A look at past and future design trends in architecture and construction; how does this affect the fit out industry?

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By Marcos Bish, Managing Director, Summertown Interiors

Today, design is about more than aesthetics and functionality. It is, more than ever, about helping businesses create value. Dark, dull, monotone offices are fast becoming a thing of the past. With today’s employees spending more than 30 percent of their lives at work, building a flexible and creative environment that nurtures individual wellbeing, has a clear positive impact on a business’ bottom line. Not only are companies using office design to attract and engage the best talent in the market, they recognise the workspace is an expression of a company’s visual identity and should reflect their brand image and reputation. There are several movements driving change in the workspace and these will have an impact on the way offices will be designed and fitted-out over the next few years.

The overarching principle impacting all levels of the construction industry globally is sustainable development. We expect that in the next 15 years, with the recent adoption of the new United Nations Sustainable Development Goals for 2030, to see a total shift in the construction and fit-out industries towards sustainability models. New regulations will be adopted, higher standards and consumer demand will increase pressure on the industry to implement environmentally responsible practices, and awareness and understanding of green practices at all levels of the construction chain will increase. In the near future, sustainable projects will be the norm, not the exception. The green building movement has picked up in the UAE too, with sustainability being at the core of UAE’s strategic plan ‘Vision 2021’. Local contractors will have to step up their game when it comes to integrating sustainability into their processes, there will be more eco products available in the market and legislation will also tighten up.

Another important change we see happening in workplace design is the rethinking the use of space. The focus is shifting towards building facilities that will support cross-team collaboration and which allow teams to reshape the workspace to meet their evolving needs. For example, until recently open plan offices were considered the best environment for employees – encouraging collaboration, innovation and team work. Now many studies have proven that a lack of privacy negatively affects concentration levels, productivity and creativity so designers will start to create spaces that provide a perfect balance between collaboration and privacy. Many companies have yet to implement these changes, but designers, architects and workspace experts are introducing these principles into their projects. We will see more recreational areas, more spaces for individual retreat, more attention given to design elements that can have an impact on employees’ creativity, engagement and loyalty.

Technology has had a huge impact on workplace design and fit-out over the past decade, and we expect the smart building movement will pick up considerably in the next few years. Technology is shaping the way we communicate and interact with each other. Employees are increasingly more connected and mobile, switching between laptops, smartphones and tablets. Smart buildings mean that a higher degree of automation is now included in all projects. That’s why space and furniture can no longer be built the same way it was years ago. Modern, sustainable office buildings will be cost-efficient, integrating the latest technologies and mobility strategies. The space will be designed to consolidate a higher workplace density and will offer, at the same time, greater transparency and interaction. The workspace of the future will have to be efficient, sustainable and healthy, the right environment for a creative, productive and engaged workforce.

In terms of aesthetics, we see a growing demand for contemporary, minimalistic design solutions. Furniture design is encompassing the use of materials such as glass and steel, with ready-made furniture being designed to offer a much greater degree of flexibility. This means less demand for bespoke offerings, which is not bad a bad thing in our opinion. Prefabricated furniture, that allows for flexibility of configuration, ensures more consistent product quality and minimizes production time since there is no need for shop drawings, approvals, sourcing of materials or managing different lead times. This not only reduces the risk of project delays, but responds to businesses’ needs to build more with less, and at a reduced cost.

Looking ahead, we expect to see the most substantial area of “green building” growth to occur in new commercial construction, followed by institutional construction (education, healthcare, government). The role of design and fit-out industries will be to incorporate wellbeing into the workplace. We will create space, furniture and tools that will nurture employee wellbeing and will help organisations to align social, economic and environmental impact of their business with the company’s culture, creating value for all stakeholders.

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