Office interior architecture and design in the modern sense of the word caught on in Russia right after the collapse of the Soviet Union – until then, the country had been isolated from all global trends, including the design of workspaces. So with the advent of Western corporations with their well-established requirements that their company’s office in Moscow was in no way inferior to the one in London or New York, post-Soviet Russia generated a solid demand for the services of professional office architects and designers.
However, for some time, an office architect’s work was seen as a kind of packing service: the office was considered a ‘box’ that had to be nicely packed, and the rest – the people who use it – would be a matter of course. Designing Tetra Pack packaging was little different from office architecture as far as the public mind was concerned. The attitude towards architects did not change until Western companies recognized the huge potential of the workspace – until the office became a targeted tool for HR, PR, marketing and so on. This coincided with the onset of the internet boom and the rapid growth of IT companies in the late 1980s – early 1990s and peaked by the 2000s. This approach to office design reached Russia in the 21st century.
Google was the first to sense the change in the generation of employees for whom the ability to just sit in their office and work hard was no longer enough. They needed a new and relaxing office environment where they would not get tired psychologically, and would be able to alter and customize their workplace and atmosphere. It was IT companies that developed the approach where an employee could use 100% of the workspace 24 hours a day to do what they needed to do. This has probably been the most well-known and best-selling approach since.
The opposite situation is an absolutely clear example of ultimate conservatism in business. We are talking about the legal profession, of course. Legal services are built in a completely different way where neither an open space nor any interior innovation that is characteristic of IT companies will work. In this industry, there are no such concepts as project work, open exchange or informal communication. Everything is strictly confidential and classified information is shared by two people at the most. This is why offices of the law firms in 2019 will not be fundamentally different from the law firms in 1980. There may have been some developments in style but the approach to designing workspaces has not changed.
The rest of the business world is all over the spectrum between the two extremes and to a large extent the architect’s task depends on how a certain business sees itself. For example, if in the past the most common structure of a company was a boss and 30 subordinates, later a revelation came that four project teams of five people each are more efficient and, therefore, the space where the company operates must change accordingly. An architect must organize workspace for the comfort of the company’s employees.
Current trends in workspace design follow transformation of businesses themselves. The increasing demand for high professionalism is the main consequence of this shift. For example, a modern client reasonably expects that an architect did his homework and understands the nature and specifics of the client’s business at the very early stages of cooperation. Ideally, is it a meeting between professionals where both of them – the client and the architect – can exchange important information, make their position clear and reach the best result.
Any transformation in design of a business interior begins with the transformation of the business itself. Therefore, the architect’s best strategy is to follow the client and meet their demands. Speaking of IT companies, it is important to note that even this large area of expertise once divided into ‘IT people’ and ‘computer people.’ As a result, there is a demand for the development of various workspaces for the first and the latter. Those who are informally called ‘computer people’ would prefer a classic office with many rooms. Those engaged in IT development will like a large, spacious room, where project teams will be able to work in various formats. The architect has to be able to hear their clients and do what they tell him if he wants to succeed.
As for architects themselves, of course, it is more fun to work with a client who wants something unusual, for this allows the designer to use their creativity. But on the other hand, it is much easier to design an office when the task is clear and simple. At the same time, the ability to get creative in such conditions is interesting in itself. So it does not mean that working with law firms is boring: most often such projects are as difficult and interesting as designing an office for the most liberal IT company.
Nikolay Milovidov, Co-owner, UNK project architectural bureau