” compared to the “extreme openness” of the main house. Indeed, the openings in the house consist of a full-height curving window that also runs down vertically in a T-like shape to allow plenty of natural light in on both storeys, as well as a narrow slit at the rear of the studio that acts as the entrance to the studio.
This allows plenty of sunlight in to light up the vibrant space. The first floor can be accessed via a small timber-decked bridge that connects the opening at the back of the studio with the sloping hill that also leads to the main residence. The ground floor, on the other hand, acts as a storage space that can be accessed directly through the opening at the back, also with a curved path that leads into the main residence. The studio is perched on a higher terrain with a window that overlooks the sea and the treetops, allowing Pritchard to enjoy the view as he works. The views, according to Pritchard, “enhances a vibrant yet peaceful space.”
The materials chosen for the two buildings are also different; while the main residence is rather futuristic looking with its sleek white steel beams and floor-to-ceiling glass windows, the studio is more organic, not only in form but also in regards to the materials from which it is built.
The studio is built from sheets of locally sourced hoop pine plywood with a warm, almost golden finish, joined together by dark hardwood battens that provide contrasting colour. The studio’s floor joins the stripes the hardwood battens made and concentrates all the lines in the middle, taking on a radial pattern. This radial pattern is also echoed on the ceiling, forming continuous lines from the centre of the ceiling to the centre of the floor.
The custom-built table is placed at the very centre of this circle, where all the lines are joined together. The table’s four legs are shaped in such a way that they align with the lines on the floor. The windows and the built-in bookshelves that occupy half the walls on the upper level are also divided neatly to follow the pattern. This lends a strong sense of cohesion to the entire structure, as the interior and exterior look carefully integrated.
Heating and cooling in the studio is also all-natural. The horizontal glass louvres running down both levels provide cross ventilation, while the lid-like roof can provide shade to cool down the inside from the hot Australian sun. In the colder seasons, heating is thoroughly provided by the winter sun. The sun is enough to warm up the rooms, as Adelaide’s winters tend to be quite mild.
Images: © Sam Noonan
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