It’s Curtains for the Office of the Future

It’s Curtains for the Office of the Future

International architects firm opens new office in Beijing with some interesting ideas.

Published October 21, 2022 12:30PM EDT

Crossboundaries is an appropriately named architecture firm founded by Binke Lenhardt from Germany and Dong Hao from China, who met at the Pratt Institute in New York. They are known to Treehugger for their renovation of a rooftop in Shenzhen into a linear park. Now they have renovated a light steel addition on another rooftop into their own “Transformable Workplace.”

We have wondered what the future of the office is post-pandemic, and so has Crossboundaries. They are not quite sure how things are going to shake out. They note in their statement: “Most global surveys indicate that more than 65% of people expect to work in a hybrid scenario moving forward. Accordingly, what 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 modes of the office.”

A semi-transparent wall separates the pantry and staff area from the main office space.
BAI Yu

To anticipate change, “Crossboundaries started dreaming of a future typology that could fluctuate and adapt to a variety of rapidly changing scenarios.”

Work stations are located along the window strip.
BAI Yu

The strategy here was to leave the space open so that there is light from all sides and cross-ventilation, but to allow for different uses and for dividing up spaces with “a lightweight curtain structure that functions as an island and connects the invariable working stations together with a central multifunctional space. The latter is a leisure area focused on providing different scenarios beyond the regular work day: the loose furniture can be re-arranged and separated acoustically to meet the various requirements of the space over time.”

The grey curtain is suspending from a lightweight curtain rail.
BAI Yu

Even the plants are on moving platforms, “behaving like attractors around the office, each time in a different position.”

Office plan for simultaneous meetings.
Crossboundaries

Curtains are not the greatest acoustic separation, but they definitely absorb and muffle sound. “More than five activities and meetings—both formal and informal—can take place at the same time, providing a specific atmosphere for each communication process.” Looking at the plan of this happening, one hopes that they don’t talk too loudly.

Material display area and model building.
BAI Yu

Very little other than the curtain structure is new; they have recycled their former office, wanting it to feel familiar and domestic “by reusing every furniture and art piece that was once part of the former workplace—tables, chairs, curtains, lamps, shelves…—so that whenever socializing returns, Crossboundaries will continue to share their space and bring people together: ‘We try to run our office as a community center.'”

Watching the video and looking at the plans, it does seem like they are packing all the architects tightly in one area of the space and leaving the rest open for different uses.

Yoga class configuration.
Crossboundaries

It’s difficult to know how or even if the office is really going to change post-pandemic; I originally thought that Covid was going to be the last nail in its coffin. Now, with the economy flashing red lights, people appear to be scurrying back to get face time with the boss.

Kitchen and staff area with a swing.
BAI Yu

Crossboundaries is probably doing the right thing in hedging its bets—lots of space, lots of fresh air and plants, lots of fun things to attract people back, and a swing in the kitchen. And everything is on wheels or sliding on tracks so that it can be reconsidered and rearranged in moments. It’s not an unreasonable approach in uncertain times.

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