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edition 9 (183)
September 2013
Interior Design

A warmer reception

Modern lobbies are characterised by their calming forms and the use of natural materials

Zuzanna Wiak

“He sat in a still unoccupied ‘Opphuls Chair’, resting his elbows on its sweaty palms and tense arms. The armchair was breathing under his backside. The piece of furniture was naked, and bent as a shoe last with its back laid on the floor, arms in the air and buttocks raised. The straightened-up legs served as supports. The chairs were people with athletic builds, painted brown and grey, but well-trained...”

Relax – this is not the vision of an eccentric millionaire, or even an art performance. It is an excerpt from the ‘The Art of Murder’ by José Carlos Somoza. From time-to-time, papers are published on the direction in which art and design will develop. In the 1970s, futuristic plastic furniture was created in the shape and blood-red colour of women’s lips, which, in their grotesque forms, became symbols of design and pop culture. However, today a different trend has emerged, moving away from glamour, kitsch and artificiality and back towards natural materials and structures. The global trend is for organic materials in art and design. The choice of natural materials such as stone, wood, glass and natural plants is today obvious in the designs of residential, public and commercial buildings. A decade ago, when the first modern Polish offices were still being built, the principle seemed to be: show off at any cost. Many of you might be familiar with the cavernous reception area of the Warsaw Financial Centre office building, designed by A. Epstein & Sons International, Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates (now Epstein). It cannot even be called a reception – as it is a huge reception hall with an area of 360 sqm. The new owner, a consortium made up of Allianz Real Estate and Curzon Capital Partners III (an investment fund managed by Tristan Capital Partners), which took over ownership the skyscraper last summer, has already announced plans for its modernisation. “Over the next few years we are going to invest a few million euros in the Warsaw Financial Centre in raising its standard and improving the quality of services offered to tenants. Our strategy is to eventually introduce a number of physical changes, including the renovation of the lobby, which will begin in the autumn. This will bring the WFC into the 21st century through the modernisation of the interior of the lobby and the elevators, the introduction of a modern access control system, and an intelligent system of elevator control, as well as a completely new quality of reception service. We are also planning, at the same time as renovating the lobby, to move some service points from the 7th floor to the ground floor, where they will also be available for customers from the street. According to the original idea of the WFC’s designers, the 7th floor had the function of a service area, giving tenants access to a restaurant, a fitness club and a laundry. While this idea was a good one when the building came into use at the end of the 1990s, now, due to the growth in such services in the neighbourhood, it has completely lost its raison d’être. This is why we decided to move the services to the ground floor and to adapt the 7th floor into office space,” says Karol Bartos, the director of portfolio and asset management at Tristan Capital Partners.

Reception space designed for... a location
“When it comes to the reception desk in an office building, what should be considered first of all is the class of the building, its location and the target group of future users. The reception in an office building located in a prestigious downtown district should be distinguished by its city centre character. These types of facilities are designed for a particular type of tenant. Such prestigious locations are chosen by international law firms and consulting companies, for which the representative aspect is extremely important. For them the main factors are: the building’s profile and image, the location of a company office in the city centre, and the high standard of reception finishing, which in such types of buildings are characterised by the attention to detail and the use of quality materials,” says Katarzyna Oleksińska, the director of office project management at Yareal. The developer, which is of French origin, has in its portfolio buildings both in downtown locations and out of the centre of Warsaw. These exhibit two approaches in terms of design: one that is elegant and refined, the other modern and adapted to the vogue for ecological construction. However, in both natural and precious materials are used. The Mokotowska Square office building on ul. Mokotowska in the city centre has a reception desk designed by the Massive Design studio. It is built out of high-quality materials and natural stone, and possesses a simple elegance. On the other hand, there is Oxygen Park, a modern office complex being developed on Al. Jerozolimskie a few kilometres from the city centre. The dominant features of the project are concrete, glass and vegetation. “In buildings outside central locations an elegant reception is not necessarily well-received by tenants. In this case, an important factor is the optimisation of costs. In such properties the décor of the reception areas are much more modest than in buildings in the city centre. As a developer we actively participate in the design process for both the building and its common areas. Receptions in buildings are important for tenants, because they form part of the company’s image and are the places where they first welcome guests. A good reception must retain its qualities for many years, so we should not be tempted to go for something that is all the rage now but will be passé after just one season. Elegance, simple forms, moderation, and adequate – but not too much – space are the main goals that need to be achieved. Today’s receptions are very different from those that were created in buildings completed a decade ago. Spectacular scale is no longer the key in the design of such areas,” adds Katarzyna Oleksińska. Another project with naturalistic themes was designed by Przemysław Stopa of Massive Design: the headquarters of Ghelamco Poland in the Mokotów Nova building in Warsaw’s Mokotów district. The floors are tiled with granite, while the plinths are covered with stone or brushed stainless steel. Bleached oak panelling lines the walls.

