Paragon Interface redefines workspace planning for the office of the future
Striking a balance between working from home and returning to the workplace is likely to result in the ‘hybrid office’ of the future, according to Paragon Interface Senior Associate Kirsty Schoombie.
The ‘hybrid office’ is defined as the ideal compromise between remote working and being office-bound, as was the norm prior to Covid-19. Instead, in this ‘new normal’, employees continue to work from home while being required to be in the office on occasion. This will allow for interaction with fellow colleagues and bolster corporate culture, especially with larger companies. “Yes, there is an associated cost-saving with having your staff work remotely,” acknowledges Schoombie. However, the phenomenon dubbed as ‘Zoom fatigue’, which refers to the increased cognitive demands posed by constant teleconferencing, indicates that workers would prefer some level of human interaction as the world slowly recovers from the pandemic.
This will also give interior architecture companies like Paragon Interface the opportunity to ‘reimagine’ the office of the future. “With social distancing, sanitising and mask-wearing likely to be with us for the foreseeable future, it is important for workspace planning to take this into account,” highlights Schoombie. This can easily be done by reducing the number of work stations and placing them further apart, while also increasing the number of couches for social seating, for example.
Wider corridors and doorways and additional partitioning will become more common, while even office furniture is likely to evolve in terms of fabrics and advances such as foldaway desks. Other features include no-touch doors, increased use of stairs to reduce crowding in elevators, and the use of materials such as silver and copper in surface finishes due to their antimicrobial properties.
Management consultant McKinsey highlights four steps to redefine workspaces post Covid-19: Optimising basic processes so that remote work is as uninterrupted and as effective as possible; redefining work roles in terms of ‘fully remote’ and ‘hybrid remote’; redesigning the workspace to foster safe collaboration; and optimising the office footprint accordingly.
Schoombie points out that the latter does not necessarily mean reducing the physical size of an office building per se, but rather using interior design to improve space utilisation and planning. Traditional layouts will have to be reconsidered, with the addition of Perspex screening now a regulatory requirement. This is likely to result in a more modular approach to workspace design. Another area likely to change significantly post Covid-19 is the office canteen or cafeteria.
“With so much time now being spent working from home, it is going to become increasingly important for people to ensure that their ‘home offices’ are comfortable and practical. This is essential for both personal well-being and productivity,” concludes Schoombie.
Paragon conceptualises workplace design solution for Deloitte
When global professional services firm Deloitte decided to consolidate its offices into its new African headquarters, bringing together 3 700 employees in a custom-designed building geared for future expansion, it turned to Paragon to conceptualise the workplace design solution. The architecture and interior architecture company clinched the bid for the project at the end of 2018, just when it was completing its award-winning fit-out of the new Discovery Place head office in Sandton.
The 42 500 m2 Deloitte development in Waterfall City in Midrand, Johannesburg is known as River Creek. It is a 50/50 joint venture between Attacq and Atterbury. River Creek comprises a ground floor, six office-space storeys and four basement parking levels with almost 2 000 parking bays.
“As a large single-tenant facility, this fully digital, connected ‘smart’ building has been designed to enable a dramatic cultural shift for this progressive organisation,” comments Paragon Director Claire D’Adorante.
The aesthetic interior design concept conceptualises a distinct and identifiable Deloitte brand experience through the extensive and deliberate use of its primary and secondary brand colours. Balanced with warm timbers and the extensive use of planting, a natural and inviting indoor environment flooded with natural light from the central atrium has been created.
The six levels of workspace incorporate a dramatic cascade of colour, representative of the Deloitte brand colours, which enhances the overall brand experience of the facility, as well as providing a distinct way-finding mechanism.
Large open floor plans, with no cellular offices, allow the multiple business units to easily share working spaces and building facilities as well as enabling interaction, collaboration and social engagement.
To offset the loss of traditional offices, a variety of cellular and open-plan collaborative spaces have been provided to deal with the need for quiet and also for group working spaces. The ground floor has been designed to create a seamless client experience and be open and welcoming for the client-facing meeting and training rooms, as well provide all the shared lifestyle facilities.
A coffee shop, restaurant, pub and an external pizza oven complete the overall employee experience. The ground floor is also home to Deloitte’s new Xcelerator experience comprising eight distinct and unique spaces that offer clients a range of high-tech opportunities and digitally immersive experiences to ideate and prototype breakthrough solutions.
The workplace strategy was conceptualised around a ‘neighbourhood’ and ‘energy’ concept, explains Paragon Associate Dale Friedman. Zones of higher energy, linked to louder and more active environments, are located nearer the primary circulation routes and zones of intersection. This ensures that these spaces are active and promote collaboration and interaction.
The lower-energy functions, which require greater focus and a quieter space, are located further away from the central core to aid in the focused work required here. Each neighbourhood has all the same collaboration areas that allow for the varied task-based functions required. The atrium edge has also been activated through the incorporation of an agile and task-based workspace corridor, affectionately known as the ‘race track’ and connected by the link bridges.
As Deloitte works mainly on laptops, these shared collaboration spaces enable staff to work where they feel comfortable, based on the task at hand. The multi-generational workforce also meant from the get-go that a ‘one-size-fits-all’ design principle would not work. “Everyone can find a type of setting best suited to them and their task, meaning happier staff who enjoy their working environment,” highlights Friedman.
