Nasim Köerting head of design at The Office Group, on creating unique workspaces for the post-Covid era
Words by Pamela Buxton
What’s your role at The Office Group, and have you had any previous experience of working with designers and architects?
As head of design, I’m involved in setting the creative direction of the projects and working on these with our chosen architects and designers. We think of the role as editing – making sure the story is right for the site and for the overall creative direction of The Office Group.
We have 12 designers plus a project management team, with an in-house designer working on the delivery of every project in addition to the external designers and architects. The design team also has a role in all the acquisitions – we do feasibilities and look at what features should be retained and what interventions are needed.
I’ve been at The Office Group for nearly two years. Before that, I trained in Australia and worked as an interior architect designing workplaces before coming to London, where I designed hospitality spaces.
For me, working on the client side is my ideal job – the chance to work with incredible designers from all over the world. I also think it plays to my strengths of concept design and creative direction. And, because I’ve previously been on the design side, I’m able to push for risks when others might not.
The Office Group has just opened its latest London branch, the eight-storey Douglas House workplace in Fitzrovia. What do you feel your clients are looking for from a contemporary workplace in the Covid era?
Whether they are small, medium or large, I think companies are all looking for the same thing – a place where employees can thrive, have access to amenities and have a variety of places they can work.
I think they’re looking for workplaces that are professional yet playful – a place where they can bring their own clients but where their younger employees can also feel at home. We set ourselves the challenge of keeping it classic and trendless, yet playful. And especially following Covid, people are attracted to flexible office space where everything is taken care of.
What are your design aspirations for your workplaces? Do you want a house style, or does each building have its own identity?
We design buildings according to context and location. One of our buildings will be very different if it’s in Shoreditch to one in the West End of London. We never want to be cookie-cutter in our approach. It’s a challenge, but it sets us apart from other providers.
But there is something of a The Office Group style, although not anything you can easily put your finger on. Maybe it’s just that they are all very well designed with great natural lighting, and a mix of contemporary and classic design pieces.
What qualities do you particularly look for when commissioning designers and architects?
I really like working with people who are passionate about their work, because a project is hard and long.
You want someone who’s as passionate about the details, right down to the final styling and where to put the tissue box, as they are when they win the job. And I’m interested in people who push the boundaries and show us things we haven’t seen before.
The entrance of the Soap Buildings at Borough Yards, a project The Office Group is working on with David Thulstrup
What is the commissioning process? Do you have a group of designers who you use regularly?
Once we’ve acquired the building we connect a designer to the project. It’s almost a gut feeling as to who is a good match. We rarely do competitions, but if we’re working with a new designer, we might ask them to do a concept.
We’ve worked with a roster of really good designers and architects over the years, including Universal Design Studio and dMFK. Recently, we’ve started working with Daytrip – it’s such a good fit, both design and personality-wise. We’re working with them on an interior in Shoreditch of a timber building designed by Waugh Thistleton Architects.
For Douglas House, you worked with Swedish-based Note Design Group. How did this collaboration come about?
Note had worked with The Office Group prior to me joining. After working with them on Summit House in Holborn, we were keen to collaborate again and had been waiting for the right building. We commissioned them for Douglas House because they really know how to work respectfully with an old building. They challenge us – we push them and they push us, and that’s a lovely mix. And they’re great to work with.
The Soap Buildings, due to open soon, will offer flexible workspace with both private and coworking areas
What were the main challenges of the project? What look and feel were you after and how did you work with the designers to achieve this?
We had a client early on – BP – that wanted to take the whole space, which includes a cafe, gym and meditation area. The main challenge was the building architecture, and in particular getting as much natural light in as possible. There were also a lot of technical things to get right such as lifts and services.
Sustainability and wellness were big priorities throughout – we restored and reused the original timber flooring and incorporated a sedum roof, roof terrace and openable windows for ventilation. As well as the meditation space, there’s a parents’ room.
In terms of aesthetics, Note called the design ‘a gentle punch to the senses’, and it certainly is. Although the colours are bold, they are all found in the natural world, and the long wavy glass wall running the length of the space on the ground floor feels soft and natural. It’s definitely exceeded expectations. Every week we get feedback from the client, and it’s so positive every time.
The design for Douglas House incorporates several artworks. What is your approach to incorporating art within your workplaces?
One of the greatest joys for me as a client is commissioning art. At Douglas House we commissioned all the art ourselves – we have an in-house curator and also work with an external curator. It was a real opportunity to work with local and up and coming artists and the work became a talking point in the space – it extends the design concept. We also have a lot of functional art such as vases and bowls.
What have you enjoyed most, and least, about being a design client?
What I enjoy the most is working with some of the most talented designers in the world. I pinch myself that I get to do that – I learn so much from them. What I like the least are the tough decisions you have to make as the client because of budgets and timings.
Now that Douglas House is open, do you have any more new locations in the pipeline? And if so, what are these and who is designing them?
We have six or seven new buildings about to go on site and a lot of refurbishments. We’re working with David Thulstrup at the Soap Buildings at Borough Yards and that will probably be our most adventurous building. There’s the timber building in Shoreditch and a couple in Germany. In Berlin we’re working with Norm Architects on Linden Palais – it’s quite an old building and their style is perfect for that – and with Universal Design Studio, who we’ve worked with a lot, at Pressehaus at Alexanderplatz. UDS are also working with us on 210 Euston Road in London.