Let us share the space
In many reception halls a clear division of space can be seen. To meet the basic functional concept for the reception hall at T-Mobile Office Park, which was designed by Zbigniew Kostrzewa, the space has been divided into three zones. The first is the entrance area with a monolithic desk in front of the entrance and a wall with a natural wood finish. The second, which is very important, is the lounge area, where soft, oval lounge furniture has been provided for brief meetings, or just to stop for a moment while waiting for appointments. The last zone is the service area with a café. “The first place we see immediately after entering the building is the reception. As a point from which visitors are directed to the rest of the building, it must have the requisite security measures while remaining an open space. Location is the crucial factor. It must be accessible and visible immediately upon entering the building and set in a space that allows free access to the desk. The room layout is designed to provide an unobstructed flow of communication between the entrance and the elevator hall. At the same time the reception room should have a representative character, as it is the first impression of the building to visiting guests. Therefore, in designing the entrance space durable materials need to be selected,” says Magda Borkowska of the design department of Torus, the developer of the Alchemia complex in Gdańsk. The final finishing work is currently being carried out on the building constructed in the first phase of the project. For the reception, the design department of Torus has used black granite, architectural concrete and stainless steel.
In designing reception halls the convenience and comfort of the people who work in them are also fundamental factors. Excessive noise and too much reverb are not good for communication and have a negative effect on the comfort of both employees and visitors. Due to the use of such materials as glass and stone, the smooth surfaces of the desks and the hard floors, contemporary reception halls are prone to sound reflection issues. “Receptions and halls in office buildings are specific places. Not only are the aesthetics important, but so is the comfort of the people behind the reception desk. To ensure this, we must also consider the acoustics of such places. It is important that employees who are receiving telephone calls, talking with customers or receiving deliveries can perform their work in suitable conditions,” says Maria Chudkiewicz of Rocfon. Modern technology is, however, now able to contend with all such problems. “One of the better solutions are Sonar X edge ceilings, which are perfect for elegant interiors. These are modular ceilings, which give the effect of a completely smooth, stylish, monolithic surface. The boards have a high absorption coefficient, thus reducing the problem of reverb,” adds Maria Chudkiewicz.

At the front
The reception provides the first impression of a visit to a building. What matters is the space and the look of the interior, as well as the services provided by the front desk, because this is where the employees of the building’s companies and their guests make their first contacts upon entering. In 2012, architect Zbigniew Kostrzewa won the international Red Dot Design Award for the Zig-Zag reception desk created for design studio MDD. What would the ideal reception desk be like? “Functionality, suitable décor and ergonomics are, in my opinion, some of the essential features of the ideal reception desk. Designed in the right way, unsightly equipment such as printers or faxes should be hidden, leaving the desk uncluttered. The reception desk is the first visible element and noticeable indicator of corporate identity, so it must reflect what the company does and fit in with its surroundings. The perfect desk should express the nature of the company. Designs that match a company’s attributes can from the outset communicate its core values,” says Zbigniew Kostrzewa. In his opinion, in desk design there are two main trends. “The desk can be treated as part of the whole design of the entrance area and integrated with the décor. It can also be seen as a sculpture – and the main and most important point in the entrance area,” says Zbigniew Kostrzewa, the founder of In Design. The height of the counter is not without significance for visitors. Here two major trends are also evident: low desks of about 80 cm in height, as they do not create a barrier to communication and exhibit the openness of the company; and high counters that clearly designate the reception area. The materials used for the construction of desks are various and their choice is limited only by the imagination of the designer. The most frequently used are lacquered MDF, Corian, wood veneer, steel and glass. There is also a trend for using other materials that directly relate to the nature of the company and its values, such as organic fabrics and materials, plant elements, books or plastic. The cost of a double reception desk tends to be around PLN 20,000, but can even be as much as up to PLN 100,000.

Gabriela Matysek-Mazurczak
of the property and asset management department of Cushman & Wakefield
Architecture plus staff

The appearance of the building’s main reception is very important for tenants, especially in prestigious buildings. The client of the tenant approaches the main reception first, from where he or she is directed by the customer service staff to the tenant’s office. Therefore, the reception of the building is in a sense a showcase of the tenant and should make a very good impression. A good reception is, among others, characterised by an attractive architectural concept, by the high quality of the finishing materials used, and by original floral compositions. Equally important is the customer service, with properly selected and trained receptionists and security to help visitors coming into the building.

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