22nd July 2001
Front Page
Editorial/Opinion| Business
Sports| Mirror Magazine
The Sunday Times on the Web

Breaking office barriers

Office interiors are being transformed from staid cubicles to vibrant open spaces. Here architect Nela de Zoysa reveals her vision to Laila Nasry

Ever walked into a plush office and been struck by the difference in interior decor? Yes, indeed. Gone are the staid, stuffy workplaces with their dull greys and beiges, chicken coop-like cubicles with semi glass walls and sliding doors. Enter vibrant hued walls, carpets, sink-in sofas, potted plants, contemporary wall hangings and piped music. The new trend is transforming offices into hip, techno-savvy places of work for the modern man and woman.

Many offices today opt for what is known as an open plan system for their interiors. As the name suggests, this system opens up an office doing away with the cubicle system, strict partitioning and heavy wooden furniture, thereby better utilising all available floor space. 

Instead of cubicles, those in senior or executive positions in the office are given rooms fully enclosed, with one wall of glass enabling the user to keep an eye on those directly under him. 

Co-workers or subordinates are usually grouped in workstations; an open hallway in which each has his or her own niche, complete with PC, worktop, cupboard and drawers according to their needs and standing within the office. 

The open plan system while dispensing with hierarchical structures, promotes openness, transparency and the ability to observe. Co-workers are able to see each other, facilitating greater team work and interacting more directly, but at the same time retaining their privacy. 

The Board of Investment of Sri Lanka (BOI), situated at the World Trade Centre, was one such organisation which went in for a restructuring of its offices according to the open plan system. This was part of its new image building campaign. Architect Nela de Zoysa and her team from Design Corp. were entrusted with the gigantic task of redecorating its numerous offices.

"The offices of the BOI are the first point of entry to the country to any potential investor," says Nela. "They have to project the right image so as to encourage and convince would-be investors." Thus it was decided that the offices of the BOI should exude a progressive image, futuristic in its outlook and vibrant in its ambience.

Seylan bank of Sir Baron Jayatileke MawathaSeylan bank of Sir Baron Jayatileke Mawatha

The curvy, linear approach was adopted in keeping with the circular shape of the building, overcoming one of the biggest constraints. "To go against it would mean losing space," Nela explained. All the rooms and workstations were situated on the outer circle with the service station- as in the pantry and other utility areas being in the centre. 

Nela believes "in seeing opportunities in every obstacle". Thus when it came to the cylindrical columns running from floor to ceiling that couldn't be moved or removed, they were promptly incorporated into the plan. Coffee tables were fixed onto them in the waiting lounge with magazines and brochures of the BOI and its investment plans being displayed for prospective investors. 

There was light aplenty, streaming in from both east and west, so blinds were fixed to regulate it.

Much of the preliminary work centred on designing the individual offices and workstations. "We had to understand the nature of their work and very often observe their functions in order to incorporate a design plan that would facilitate their activities," says Nela. However she says the designs were specified for the position and not the person. 

In keeping with the hierarchical system followed in semi-government institutions like the BOI, rooms were allocated according to the employees' standing. "We did not compartmentalise the interior; even the typists and clerks had their work stations, but there was a certain amount of enclosure." 

The Director General's office, in keeping with his functions was designed to be very sophisticated with a black and silver colour scheme. The carpet was absolutely red (no grabbing 20 winks with that kind of flooring!) with a strip of black and grey on the outer edge to project an air of dominance. The large wooden table was unique having a boomerang shape to it. 

Situated on the 25th floor, the office was designed to "have a lot of buoyancy, movement with time and energy. Modern material like stainless steel was used to project the futuristic, space-age image." 

Even the washroom, carpeted and with modern black fittings was state of the art, with a marble sheet as a vanity top and a glass bowl for the wash basin. 

Department to department the use of colour differed. "Each section had a meaning and function and we tried to bring that out with the use of colour." However, Nela maintains, one should never go overboard on colour. "There is a limit to what the eye can take and the room has to be livable." 

The legal department was done in shades of blue and the promotions and publicity offices vibrant in three colours of blue, red and green. The Finance Department headed by a woman saw the use of purples, pinks, blues and blacks. The media arm of the BOI was in yellow and green while the investment and appraisal section had shades of bluey green and red. 

The use of steel and timber and dotted carpets gave the offices a very contemporary look. In the work-stations the demarcations were in black with squares cut out for increased openness and transparency. "It was popularly called the film roll," Nela said laughing. 

While some were of the opinion that such snazzy surroundings and 'jazz' were just outward frills, most employees felt their enhanced surroundings and creative environments were indeed an energy booster, stimulating them to work better. 

But the open plan system is not all that new, having been around from the later 80s. One of the pioneering organisations to adopt it was the Seylan Bank which converted from an old colonial building on Sir Baron Jayatileke Mawatha to its modern day bank with the theme spawned by the redecoration lasting through the years. 

Here Nela says the availability of small door frames prompted her to fill up the rest of the gap towards the ceiling with a triangular shape which is now an inherent feature of Seylan's later branches. "Instead of covering it with plain board we incorporated the shape of a triangle which denotes balance and stability."

(More next week)

Index Page
Front Page
Mirrror Magazine

More Plus

Return to Plus Contents


Plus Archives

Front Page| News/Comment| Editorial/Opinion| Plus| Business| Sports| Mirror Magazine

Please send your comments and suggestions on this web site to 

The Sunday Times or to Information Laboratories (Pvt.) Ltd.

Presented on the World Wide Web by Infomation Laboratories (Pvt.) Ltd.
Hosted By LAcNet