“Workspace design is a matter of company philosophy”

AstraZeneca hired Zurich firm Büronauten AG to help design its new premises in the Quadrolith office building in Baar. In this interview, lead project manager Felix Kühne and interior designer Irina Meiser explain how they went about developing the room layout and the points that need special attention when designing open office spaces.

What do you particularly like when you walk through AstraZeneca’s new offices?

Irina Meiser: It is good for us to see that the rooms have met with a high level of employee acceptance. And also that we have succeeded in creating a friendly, warm atmosphere with the chosen materials.

What exactly did AstraZeneca’s commission involve?

Felix Kühne: The commission comprised the entire spatial design concept, development of the interior scheme and overall planning of the outfitting, including coordination with the specialist planners for the air conditioning, ventilation systems and electrical installations. Of course, this required close consultation with the client, with Alfred Müller AG as the general contractor and with all the subcontractors involved.

“Our goal was to create spaces that work well but also effuse a pleasing ambience.”

Irina Meiser, interior designer
The staircase not only serves as an internal connection, it is also a place of communication.

How did you set about developing the floorspaces?

Felix Kühne: First, we organised several workshops and interviews with the AstraZeneca managers to analyse and clarify all the requirements and needs. That raised questions such as: What are the company’s specifications? What kinds of space are required and how much of each kind? What functions will these various spaces include and what requirements must they fulfil? How many employees will work in these spaces and what are their needs? Based on this analysis, several concepts were developed and compared with AstraZeneca’s requirements and the general building parameters.

What specifications did you get from AstraZeneca?

Felix Kühne: Our planning had to incorporate AstraZeneca’s iWorks workplace strategy. Briefly, the aim here is to create a setting around a certain number of workplaces that offers spaces for meeting, collaboration, retreat and getting together.

Can you explain the layout in more detail?

Felix Kühne: The office zones are divided into “neighbourhoods” that are then assigned to the various departments. The advantage of the neighbourhood concept is that the teams can quickly orient themselves and individual team members are always in the same workplace zones. Besides the neighbourhoods, the Town Hall is another central element. It was conceived as a staircase and place of communication where employee assemblies are also held monthly. At the same time, this internal connection encourages exchanges across floors. The large cafeteria and its terrace together create another attractive place for getting together. It has also been designed as a place for informal meetings. In addition, there is a micro-kitchen on each of the other two floors.

The outfitting is of very high quality – what are the most important elements here, and why were they chosen?

Irina Meiser: Our goal was to create spaces that work well but also effuse a pleasing ambience. Various design elements contribute to this, for example, the wood panelling with rounded corners in the core zones and the choice of natural surfaces in the various spaces such as parquet floors and textiles that also have a sound-absorbing effect. The glazing in the conference rooms provides transparent, luminous interiors. And together with the wood, it all sends out a certain elegance. The carpet is another design element; we think it fits well with the interior design as well as the facade and also helps good acoustics.

Felix Kühne: I was in two minds about the carpet to begin with; it is an unorthodox solution. In order for ourselves and AstraZeneca to both be sure about the final selection of floor coverings, we organised a mock-up on the construction site. We find the result a great success.

This is a concept completely based on open workspaces and operating without permanently assigned desks?

Felix Kühne: Yes, employees can freely choose where they work within their department.

What needs special attention when designing open workspaces?

Irina Meiser: Acoustics are a very important aspect. At AstraZeneca, we have deployed various elements in the workplaces, including textile floor coverings, curtains, ceiling modules and sound absorbers, to ensure very good acoustic working conditions in the open spaces.

Felix Kühne: The more open the working space design, the more additional space needs to be available for concentrated work, meetings, informal exchange, etc. It is also important for employees to have good, easy storage for their personal items. Everyone at AstraZeneca has a personal locker to store their working materials.

How many employees work in the open spaces – do you think there is an upper limit here?

Irina Meiser: At AstraZeneca, one neighbourhood is home to a maximum of about 20 people. How many people can work in an open-plan office depends very much on the building floor layout. The winged architecture of the Quadrolith provided very good conditions for this kind of concept.

“Rooms for meetings, teamwork and concentrated activity make up one third of the space.”

Felix Kühne, lead project manager

Were there any particularly hard nuts to crack with this project?

Felix Kühne: The short planning period was certainly a big challenge because a high level of planning certainty was nonetheless required in cost terms. We had to solve some of the material choices and surface details exactly very early on so that Alfred Müller AG could implement what was wanted. But the great effort was worth it – we are very satisfied with the result.

Was the outfitting at AstraZeneca a special job for you?

Felix Kühne: We have already designed similar concepts for other companies. However, AstraZeneca was a client who accepted our proposals very openly and is also well ahead technologically. Collaboration was stimulating, professional and constructive – with the client, with Alfred Müller AG and within our own team.

Will office space generally be open in the future – how do you see developments?

Irina Meiser: For every business, workspace design is a matter of company philosophy. Does the company tend to progressiveness or conservatism? Where does human exchange stand in the order of things? It’s not just about open or closed offices but a coherent concept that both looks good and functions well.