From Little Things Big Things Grow – Celebrating Mechanical Pencil Day!

Next time you’re using a pen, glance down and observe its design.

Chances are you’ve never done this before.

Observe the interplay between its form, function, and shape, the care that has gone into an object most of us use without thought daily.

The same could be said for any object lying around the home or office–and more often than not, you will have never bothered to inspect them. They just work – or not.

When we started our careers, architects and technicians work white coats, with a thick, grey streak of lead shavings across their midriff from the constant sharpening of mechanical pencils – long, plastic and steel ‘clutch pencils’ that were an essential tool in draughting designs prior to committing pen to (tracing) paper. The pencils were a personalised companion of our profession, constantly needing adjustment via sharpening boxes uniformly bolted to desks. A fusion of product design and architecture.

 

Some of the best architects of the last century had dalliances in product design–Frank Lloyd Wright and Mies van der Rohe were incredibly passionate about chair design. At the same time, Britain’s own Jony Ive, Chief Design Officer at Apple, began his career as an architectural designer. The overlap between the two has grown increasingly fluid, yet the design guidelines remain the same–great design will always speak of practicality, simplicity and innate intuitiveness.

 

This concept can be seen in the dismantling of every single product we use–just like the pen you write with, the phone in your pocket and the chair you sit on–there is always a constant thread of purity and simplicity of manufacture in almost every piece.

 

As time passes, the transference of knowledge between architects, interior designers and product design will grow–which will only lead to even more daring design adventures.

 

So next time you’re using your pen, consider its form, its aesthetics and function, and all of the decisions that passed in it coming off the production line. We may not use the mechanical pencil much these days, but the link between architecture, design and our everyday lives is as strong as ever.

Outdoor Co-Working Space? Tell Me More!

With stress, depression and a raft of mental health issues accounting for almost 14 million days of lost work in the UK last year, increased support of employee wellbeing in the workplace has never been greater. As office spaces encourage more natural light and airflow – thankfully, heading away from traditional, cubical styled, fluorescent-lit offices–we ask ourselves, how can contemporary co-working spaces further improve their inhabitant’s wellbeing?

 

While the co-working phenomenon would have sounded crazy in the not too distant past, we’ve seen first-hand how the co-working trend is transforming modern office design, and how the experimentation with office design knows no bounds. One particular aspect of the pattern has seen incredible prominence in the last few years: the outdoor office. Like a beer garden at your favourite pub, they add another element of tranquillity to your workspace and combine the regular practicality of a well-designed office with the beauty and ease of nature.

 

While your business may not have the budget (yet!) to have a 9-acre rooftop garden for staff (like Facebook), an outdoor office can be as simple as you like. And there are fantastic ideas that offer alternatives to traditional indoor spaces; this could be as simple as utilising your workplace patio or courtyard with picnic tables and umbrellas, positioned in areas flooded with natural light, combining them with a selection of plants.

 

If your office space has limited outdoor options, think about ideas that could be used in the future–that do away with conventional design, however, if you have ample space, an investment into an outdoor space could prove invaluable.

 

Regardless of the layout you decide upon, be sure to maximise natural light as a priority. In doing so, employees will likely become more productive, as there is a natural preference to be in nature rather than a traditional office. This is why the notion of outdoor space in the co-working industry is becoming so popular–not just a fad.

 

All staff can enjoy the benefits of an outdoor space, which can then also provide a location for meetings–that were usually reserved for bland, cubicle styled rooms. This is where the notion of an outdoor office further blurs the line between business and leisure: meaning employees will become less stressed while producing a higher quality of work.

 

So as time passes, and different interpretations of the ‘outdoor office’ are welcomed, the likelihood of them playing a role in your company’s culture should be investigated–as the benefits are hard to surpass. Just ask the guys at Facebook!

A LESSON FROM THE ANCIENT GREEKS: BALANCING BAD ACOUSTICS

Considered pioneers of acoustics and sound travel, the Ancient Greeks used their in-depth knowledge when designing the stunning amphitheatres that still stand today. It’s a shame their designers aren’t still working, as some contemporary spaces will overlook acoustics, as it’s often viewed as a ‘cost option’.