Technology was the next important element. It is critical that someone can sit down anywhere and have all the necessary tools at hand. “Often technology can be challenging to use and frustrates people when you cannot connect easily. Therefore, it was an important driver to ensure that technology was a seamless support for users,” stresses Friedman.
A custom-designed iconographic signage system with integrated QR codes, developed specifically for Deloitte, provides users with information on how to use each agile workspace and is linked to the ‘smart’ building system. QR codes allow users to easily find out more about the workspace, such as the particular etiquette for the quieter spaces to the more collaborative settings, and also how to connect to the technology and log any faults that users may experience.
Paragon is a finalist in the ‘Office Design’ category at the 2020 SBID (Society of British & International Interior Design) Awards for the Deloitte Waterfall project in Midrand. Public voting is invited for this finalist and closes on 30 September. Visit https://bit.ly/3mvcj79 in order to cast your vote online.
Pullman Accra Airport City is Paragon Architects’ key project in Ghana
The 365-key Pullman Accra Airport City Hotel & Serviced Apartments in Accra, Ghana is the largest project designed by Paragon Architects and under construction at present. The 40 000 m2 development is substantial in the context of many African cities and the largest hospitality facility of its kind in Ghana.
Project Director and founding director of Johannesburg-based Paragon Group, Henning Rasmuss commented that it was an ambitious project.
The 13-storey above-ground structure consists of a 219-key business hotel and 149 units of branded serviced apartments, with basement parking for 211 vehicles. The hotel includes an elaborate and generous banquet hall for conferencing and events. The lifestyle offering is centred on an open garden terrace with façades that integrate artworks by local and international artists, mainly Ghanaian. This aspect is still under development.
Inter-Afrique Properties, the client, favoured a clearly sculptural, strong form and colour contrasts and a rooftop entertainment area with an infinity pool. This vision of an after-hours, urban, upmarket lifestyle deck was of paramount importance from the outset, notes Rasmuss. The client’s vision is predicated on its overarching objective to deliver a superior hospitality asset that responds to both current and future demands of the market in Accra. The client has also driven the interior design vision in conjunction with Shiralee Darley and the team from DIAD.
The project has been under construction since January 2019. Earthworks, excavations, foundations and basements have been completed, with the ground, mezzanine and podium floors anticipated to top out in August 2020. Paragon became involved with the project in 2013 upon its introduction to Inter-Afrique Properties by Grahame Lindop, a South African development manager.
Rasmuss explained that they have built this relationship by going through many iterations of the design on two different sites. He added that they have possibly undertaken an equal amount of development management and advice as they have architecture.
Initially, the brief was for a large single-phase mixed-use hotel and apartments building along with a small shopping galleria over two levels. This scheme was to be developed on an adjacent site at Airport City in Accra. However, in response to market dynamics, the project size and product mix have changed over time to achieve its final scope, under construction at present. The current brief and scope were bedded down in 2017, in close collaboration with Accor as an operator, following its appointment and the selection of the Pullman brand in 2014.
The client engaged Arup as the multi-disciplinary engineer in 2015. The Arup engineering practice and the Accor technical assistance team, in conjunction with Paragon Architects, then rationalised the structure around the specific Pullman room sizing. The team also worked with the interior designer to absorb and implement the brand standards for the hotel and serviced apartments. This translated into an intensive four-month collaboration in early 2018.
The main challenge from a technical viewpoint was the roads system in Airport City, which Rasmuss notes proved challenging for a project of this magnitude. In addition, the ground conditions in Accra required that seismic risk be considered, adding to the structural complexity.
Paragon collaborated with Robert Hayford and Kweku Hayford from rhayCAD Architects, its partner firm in Ghana since 2014, as part of the client’s requirement for local participation. Diagonal Projects, as project manager under Moses Honu, ensured that the Ghanaian and South African working cultures meshed seamlessly.
Crane Construction Consultants steered the project through the changing cost implications of the construction sector over the years with an even hand. The main contractor is MAN Enterprise, a Lebanon-based international contracting company with extensive hotel experience in West Africa, including Ghana. The range and number of sub-contracts is still growing as the project develops.
While Paragon has designed three other large mixed-use and hotel projects for the Inter-Afrique Group on various sites in Ghana over time, the Pullman Airport City project has been its key collaboration, led by Chairperson Dr. Kwame Nyantekyi-Owusu.
The technical side of the project has been ably driven by engineer Ernest Larmie and supported by Emmanuel Yartey, a project analyst at Inter-Afrique Properties, both key client representatives. The fact that the Inter-Afrique Properties’ team has been in place throughout the duration has benefited the end product in terms of embedded knowledge, continuity and better decision-making.
IBC Equity Partners, led by Anthony Siaw, has provided transaction advisory services to the client, ranging from contract negotiations with the professional team through to the negotiation of the Engineering, Procurement and Construction (EPC) contract and raising the capital for this landmark US$120 million project.
Dr. Nyantekyi-Owusu explained that they have decided to phase the construction into two phases, the Earth Works Contract (EWC) and the EPC contract. The EWC which is currently ongoing will see the core and the built to the podium level and the EPC contract will see the completion and commissioning.
During the lifespan of this project, Paragon itself has designed and completed other smaller and less complex hotel projects in Africa.