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Designing flexible spaces

Volga embankment, Nizhny Novgorod, Russia

Working in a human-centred profession, interior designers are constantly searching for ways to improve living and working environments by shaping spaces to enhance the overall functionality. One of the many attractions of working in this field is the intriguing aspect of change over time within residential and workplace environments. As technology changes throughout the years, it inadvertently shapes behaviour and an interior designer’s approach to adjust spaces. 

One of the fastest growing trends today is the use of co-working spaces. This concept enables people from different backgrounds and professions to work and socialise in a common area, while creating a personal work environment. However, the question is how to separate the workplace from personal life, while ensuring it is inspiring yet functional. For example, companies that attract employees with amenities such as a gym, food or nap pods generally encourage an employee to spend a longer period of time than they otherwise would in the workplace.

As an interior designer, I focus more on people’s needs than on the space available. Shifting our attention to creating spaces that are user friendly reflects an understanding and consideration of how new generations think and behave. Working in a quiet environment is key to many workers’ productivity, so avoiding sound transmission by designing spaces with high acoustical property materials is vital. These could be floating partition walls, noise-cancelling technology or the creation of acoustical clouds in designated areas. This in turn leads to providing inspiring spaces.

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Co-working spaces are in many ways similar to small cities in the sense that cities are also planned to comfortably accommodate communities. Designers look closely at a company’s structure and dynamics to create productive working environments that motivate employees to be actively engaged and allow effective collaboration. 

The positive response to the creation of communities within the workplace has led to the extension of this concept into society’s living areas. Cities such as Hong Kong, that have a high population and limited living space, are now embracing alternative accomodation. This concept encourages active engagement in planning the new layout in order for residents to share space comfortably. For example, interior designers of co-living apartments often opt for a communal kitchen so people can participate and integrate as a collective.

While people and space influence every designers’ decision, the functionality of each area is not limited by expectations. An empty warehouse can become a gallery, an office or a co-living space to fit in with the needs of different end users. Industrial buildings in Hong Kong are increasingly turned into large co-working areas, with every space accounted for from urban farming on the roof to a retail space below. Although these concepts have been implemented previously, we see the rise of them fitting into our future of co-living and co-working today.  

Rodrigo Buelvas Romero

Professor of Interior Design at Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) Hong Kong

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