However, excellent acoustics don’t need to be expensive, especially when they’re integrated at the beginning of the design process. 

Poor acoustics aren’t just annoying, they are often unhealthy and can impact aspects of work-life – including productivity and concentration, staff wellbeing and a diminishing a sense of privacy. And as the shift from traditional, cellular offices to collaborative, agile spaces advances, the importance of considering resolved acoustic systems is more relevant than ever.

As we celebrate Save Your Hearing day for 2020, we discuss ideas for improving acoustics in modern workspaces.

Productivity

We are all affected by noise – and not always in a bad way. A sense of thrumming activity, being part of a lively atmosphere can often be a good thing and raise your sense of being in a working neighbourhood. In certain areas this should be designed in, via not only the layout but choice of furniture systems and heights, finishes and materials and so on. However, when you are researching intricate details, or reading through legal documentation, CVs and the like that require your full concentration it is likely that you will need a much lower level of ambient noise. The same is often true of Meeting rooms, client waiting areas including reception. The acoustic design isn’t just layout, but also methods of construction, services design and appropriate use of materials.

It’s often the case that employees will continue to work without realising that noise is actually affecting them.

When creating a space, encourage a holistic approach and consider the comfort and possible needs of the employees that will be using the environment. Do you have an older workforce? Create an appropriate design that won’t compromise the natural work style of an older generation who may prefer to work individually. Is there a particular group of your employees that spend more time speaking over the telephone? Consider appropriate seating arrangements too.

So next time you’re considering the design of a space, consider acoustics too – and at an early stage. Your team will love you for it, as will the Ancient Greeks!

BRING THE OUTDOORS IN

“There is no greater designer than nature.”

This beautiful quote from British designer Alexander McQueen is now more relevant than ever, as we come to realise how the time spent in solace but surrounded by nature, can feed our creativity. It has the power to remind us of what is truly important.  – and when we combine the elements of our natural world with great design, we open ourselves to incredible possibilities.

On May 8th this year we were to celebrate Public Gardens Day, giving us all the opportunity to be inspired by ideas that could be used to transform homes and workplaces alike. This sadly is under threat for obvious reasons, but we can still look to nature for adding life to our interiors.

Immerse yourself in natural light

It’s vital to encourage light into your space. It evokes feelings of warmth, happiness and the comes with the added benefits of Vitamin D. In promoting more natural light – be it through full height windows, opened out masonry apertures or generous skylights, you’ll forge a natural connection with the outdoors and your space will feel refreshed. 

Design A Living Wall Of Art 

A fabulous way to invite the magnificence of the outdoors into your interior is by incorporating a ‘green wall’. Textures, shapes and tonal contrasts these bring will add a playful and sophisticated look that will enhance your sense of wellbeing, look great and offer a cost-effective wall finish into the mix.

Build Your Green Family

Without wishing to state the obvious, the most straightforward way of bringing in the outdoors is by enhancing your space with carefully selected plants. Our advice is ‘less is more’ – you are better having magnificent signature pieces in key locations and in suitable height planters than an array of small plants that don’t sit well with the architectural surroundings. Certain types of plants will thrive in different environments, so do your research beforehand.

 

AS OF NOW, THE CLEVER MONEY IS IN SMART OFFICES

If your office has a thermostat, smoke alarm or movement-sensitive – whether you know it or not – it’s a ‘smart’ office.  Which is to say your office has automated, programmable devices that function without input.

 

In the last ten years however, the definition of a smart building has expanded exponentially.  Whilst not quite at the stage of having intelligent doors and elevators with the GPPs (Genuine People Personalities) featured in Douglas Adam’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, we’re not far off it.

 

The revolution started in the home with the introduction of AI equipped home hubs such as Alexa and Google Home, which respond to voice commands, coordinate multiple different devices, and can even initiate a complete set of actions in response to a phrase like ‘intruder alert’.

