Ina Nikolova: “Today, a gratifyingly large number of senior managers realize that sustainability makes economic sense, despite higher investments.”
4. abril 2022
Photo: Sebastian Dörken

The pandemic has turned our everyday working lives upside down. But that doesn’t mean the office as a workplace is obsolete, says Ina Nikolova from the Berlin-based architectural office Kinzo. What is needed are sustainable and flexible concepts.

Ina, is the office as a workplace a phase-out model or can we expect a renaissance?

Ina Nikolova: At the beginning of the pandemic, many people dramatically predicted that the corona pandemic would be the end of the office as a workplace — once and for all. But that is not true at all. Home office and classic office work complement each other nicely. The trend is towards mixed forms.

Working in a home office offers advantages, but also has disadvantages.

That’s right. The home office experience is very individual for all of us, depending on our situation in life and family status. Parents in particular have to take care of their children in parallel and are constantly forced to multitask. That is a source of great stress. Our clients frequently report that they miss the spontaneous exchange of ideas when working from home. No call can replace a personal conversation. This is especially true when creative tasks have to be solved in a team, for example in architecture or graphic design offices. In short, classic offices will not disappear, they still offer many advantages. However, they are changing: Even before the pandemic, many aspects were being critically questioned. The trend was already away from fixed workplaces and towards more flexible structures that offer different environments for exchange, focused work, or telephone calls and video conferences. The pandemic has simply accelerated developments that had already started earlier. In our opinion, the office of the future will be more of a meeting place, a place for both spontaneous and planned communication.

Kinzo, Amore-Pacific-Headquarter, 2017–2019 (Photo: Schnepp Renou)
Photo: Schnepp Renou
Photo: Schnepp Renou
However, some companies are becoming dissatisfied with their flexible office layouts and are returning to more traditional configurations.

Sometimes things were introduced simply because they were new and trendy. Many companies wanted to keep up with the times and neglected their real needs. Everyone thought they had to have a lounge and a football table in their office just because they saw it in big American companies. But not every innovative concept is suitable for every company.

To avoid such disappointments, it is important to listen to and understand the needs of future users. 

We are more and more often organizing participatory planning processes — this is what we call Phase 0. This period sometimes lasts quite a long time, in some projects it takes a year. We try to get to know our clients very well and conduct needs analysis workshops with them, for example. We also visit them in their current offices a number of times and ask them about their daily routines. This is the only way we can find out which office forms they really need. Meanwhile, we can no longer imagine working without this extensive familiarization phase. It’s the only way we can develop customized solutions. The challenge in planning is that on the one hand you have to reflect current needs, but on the other hand you should also anticipate future developments. We try to think ahead for the next ten to twenty years.

After all, in an ideal situation, an office is not converted after a few years but is flexible enough to be used for a long time without major adjustments.

Exactly! That is the most sustainable solution. Durability is very important to us; perhaps it is an underestimated component of sustainable design.

We also try to facilitate multiple uses. Today we are faced with the problem that many buildings are only used at certain times, and this is especially true for office buildings. Better utilization of our building stock would definitely be ecologically sensible. 

Kinzo, KWS Berlin, 2020 (Photo: Schnepp Renou)
Photo: Schnepp Renou
Photo: Schnepp Renou
What else can interior design do for climate protection?

Materials and surfaces play an important role in interior design. You should critically question where they come from, how long the transport routes are, how much energy is used for transport, how they are manufactured, and which raw materials are used. It is also important to us that the furniture and materials we use are recyclable.

However, there is a certain danger of greenwashing: after all, the industry has long understood that there is an ever-increasing demand for sustainable and environmentally friendly solutions — which is why the marketing departments of many companies praise everything as ecologically sound. You really have to pay attention and, as a designer, you have to take a close look. This is one of the reasons why we at Kinzo have set up our own sustainability task force that keeps briefing us on new materials, recyclability, supply chains, and the like.

Meticulous planning with a long familiarization phase, as you have just described it, costs a lot of time and therefore money. Sustainable materials are also often more expensive at first glance. Although these investments pay off in the medium term, this is not apparent to everyone. Many architects complain that it is not always easy to convince clients to use sustainable materials.

We are experiencing a change in values: more and more people in Germany have a heightened awareness of the climate crisis; they are demanding sustainable solutions. Terrible developments such as the flood disaster are accelerating this trend even further. In addition, more and more companies are aware of their role model function and are trying to live up to it. In addition, globalization and the market situation mean that many people can choose where they want to work. Companies are trying to be as attractive as possible, especially to young employees. Today, a gratifyingly large number of senior managers realize that sustainability makes economic sense, despite higher investments.

Kinzo, Covestro-Headquarter, Leverkusen, 2017–2021; the building was designed by the HENN architectural office. (Photo: Werner Huthmacher)
Photo: Werner Huthmacher
Photo: Werner Huthmacher
Ina Nikolova studied architecture at the State Academy of Fine Arts in Stuttgart. She gained practical experience in architectural offices in Sofia, Stuttgart, and Berlin with a focus on building in existing contexts, laboratory and school construction. She also held teaching positions in housing construction and design at two universities. Since 2019 she has been a project manager at Kinzo.
Focus on New Work, Sustainability and Home Office
Under the motto "Home of Consumer Goods", Ambiente, Christmasworld and Creativeworld will be held simultaneously for the first time at one of the world's most modern trade-fair centres from 3 to 7 February 2023. The new design of the Working product area under the umbrella of Ambiente, the world's leading trade fair for the sector, will create future-oriented impulses. At Ambiente Working, everything revolves around office supplies and office equipment – not only for the classic office, but also for mobile working, home offices, co-working spaces and the Future of Work. |
Future of Work Academy digital in the run-up to Ambiente in Frankfurt
The Future of Work Academy is aimed at architects, facility managers and planners as well as retailers of office supplies and furnishings. Following its successful premiere in 2017, this year a total of four lectures will shed light on the current changes in the world of work, digital solutions for collaboration and sustainable concepts for a modern workplace. The Future of Work Academy will deliver lectures online in the run-up to Ambiente on 2 May 2022 from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m., each will provide space for different perspectives on the subject of work.

Registration for the online lectures on 2 May 2022 with Peter Ippolito (Ippolito Fleitz Group), Jessica Borchardt (BAID Architekten), Margit Sichrovsky (LXSY Le Roux Sichrovsky Architekten), Petra Pfeiffer and Andreas Moser (Moser Assoziierte Architekten)
Ambiente Working 2022 – Future of Work Academy – Registration

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