Peak fitness in the tech age

It used to be the most technical a gym got was the heart-monitor in the handle bars of bikes and treadmills. Now, the age of technology has not just entered the world of gyms but is being fully embraced – and it is not just classes on Zoom.

Today’s breed of machines for both home and professional gyms are embracing apps, sensors, video and streaming services to give you the best workout.

Smart mirrors are full-length mirrors that are actually LCD screens. They act as a normal mirror when not engaged so can be used for checking out your outfit or form. Turn them on though and you have access to a wealth of options. Most offer online classes from yoga to strength exercises and cardio – both on-demand and live. You can even train one-on-one with a personal trainer who can correct your form via a video link up through the  built-in camera. They also frequently come with a Bluetooth heart monitor so you can keep track of your statistics.

The new generation of high-tech bikes and treadmills take the experience of biking and running to a new level. They bring features that make feel like you are running or biking outside following an actual trainer. Their touchscreens don’t just show Netflix or moving graphics, they offer classes that are both live and on-demand that will help you achieve your fitness goals. You can join guided classes for beginners to run a 5K or run with other participants in a high-intensity work out. Some models also auto-adjust the incline and speed that is set by the class’ trainer so your workout challenges you and builds fitness.

If you are looking for all-over body fitness smart technology, the new generation of smart boxing gloves come with sensors built into the wraps worn under the glove. They provide data back to the app so you can not only track how many times you hit the bag but how hard, all in real-time. These often come with on-demand or live classes too, though at an extra cost.

For those wanting to build strength there are digital weights. These systems are essentially a full-size weight room packed into a machine that is barely the size of a TV. One model on the market features giant arms that extend out at the push of a button and offers 200lbs of resistance. This makes them suitable for those looking for strength or resistance training rather than a full weights work out. Many offer real-time feedback and will adjust settings automatically if they sense a weight or rep count is too easy or too hard. Continuing the trend they also offer online coaching.

Smart, interactive and providing real-time feedback, new tech-enabled gym equipment  for home or professional gyms bring the worlds of technology and physical fitness together in a way never seen before. All of this comes at a price. None of this equipment is cheap. However, in this new era, there is a class, course or experience for every who wants to achieve their fitness goals, be it at home or at the gym.

Building an oasis of calm

Our modern homes with open-plan layouts don’t always lend themselves to finding a place of peace to work or to get away from the family. How many of us have tried to do a conference call or video while trying to drown out the sound of the dog, the washing machine, someone’s piano lesson or an overly-enthusiastic board game? Or tried to sit at a cluttered dining table to write a report?

Creating pockets of calm and quiet in your home is becoming more critical. How do we go about building that space to concentrate or relax?

1 – Change your mood with colour. Colours affect humans. For your area of calm, pick restful, neutral colours that speak to you in a soothing way. Consider accents to promote specific feelings. For example, yellow makes people feel optimistic and happy while blue promotes creativity.

2 – Think texture. Using different textures gives people a richer experience of a space. It gives the eyes different areas of textural focus and engages multiple senses. Think about replicating some of the textural elements throughout the space, like wooden bowls to match a wooden shelf. Or white tiles on a fire-surround to pick up on a white tiled floor. Adding plants brings texture and oxygen into your space.

3 – Use negative space. This is the space between things. Hanging too many pictures or putting out too many design pieces excites and confuses the eye. Make sure there is space in your room so that your eye has places to “rest”.

4 – Light up. Humans react to light in a space. Think about how you can either maximise the light in your space or bring in more light. Place a mirror to reflect existing light or get advice on a good lighting plan. Think about the space at different times of day. How will it look and feel in the morning versus the afternoon? Consider layering your lighting with both standing and table lamps, or even incorporating dimmer switches to set the mood.

5 – Think of sound as a liquid. What steps can you take to control, channel or dampen the sound that travels through your home? Can you use bookcases or soft furnishings like rugs, cushions or upholstered furniture to dampen the sound? Refurbishments like lowering a ceiling where the TV is or putting in wide doorways to disrupt sound can help keep designated areas calm and quiet.