 

The key difference is that the devices are not merely automated or programmable, but that they are centralised and integrated – part of the so called ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT)

Now the smart revolution has been rolled out in the corporate world.  With sensor hubs similar to a home assistant, HVAC systems, security and utilities can be integrated for streamlined operation and maintenance, monitoring performance, maintenance schedules and pin pointing errors such as leaking plumbing before damage is caused to your building.

 

Such connectivity is not only of advantage to operators, but to contractors who don’t want to run multiple sets of cables through walls, and to architects, who no longer have to deal with ‘wall acne’ like light switches and thermostats.

 

And there are economic arguments to match.  Fifteen years ago such connectivity would have been in the realms of science fiction and the price of achieving it astronomical.  Now it’s not only possible but affordable.  As the physical and installation cost of sensors, connectivity and hardware goes down the most ambitions visions come within reach.

At SKK Design we’re up to speed with the latest developments, work closely with specialists in the field and will be pleased to advise you on the design and construction of your smart building.

 

Like the smart home, the smart office is becoming the norm and staff, like homeowners, are beginning to expect the improved levels of comfort and efficiency it can bring.  Such a work environment makes an impressive extension of a company’s brand, and a powerful recruitment tool for potential employees.

 

Speaking of which, let’s leave the last word with Douglas Adams, from the sales brochure of the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation: “All the doors in this spaceship have a cheerful and sunny disposition.  It is their pleasure to open for you, and their satisfaction to close again with the satisfaction of a job well done”

BUSINESS PREMISES ARE BRAND EXTENSIONS – MAKE YOURS SPECIAL!

A commercial building is more than a place of work.  To owner occupiers it is, of course, a financial asset, but what is less generally recognised is that it is a brand extension of your business or organisation.

 

Think for example of the Prudential building in Holborn, solid Victorian Gothic in all its magnificence.  What more ringing endorsement of the company’s stability, propriety and prosperity?  Or, by way of contrast, think of the Stansted Airport terminal with its thrusting columns and striking steel and glass canopy – you can’t get more dynamic and futuristic than that.

 

Both buildings are purpose built in the fullest sense, which is to say that they are not only fit for purpose but buildings of character, as distinctive as the enterprises they house.  In our view at SKK Design all architecture should aspire to this ideal, although it stands to reason that not all clients have the scope and resources for projects on that scale.

 

That said, it should not prevent them putting their stamp on their premises, even if the starting point is a ready-to-occupy unit in a mall, industrial estate or science park.  Or, for that matter, the conversion of a former factory or farm building.

But to begin at the beginning, there are certain categories of building that by their nature must be purpose built – such as schools, hospitals, hotels and laboratories.  Their design will depend on a number of criteria, such as community needs, market demands, technical requirements and budgetary constraints.

 

At SKK Design we have experience in all these sectors, acting for both corporate and public service clients in everything from creative concept through to handover.

 

If you’re not able to start from scratch but still want a building tailored to your needs, conversion or refurbishment of an existing building is probably the most logical and economical alternative.

 

We have plenty of relevant experience in this area too – our own offices are the conversion of what was originally a flour mill – and thus we are well placed to manage your office conversion or refurbishment.  Even if you can’t afford to suspend trading whilst it’s in hand we can manage it in stages whilst you’re in occupation.

 

Then comes the icing on the cake.  The fit out and finishing that gives your building personality and makes it an extension of your brand.  This is particularly important in retail outlets or service businesses like cafes and restaurants.

Creating a theme for an eatery is all about originality, décor, lighting and acoustics, the last details that impart that all important ambience and strike a chord with customers.  Check out our blog The Tomato That Grew Into a Café for an insight into how we helped our clients realise their vision in this area.

LET THERE BE LIGHT! – BRINGING THE OUTDOORS IN

Caves may have been the Stone Age equivalent of affordable housing – they were, after all, ‘ready-made’ – but man is not by nature a cave dweller.  His preferred habitat is more like the Garden of Eden – light, airy, green and spacious.

