What happens when you take transparent office design to extremes
A rigid and unswerving adherence to a principle is rarely a good thing in the long run. This is perhaps doubly so when it comes to office design because the end result is often something that overlooks what offices are really for; namely giving human beings a place to go to be with one another. So, when you take a design dogma to extremes that ignore the human being that should be your core concern, you end up getting something like the office with no chairs, because ‘sitting is the new smoking’. Or you get the office made completely of glass because ‘transparency generates trust’. While it’s true that the Dutch firm MRVDV responsible for the refit of the building in Hong Kong has included some genuinely successful features, not least in the use of natural light and the environmental performance of the building, the interior itself is clearly the end product of meetings in which nobody felt comfortable telling everybody to knock it off.
According to the designers, the office building 133 Wai Yip Street is the sort of space that will appeal to a firm with nothing to hide. “The building is stripped down to its beautifully raw and butch primary structure, with all unnecessary trimmings being taken out,” says MRVDV. “Infill was only then added to the building in the form of white paint, glass and stainless steel in order to maintain and highlight the purity of the bare structure. Old and new are easily distinguished, whilst the inner workings of the building are on display for all to see.”
This takes transparent office design to new extremes. Even the public spaces in the building are made from glass. The lifts are made from glass and move through a glass elevator shaft. The fire escapes are also encased in glass. For some reason this is described as fire retardant, although it’s hard to see how very much in this building could catch fire.
“We are moving into a transparent society, businesses are becoming more open with the public, and people care more about what goes on behind closed doors,” according to MVRDV co-founder Winy Maas. “In that way, a clear workspace leaves nothing questionable, nothing hidden; it generates trust. But also it is an opportunity for the building to become a reminder of the industrial history of the neighbourhood, monumentalized in a casing of glass.”