6 – Cull the clutter. Clutter is the enemy of calm. Think about what is necessary in your lifestyle. Does it have a place? It may be a cliché but “a place for everything and everything in its place” goes a long way to helping create a feeling of calm.

To make your home an oasis of calm you want to create spaces that function well, work together and flow seamlessly. The most beautifully designed home still needs to feel like you,  be practical for your lifestyle and circumstances and reflect your personality. It is a lot easier to find zen if your home is working with you, not against you.

Five reasons your office refurbishment really needs an architect

Refurbishing a property is an exciting prospect but one that can feel daunting and fraught with challenges. A refurbishment gives you the opportunity to redesign, update or even expand your current space so it is fit-for-purpose for your current and future needs.

Some might consider the option of doing a refurbishment without an architect. They think by hiring one they prolong the project and potentially could lose control over the outcomes. These are myths. An Architects is a professional like a doctor or a lawyer and they act as expert consultants. They use their professional know-how to help you achieve what you truly want, sometimes things you didn’t even know how to think of. But ultimately it is your project.

From a practical point of view, there are some key reasons to engage an architect when considering an office refurbishment:

1 – Architects think about more than making a space just look good. They ensure that the new rooms and space will fit the purpose they are intended for as well as the lifestyle (or workstyle) of the people of will be using it.

2 – They can anticipate where you may have issues, find solutions to any problems or even see options to improve your plans. It is always best to involve an architect at the beginning of the project. They can help cost it out, do any drafting of plans that may be needed, select the best materials and can even project manage the work. It is easier and cheaper to fix an issue on a plan than when it is half-built.

3 – While you have some permitted development rights that allow you to go up and out to a certain height or length, an architect can make sure you don’t face liability issues for any problems with the plans or planning permission. They will be able to advise you on the art of the possible, what needs planning permission, what doesn’t and how to go about it.

4 – If you are planning something a little “out of the norm” then an architect can help you apply for planning permission. They can advise on what is likely to be approved and will help you to explain what you are proposing in the best possible way. They have tools like 3D modelling that can display to a planning permission committee exactly what it is you are proposing.

5 – Having an architect review your plans means that you can be sure that they are 100% compliant to the latest building codes and planning requirements. They can take into account elements like health and safety best practices and carbon footprint. They will also ensure that your plans follow the most up-to-date and efficient ways of designing a modern and future-proof home or office

Fundamentally, an architect has one goal in a refurbishment project, to make sure you get the best refurbishment possible, with as little hassle as possible and helps you budget and keep on track. What could be more useful than that?

 

Form and Function – innovators in Architectural design

From the sails of the Sydney Opera House, the curves of the Empire State Building, the soaring spire of the Oriental Pearl Tower in Shanghai or the uplifting dome of St Paul’s Cathedral, the world is full of iconic buildings that broke moulds, drove innovation and inspired new buildings around the world. Great names like Foster, Gehry, Utzon, Wren and Eisenman are at the forefront of architectural design for their time, changing the way we live and the buildings we live in.

There are many architects that have inspired, innovated and changed the landscapes of cities around the world. Here are three that innovated by developing structures where form followed function.

I.M.Pei

Pei was born in China, raised in Hong Kong and educated in the US. He adapted the famous adage “form follows function” and made it his own. He believed form follows intention and intention incorporates function.

Pei came to prominence when he won the commission to design the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum not long after Kennedy’s assassination. He is probably best known globally for the glass pyramid that sits at the entrance to the Louvre Museum in Paris. Other notable Pei works include the East Building of the National Gallery in Washington D.C. and the Museum of Islamic Art in Qatar. His style is characterised by geometric shapes (famously pyramids), plain surfaces and natural light.

Zaha Hadid

Born in Baghdad, Iraq but spending much of her life in London, Zaha Hadid was the first woman to win the Pritzker Prize (https://www.pritzkerprize.com/ ) in 2003.

Dubbed the “Queen of the Curve,” Hadid used curving facades, sharp angles and unbending materials like concrete and steel to create structures that appear soft and sturdy at the same time. The Guardian said that she had “liberated architectural geometry, giving it a whole new expressive identity”.

Many of her projects transform shape depending on the viewer’s perspective. This includes her Heydar Aliyeve Cultural Centre in Baku, Azerbaijan with its swooping façade that undulates like a sheet of graph paper.

