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Trend 29 January Jan 2021 1538 29 January 2021

Changing workplaces and the role of the designer

How have workplaces changed over time and how has the pandemic made these changes permanent? What skills are required to design the workspaces of the future? All this is revealed to us by designer director Mattia Gambardella.

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The trend in the immediate future will be for us to work more often remotely than in the office, even when the coronavirus crisis is over. Smart working will provide the new production and organisational structure for all those organisations which can adopt it. This will obviously not lead to offices disappearing altogether. Quite the opposite in fact, as they will become the special place for people to meet and foster relations with others, such as colleagues, managers, customers and stakeholders. However, the workplace will have to change, not only by adapting to the new lockdown measures brought about by the pandemic, but mainly to the different way of working, which has become more flexible, transparent, horizontal and dynamic.

In his online workshop about changing workplaces and the role of the designer, hosted by PHYD on 21 October, architect and design director Mattia Gambardella guided us through the fascinating and complex world of modern architecture and digital design. In this workshop, he takes us on an imaginary journey from Nanjing to Dubai, via Beijing and London, showing us some of the most incredible and innovative buildings, headquarters and offices in the world, which have been designed in recent years by famous names in this sector, "archistars" like Zaha Hadid, in her role as Lead Architect, and Norman Foster. He mentions the International Youth Cultural Centre in Nanjing, with its towers soaring more than 200 metres high, or the Opus in Dubai, a perfect example of parametric geometry, or even the Galaxy SOHO in Beijing, whose ovoid shape challenges, like a contradiction, the more traditional architectural forms of expression. These are extreme examples, unique in the world, but are useful, in Mattia's view, in terms of highlighting how the workspace is a fluid, liquid concept, intended to adapt to the changing pace of life. Over the years we have had offices with rooms and booths within which we can shut ourselves away, cut off from the rest of the office. We have also had open spaces and unassigned workspaces which staff were meant to move around in. There have also been hybrid combinations, with communal areas for brainstorming and other areas intended for people to be on their own and even meditate. For instance, in the London offices of Bloomberg, consumers and staff can visibly interact with each other, perhaps marking a break with the most rigid of conventions, as there are no partitions or walls; everything is transparent, open and, above all, mobile. From chairs to tables, every item of furniture can be moved to meet the needs of individuals at different times during the day.

At the moment, Covid-19 is adding further impetus to the efforts striving towards a radical rethink of the office environment, which will be increasingly multi-purpose and "phygital", an integrated space not only for working (given that we will be spending most of our time smart working), but also for social interaction, even though it will mainly be contactless, in compliance with the hygiene and social distancing regulations dictated by the current health crisis. In Mattia Gambardella's view, the design and choice of specific materials have a significant impact on the quality of our work and our well-being itself. Therefore, the quest for original solutions for the future is becoming an absolute priority for designers and architects.

Mattia Gambardella also highlights to students and young people keen on working in this field the essential skills required to be able to get involved in major projects like those described earlier. These are not limited to technical skills, which are important but definitely not transferrable. A real differentiator in this situation, which stands the test of time, is to have an unconventional view of things, making it possible to recognise originality and the unexpected. After all, who would have ever thought, before Zaha Hadid, of making an actual void a design element? We need to have a nomadic perspective and take the view, to quote Le Corbusier, that "architecture is about art, a phenomenon that provokes emotion, that goes beyond the problems related to construction, far beyond them".

Architecture is about art, a phenomenon that provokes emotion, that goes beyond the problems related to construction, far beyond them.

Le Corbusier

To continue the journey through the architectural wonders of the world, which we have summarised here, you can listen to the full recording of the event. You can do this simply by registering on the PHYD site.

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