During the summer months I live almost exclusively in my conservatory or the patio that overlooks my back garden.  More affluent types lounge poolside or under the leafy shade of their wooded grounds. But you get the idea. We’re happiest in that crossover zone between indoors and out – secure in our home yet at one with nature.

All great architecture recognises and accommodates that fact.  In Roman times the villas of the well-to-do were built around atria – central open courtyards surrounded by enclosed rooms on all sides.  Some even had a central pool – anticipating Hollywood homes by centuries! – although theirs were generally used to collect rainwater.

The urge to bring the outdoors in can be seen throughout the ages in the arcaded courtyards of monasteries, colleges and stately homes.  Some stately homes also feature long galleries – enclosed walks where ladies could take their constitutionals without getting sunburnt – which back in the day was considered quite déclassé!

The concept of the atrium has also been enthusiastically adopted by modern architects, often in the spacious lobbies of public buildings, which might extend upwards by two or three stories.  For the trivia collectors amongst you the Burj Al Arab hotel in Dubai has the world’s tallest atrium at 590 feet, and the Luxor Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada has the world’s largest atrium (by volume) at 29 million cu.ft..

Of course atria are just one way of bringing the outdoors in. Modern construction methods and materials – specifically steel and concrete – have made it possible to create glazed tower blocks with light flooded interiors (to the extent that some have to be fitted with projecting fins to deflect direct sunlight).

Historically the load bearing structure of a building was all in the outer walls.  In a modern tower block the main structural element is the pre-stressed concrete core, with concrete floor plates built out from it.  The external walls can therefore be light in every sense of the word.

Glazed steel matrices are another technique for bringing the outdoors in – notably in structures like the canopy covering the British Museum’s central courtyard designed by Norman Foster, which we have mentioned before in these pages.

So, let there be light, air and space!  Modern methods and materials make it possible and the architectural and design skills of SKK are at your disposal in realising your vision of bringing the outdoors in.

CONSERVATION OR DESECRATION? THE REMAKING OF LONDON LANDMARKS

When it comes to architecture, are you a modernist or a traditionalist?  Do you side with Norman Foster, creator of London’s ‘Gherkin’, the headquarters of the Swiss Re insurance company, or Prince Charles, the squire of Poundbury, the classically styled model town in Dorset?

The latest battle in the war between modernists and traditionalists is the condemnation (or commendation, depending on your point of view) of ‘Facadism’.  Facadism is about keeping the façade of a (usually historic) building, demolishing everything behind it and building something else in its place.

Some of the more striking examples in London include the National Provincial Bank, Threadneedle Street, and the London Fruit and Wool Exchange, Spitalfields, both of which now look like studio flats in a Hollywood back lot.

Is this conservation or desecration?  Such buildings are the very fabric of our architectural heritage and are presumably protected by a preservation order.  But couldn’t the whole building have been repurposed without demolishing all but a modesty screen for an incongruously mismatched building behind it?

Isn’t this just conservational tokenism on the part of developers and planning authorities – done in the name of expediency, profit and inflated business rates?  Or should we be grateful that any vestige of the original is preserved at all?  When a building is demolished in entirety, it often seems that something less architecturally distinguished is erected in its place.

Is the rise of Facadism an admission of defeat?  An acceptance that quality architecture is a thing of the past?  We mentioned Norman Foster as a proponent of modernism, and love it or loathe it, his ‘Gherkin’ is a stunning example of his style.  As one journalist said about it when it was built: “If at least one scene of the next James Bond film isn’t set there, I’ll eat my hat!”

But actually Norman Foster’s redesign of the British Museum and its new interior courtyard is proof that enhancement of period architecture can by handled sympathetically and well.  The graceful steel and glass canopy of the courtyard both respects the classical architecture of the original building and provides a gentle counterpoint to it.