Another famous structure is the London Aquatics Center, designed for the 2012 Summer Olympics. Demonstrating her signature undulating form, the roof also has cut-outs that allow natural light to filter in and shine across the pool.

Highlights of her work include the Michigan State University’s Broad Art Museum in the US; the MAXXI Museum in Rome; the Riverside Museum, part of the Glasgow Museum of Transport, the Beijing Daxing International Airport in China and the Al Wakrah Stadium in Qatar.

Ole Scheeren:

German-born Ole Scheeren’s work is challenging how we see residential blocks. He says that he designs with “out of the box thinking while confronted with constraints”.

Scheeren’s work includes the Interlace in Singapore, a 1000 apartment project that was limited by land size and height restrictions. His answer was to build a series of 24 straight buildings that were stacked on top of each other like a Jenga game.  The project ultimately created more green space than it used up.

Scheeren believes that architecture is about storytelling. “Good Architecture should be able to narrate stories” he believes. The Interlace represents Singapore, a city-state that has solved problems with innovative thinking and works together in a collaborative way for mutual success.

His other famous works include the CCTV Headquarters, dà kùchǎ (or the Big Boxer Shorts) in Beijing, and the MahaNakhon, Thailand’s tallest tower.

 

All three of these architects pushed the envelope of form while delivering buildings that are functional, intentional and in some cases seem to challenge gravity. While both Hadid and Pei have gone, the torch has been passed to a new generation of architects and their buildings stand testament to resilience, form and function.

 

Not just up – Skyscrapers of the future

The United Nations predicts that by 2050, 68% of people will be living in a city. With land increasingly precious and expensive, the natural alternative is to look at what living in a vertical world would look like.

Some cities around the world have embraced the skyscraper world, with spectacular skylines to match – Seoul, Moscow, Hong Kong, Mumbai and São Paolo feature the most skyscrapers.

The UK is no exception to this trend with famous new buildings such as the Shard in London and Manchester’s City Tower.

50 years ahead of its time

One great global example ahead of its time, was conceived in the 1970’s by Norman Foster and built in the 1980’s. The HSBC office “One Queens Road” was designed help people move around the building in a more lateral way, bypassing lifts as the primary carrier of people in the building. Lifts access certain floors while a web of escalators connect the remaining floors. Its most famous feature is how it maximises natural sunlight as a major source of lighting inside the building. At the top of the multi-level internal atrium (enabled by the buildings lack of internal supporting structure), mirrors reflect natural light down through the atrium into the plaza on the ground floor. External sun-shades control the amount of sunshine that goes into the building, important for climate control, especially in such a hot climate. In an early nod to green energy, the air-conditioning units are cooled by sea water, an abundant resource in the region.

Going green around the world

Breaking ground in 2020 is the Southbank by Belulah in Melbourne Australia. Decided by competition, the design includes biophilic design elements. The two towers (102 stories and 59 stories respectively, making Tower 1 the tallest building in Australia on completion) are designed to twist around a green spine of vertically networked platforms and outdoor areas like terraces and verandas. It should result in not only amazing city views and internal light but improves the contextual links within and between the two buildings.

Green skyscrapers have proliferated around the world: from the Park Royal on Pickering Hotel in Singapore, to Milan’s Bosco Verticale, to Shanghai’s Shanghai Tower and even Hemel Hempstead.

The Bosco Verticale has green plants that will grow up the building over time. These are not only ascetically appealing but trap dust, absorb CO2, act as a cooling agent and release oxygen. This is an element that is being increasingly included in skyscraper design.

The Shanghai Tower meanwhile uses green technology to future-proof itself, with rooftop wind turbines, rainwater collection and grey-water systems, dual-layered insulation and many energy-saving features.

The Beacon in Hemel Hempstead, a residential property, is being designed to use less than 80% of heat and electricity of a standard residential block. Each level of the building has a “solar-ledge” of solar panels. The power generated from these combined with energy derived from the heat of the building should lead to residents of the building getting free electricity and hot water for up to five years. Further innovations such as harvesting heat from shower water, collecting grey water and rain water for clothes washing and flushing toilets as well as automated parking that will be seen in this building seem to be the way of the future for skyscrapers, indeed buildings of all kinds.

