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By the end of 2020, the two most significant typologies for everyday use as a society were abruptly shaken by COVID-19. The home as a place of life and the office as a place of work were under reconsideration. Most of the worldwide surveys indicate that more than 65% of people expect to work in a hybrid scenario after the pandemic. Which kind of synergies can be discovered in a new ecology between environmental, social and cultural dimensions? The answer should be a living environment that actively transforms the office’s modes.

Time for change. Challenges and opportunities.

Former physical considerations to design an office such as number of workers, frequency of guest visits or amount of meeting rooms are accompanied now by the discussion of office culture and intangible beliefs of the organization. Isolation in publicity and sharing the private had become new paradigms. Now more than ever, the office needs to be a showcasing interface of dynamic business life while workers can also integrate the feeling of “being at home”: represented by a sense of safety, warmness and inclusivity.

Researchers have also pointed out how people want to spend time in green environments that are also bright and receive enough sunlight during the whole workday. This is mainly driven by two key factors: the desire of improvement in the quality of life caused by a natural concern for health safety, and proven link to physical and mental health care preservation. Spaces with more than one light exposure side provide better ventilation, and the sun turn is present for longer hours, allowing for a better greenery atmosphere which will revitalize the sense of gathering and relaxation.

Beyond workspace. Reinforcing innovation in resilience.

Taking all of this into account, Crossboundaries started dreaming of a future typology that could fluctuate and adapt to a variety of rapidly changing scenarios. While some design factors were open for reconsideration -size, atmosphere, occupation and communication strategies- the workspace location remains intentionally unchanged. The company has been deeply rooted in the same Sanlitun neighborhood after years of combining the studio with social engaging events and lectures for the community. Therefore, the commitment with this Beijing area prevailed.

Located in the top floor of a five-story educational institution that had already undergone several renovations, the office was a fairly new add-on steel structure attached to the concrete skeleton of the building. This provided an almost 360-degree view and exposure to North, South and East that assure sunlight throughout the day. However, the previous layout that used to provide private offices had to be removed, to bring a richer and vivid open plan, more accordingly to our creative practice. Formerly based in an industrial space, the renewed office should reconnect with nature and greenery as a way of addressing global emergencies of caring and well-being. The users were not the only agent to be taken into account: cycles and rhythms of the architectural building, its urban surroundings -even the furniture and logistics that the architectural practice needs to operate with- were all factors to work with.

Faced with a challenge of prohibition on welding, hanging or attaching any new elements to the existing roof structure and all external walls, the design becomes very effective in satisfying Crossboundaries’ company needs while articulating the 365m2 space with very few elements, therefore committing to minimum intervention. Particular attention was given to each construction detail, mainly resorting to customized metal connections for achieving creative solutions within the limitations explained by the building’s management.

“We practice by name, crossing the boundaries of the design domain, initiating activities and dialogues across different fields.”

A functional strip offers separated meeting rooms, kitchen, storage and rest areas that are included into a former repurposed mezzanine level to maximize organization. These rooms are physically separated with a semi-transparent double layered wall made out of polycarbonate corrugated panels. The West wall is the only continuous solid wall without windows, which accommodates a vast hang shelving that includes the material and reference library, together with a selection of models and Crossboundaries Award display.

The main space is fluent and continuous, shaped by a lightweight curtain structure that functions as an island and connects the invariable working stations area together with a central multifunctional space. The latter is a leisure area focused on providing different scenarios beyond the regular working day: the loose furniture can be re-arranged and separated acoustically to meet the various requirements of the space over time. And the carpet design follows the curtain rail to further reinforce this zoning concept and hint at the users to explore the flexibility of the space. More than five activities and meetings –both formal and informal- can happen at the same time, providing specific atmosphere for each communication processes.

This multifunctional space is supported by an inherited color palette from the previous office that had already become the corporate identity of Crossboundaries: a combination of grey and yellow elements and textures bring focus and stimulation to the team. A number of inner vegetation islands were not to be left behind in the moving and they contribute to the layout by adding another color while integrating natural elements inside the office. The plants sit into movable platforms, behaving like attractors around the office, each time in a different position.

While the pandemic has brought radical transformations to business itself, Crossboundaries believes that the design of office spaces also has the need to undergo a forward-looking approach. This working platform has merged with a sense of domesticity where the existing is revitalized and incorporated by reusing every furniture and art piece that was once part of the former workplace – tables, chairs, curtains, lamps, shelves… So that whenever socializing is more back to normal, Crossboundaries will continue to share their space and bring people together:

  “We try to run our office as a community center”