Bates Smart associate director Rachael McCarthy talks workplace design, wellness and what clients really want in their workspaces.

What kind of office design is now popular in Australia when it comes to increasing collaboration?

Workplace design is increasingly focused around creating a social heart within the office. The philosophy, sometimes referred to as ‘food as glue’, is based around the idea that collaboration is aided by the creation of social spaces within the office. If people have spaces in which they can meet socially then they are more likely to form positive relationships, which ultimately helps to facilitate trust and encourage collaboration.

Creating a social heart within the workplace is complemented via the provision of physical spaces for collaboration. Agile workspaces supported by technological advancements like screens and writable surfaces help to foster teamwork.

Current workplace philosophy flips traditional workplace planning. We have moved away from a focus on ‘me’ spaces, like one’s own desk or office, to ‘we’ spaces where a range of different working environments help to encourage collaboration.

Designing space that fosters collaboration, that is open, that maximises visual connection across a floor, large floor plates where possible for efficiency—what is your ultimate example of this?

Large floor plates, such as in the newly refurbished T&G Building at 161 Collins Street Melbourne, help to maximise the number of staff that can be co-located. The connection between floors is enhanced via the central atrium which helps to provide a visual connectivity and offers a multitude of opportunities for stair connection across floorplates.

The building offers a great story of enhanced connectivity, breaking down silos, and enabling greater connections.

Is it wellness that is of more importance or increased functionality in terms of what clients are wanting?

Both wellness and increased functionality have the same end goal – to support staff in their working life and enabling them to perform their jobs to the best of their abilities.

It is a base requirement that all workspaces meet and exceed functional requirements, however, wellness is increasingly recognised to be of high value and essential for creating better and more productive working environments.

Adaptive re-use is great for sustainability, but is it harder on the architects? What are your thoughts on this?

Adaptive re-use presents a different set of challenges than designing from a blank canvas. Often designers have to work within an established design language or with heritage constraints. There are often additional limitations presented with regards to structural systems or restrictions to the building envelope.

However, adaptive re-use projects are often rich with stories and it can be very rewarding to create a new chapter for the building. For example, Pembroke Real Estate’s T&G Building is an important building within Melbourne’s architectural heritage. It was extremely rewarding to create contemporary workspaces within this building and to provide a new chapter for one of Melbourne’s most beautiful historical buildings.

What kind of projects do you think will predominate over the next few years and why did you pick these?

There is a move away from generic commercial office buildings. In the next few years there will be an increase in commercial buildings where the architecture aligns to the tenant’s brand appeal.

We will also see more precincts develop that gather like-minded businesses together and create communities with supporting amenities. We are starting to see this more with creative and tech companies and this will continue with other industries.