All of these buildings prove that going up doesn’t always lead to isolation or linear, vertical living and working spaces. Interconnectivity, green and climate saving features and a connection to nature are still possible, even spaces in the sky.

Making Happiness Happen in the Workplace – Why Design Matters

Everyone has lived or worked in a place that simply doesn’t feel ‘right.’ It can have an enormous impact on an individual’s wellbeing and happiness, which then has a knock-on effect to their productivity and possibly their longevity. According to Gallup’s 2019 “State of the Global Workplace” report (https://www.gallup.com/workplace/257552/state-global-workplace-2017.aspx), just 10% of adults working full-time in Western Europe are considered “engaged”, (ie both involved and enthusiastic about their work and workplace). Engaged employees in Gallup’s report are likely to be 17% more productive and their company 21% more profitable than those who are not.

While many elements go into this, dissatisfaction with the physical working environment is certainly a key element. Shifts from cubicle-farm style offices to hot-desking and back, and offices that don’t take into account the needs a multi-generational workforce, mean companies have to look at what it means to build and design a happy office.

Significant research has been done into the impact of workplaces designed for or reconfigured to maximise well-being and happiness. There are some basic fundamentals that come out through most research.

Physical elements

There are some environmental elements that instantly increase happiness:

  • Delivering adequate natural light for all users of the space, not just the lucky few with a corner office;
  • Ensuring acoustics are appropriate to the use of the space – so sound carries if needed or is dampened in other areas;
  • Building a mixture of collaborative as well as private space – while collaboration is ideal, recognising that sometimes individuals need somewhere that is quiet or private;
  • Providing lighting, air and temperature are appropriate and fit-for-purpose.

All of these are simple but vital elements of a happy workspace.

Movement and wellness

Given medical experts regard sitting as the new health threat, the workplace needs to be designed to encourage users to move around. For example, ensuring stairwells are accessible and attractive so that people are more likely to walk and take the stairs rather than the lift. Employees are more likely to collaborate, take breaks and have positive interactions if they are encouraged to move around. This can be as simple as offering standing desks to employees but Google’s Headquarters in Colorado took this to a new level, literally, with a giant rock-climbing wall.

Ambience

Consider the ambience of your space. Does it have colours that inspire productivity and creativity or beautiful, interesting and natural interior design? Although not new, incorporating elements in an office design that provide visual complexity can impart a sense of comfort, ease and potentially mitigate stress. Give your office a sense of balance and proportion, as well as using colour and texture to improve the richness of the environment.

Flexibility

This is not about adding a yoga room but ensuring that spaces can be adapted to the changing needs of the day-to-day as well as the future. Adding flexibility to your design can help a company not only expand as its staffing levels change but to repurpose spaces as the company grows. With the average office cost per square foot in London the highest in Europe (GBP112.5 per square foot (Q1-2020) for the West End), giving companies the ability to maximise their office space is of paramount importance as well as fostering a more harmonious environment. Opened in 2016, Google’s 6 Pancras Square offers modular meeting rooms. Known internally as Project Jack, each plywood pod is mass-produced and can be customised on-site into different sized spaces and different levels of privacy.

Nature

It is not a new concept to bring nature indoors. However, Biophilic design puts our interaction and connection to nature at its forefront. Research has shown that by simply including more nature and natural materials in a workspace, productivity can be increased by up to 15%. Among other recommendations, the Well Building Institute recommends one one-foot plant for every 100 square feet. This is more than a pot-plant on every desk, but the ability for users of the space to connect with their surroundings seasonally, during the day and night and even react to the weather.

 

Fundamentally, as the saying goes, home is where the heart is. By creating a space in which the users feel at home, inspired and creative, and where they can connect and collaborate with others, is a space which engenders a feeling of “home” and well-being. That feeling helps employees be more productive, creative and innovative, fosters respect and ultimately delivers happier employees.

All or Nothing

The pendulum of interior trends has swung between minimalism and maximalism for an age–and while neither will ever be genuinely off-trend, they can both go incredibly wrong. It’s essential to understand the features of each style that has given rise to their longevity.