Whilst we wouldn’t necessarily put ourselves in the same class as Norman Foster, we at SKK believe that a harmonious blend of traditional and modern can be achieved in the restoration and repurposing of period buildings, a policy we have followed in refurbishing our own offices from a former Victorian flour mill.

SUSTAINABLE DESIGN – SIX WAYS TO GROW THE GREEN POUND

From small scale renovations to major construction projects, sustainability has become a significant factor in design, specifying, refurbishment and construction methods.  Thankfully, there are many green options on the market when deciding upon appropriate products and materials, and as architectural designers we at SKK are well placed to advise you on the best options for your project.

BREEAM, based in the UK, is one of the world’s leading sustainability assessment organisations.

A building or development that has attained a BREEAM rating will have enhanced market value.  In the same vein, designing sustainability into your property, no matter its scale, makes financial sense.

Here are six popular and value-enhancing examples of sustainable design:

 

  • Rainwater Harvesting. A straightforward and practical way to reuse nature’s gift.  Services design enables rainwater to be stored and used for WC cisterns, washing machines, irrigation etc.  Retrofitting is an option in many cases.

 

  • Harnessing Solar Energy. Simple to retrofit, the technology has advanced enormously in recent years with the introduction of smaller panels (including direct replacement for roof tiles), reducing supply and fitting costs.

 

  • Green Roofs and Walls. Bring ‘little gardens’ to inner city areas, encouraging more bees, butterflies and plant growth.  Benefits include reduced rain run-off, thermal and noise insulation, and improved air quality.

 

  • Intelligent Lighting Systems. Built-in or retro fitted, these offer a seamless transition from manual to automated control as and when needed.  Energy saving, affordable and wireless. Can be operated from phone or tablet.

 

  • Natural Ventilation. Reduces energy consumption and creates effective ventilation through a system of openings using pressure differences between the inside and outside of the building induced by wind and air temperature.

 

  • Biofuels. Considered to be one of the most efficient sources of electricity, biofuels are fast becoming a viable alternative to fossil fuels.  Increasing numbers of office buildings use biofuels to reduce costs and carbon footprint.

 

To read more about the Most Sustainable Office Buildings in the World click here.

A STYLE BIBLE FOR HOME AND BUSINESS MAKERS

At SKK Design we are passionate about design.  It’s what gets us up in the morning and keeps us in the office late at night.  Whether we are working on an office, restaurant, private residence or retail store we love to create inspiring and innovative designs from clients’ visions.

It’s often said that style is easy to recognise but hard to define.  Well here’s an overview of some of the more popular architectural styles.  Which suits you?

Minimalist

Design Elements: uncluttered, clearly defined shapes and spaces, simple palettes without adornment, concealed services.

Purpose: maximising usable space in an environment that is easy to live within.

 Industrial

Design Elements: An emphasis on visible engineering and functionality often featuring exposed structural members and services.

Purpose: Use of raw materials to provide prestigious yet practical building solutions.

Scandinavian

Design Elements: simple, spare interiors maximising the use of natural light and natural materials, including pale softwoods, statement furniture and rugs.

Purpose: to evoke the feeling of being at one with nature in a calming environment.

Contemporary

Design Elements: a pick and mix of 20th & 21st century styles referencing iconic designs of the past. Favours a neutral palette with clean lines and organic shapes.

Purpose: not to be confused with ‘modern’ but staying true to modern thinking.

Traditional

Design Elements: elegant, of the period, classic detailing and proportions, traditional use of materials and craftsmanship, ornate.

Purpose: grandiose, respectful of history, homely and classy.

Bohemian

Design Elements: a random blend of cultural references, bold and striking in both palette and texture, often with earth coloured hues as a backdrop.

Purpose: to be free of convention, a daring exploration of eclectic style.

Rustic

Design Elements: oversized components, natural materials such as stone, timber and terracotta with natural or aged finishes and simple detailing.

Purpose: to give a sense of simplicity and use timeless rather than modern materials.

To learn more about each design concept and its characteristics keep visiting our website, we’ll be featuring each of these concepts in more detail in our future blogs.