Let’s explore how you can rock the ‘all’ or the ‘nothing’!

Why minimalism works:

Minimalism works so well because it offers your space two primary features of design: total functionality and a bold starkness. Creating a minimalist interior is a foolproof way of evoking a feeling of space to breathe and a gathering of your thoughts without the anxieties overcrowding can bring.

How can I encourage minimalism?

Less is always more–so exercise a level of restraint when choosing what to display on open shelving. Pare down your items until you’ve only a select few visible, alternate these if you like, but only have a handful visible at any one time. Remember the spaces surrounding can be as important as the focal ponts themselves.  Consider your interior as your own personal art gallery–mix it up when you’re bored with the current exhibition!

Celebrate the architectural bones of your house. Minimalism should be  about exposing what’s underneath–so use this opportunity to design around the features of your home, rather than to conceal them. Practicality goes hand in hand with minimalism, so make sure you’re using the most of the space your home has to offer, before welcoming in anything extra.

Practice the ‘less is more’ philosophy in your daily life–not just in your interior spaces, and you’ll find it transferring across to other aspects of your life seamlessly.

Why maximalism works:

We adore the unlimited versatility of maximalism. You can fill every square foot of a wall with artwork, and it will still look on-trend. However, the secret of maximalism is forgetting what you’ve read, heard and know about design–and filling your space will the pieces you love. This is incredibly important, as you’re going to be surrounded by them all the time.

Our only guidelines would be to take a uniform approach to an entire space, rather than just one area of your interior. As mentioned above–it’s all or nothing!

How can I encourage maximalism?

Create a gallery wall! A signature feature of the maximalist style. Fill your wall with bright, colourful pieces of varying shapes, sizes, and frames. Again, avoid listening to design trends and go with what you think looks good!

Go vintage! Maximalism is a fantastic opportunity to try a boho or eclectic style, and your local vintage furniture dealer will almost definitely have something that could be used as a feature piece for your space. While it might be risky, it’s important to remember that committing to maximalism can pay off incredibly. So why not!

While we’ll always have a soft spot for simple elegance in design, we’ll never shy away from using bold patterns.

Regardless if you want to go down the minimalist route, or express your personality with the brashness of maximalism, it’s your choice–get in touch today and see how we could help you!

Using Minimalism as a Stress Reducer

Far too often, our homes or offices become cluttered. Our belongings fill the rooms, and the space begins to invite a sense of claustrophobia.  It’s a  feeling best avoided–our spaces should be a place to feel relaxed, where positive energy is created, and visual discord doesn’t cloud our thoughts.

One particular way of easing the negative influence clutter can cause is by embracing minimalism. We’ve put together a few ideas for building a space that embraces minimalism and evokes a sense of tranquillity.

Space Enhancing Furniture

Observe the next house you enter–you’ll come to realise that we often choose furniture that’s larger than we need. Usually, the homes of most couples won’t need a vast reclining suite or that dining table with enough room for a dozen guests. Why not opt for more minimal and versatile furniture?

This could include console tables or an extendable dining table–they offer brilliant space maximising solutions and still have the potential to entertain guests when needed. Keeping your interior free of overbearing furniture – the space surrounding is as important as the furniture itself.

Maximise Efficient Storage

One of the best investments you can make in adopting a minimalist approach is efficient storage solutions. They’ll ensure everything is kept out of the way, and precisely where you need it. This could begin with creating a well-organised wardrobe, and the use of sliding doors–not only will they look more contemporary, but they’re also far more space efficient than traditional hinged doors.

Simplify Your Palette

While colour may seem arbitrary to minimalism, often in the best minimalist spaces, it’s one of the key factors to how the space will feel.

By having too many bright and or clashing colours, even the emptiest spaces can feel inhibited and stressful. In keeping a colour scheme to only a few hues, you can build a feeling of consistency without being overbearing. And by employing only a few colours, it doesn’t have to feel bland, as you can still combine textures that create a sleek impact.

Our homes should be the place where we go to relax. And a minimalist approach provokes this. In applying some of these decluttering methods, you’ll bring simplicity into your style, and see the benefits almost immediately.

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!