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From statement lighting to heavy duty flooring, CID uncovers the latest trends for commercial public spaces.

A subtly lit winding corridor by Flos.
A subtly lit winding corridor by Flos.

The public areas of a commercial building, whether it be the reception, waiting rooms, lift lobbies or corridors and foyers are all imperative components to the brand experience. From a five star hotel to the regional office of a government facility, the design has to be welcoming, accessible and encourage an easy flow of traffic. Over the following pages, interior designers, architects and manufacturers discuss what makes a successful public space and the considerations that go into specifying the ideal lighting scheme, furniture, flooring and finishing touches.

Howard Pharr, president, Hirsch Bedner Associates says: "[The design] can be vibrant or tranquil, contemporary, traditional or thematic depending on the wishes of the clientele, but should have a sense of location, be practical without appearing practical and work with the architecture of the building. These spaces are a kind of stage set for the clientele to use for a variety of roles." He suggests that opening spaces onto each other visually or directly helps the excitement or activity of one area generate excitement or interest in adjacent areas. "While sitting in the lobby lounge you might be able to see somewhat into a nearby restaurant or bar. Guests are continually exposed to welcoming activities without having to go looking for them or rely on signage to find them."

Understanding the intended use of the space is paramount, and Darren Lyon, design manager, Bluehaus says it is the first step in plotting a design: "Designers should basically think in three dimensions: what are the practical, physical and emotional impacts of a public area, they can then map the traffic flow within the space. For example, a customer walks into a reception area - where do they go next? Most probably to the reception desk, then to the waiting area, possibly to look at promotional material, then to a meeting room and to the exit once again."

He adds: "These ‘journeys' require an understanding of how people think and act, which is a question of psychology, and about how a business or a public area should optimally work." He cites the cost, delivery schedules, light reflectivity, acoustic parameters, heat dissipation, environmental and health impact as the key design decisions to be made before any aesthetical materials are specified. He adds: "Security factors, aesthetic value, brand presence, visual impact and function of the whole area are the criteria for receptions. The core values and the actual role of a company should be expressed in this first contact zone."

Kevin McLachlan, RMJM comments: "We as designers have the good fortune to work with our palette on a grandiose scale here in the region. The users of the spaces we create judge us on a global scale as it has become easier to continent-hop. The commercial spaces we deliver are more about ‘processing and functions'. They are still required usually to impress, but in a corporate space, it is to express wealth, success and business acumen."

"Efficiency is far more important in these spaces and we, as the designer, pay far more attention to the function and movement through the spaces on a macro and micro level of how we believe the spaces should be utilised. The impression for the user from these spaces usually comes from ‘scale and quality of materials' and their integration by detailing. Office lobbies - transport epicentres - conference facilities are spaces where extravagance is forgone for practicality," McLachlan adds.

As Carlo Moro MD, Selva Middle East perfectly sums up: "The reception area is essentially the ‘business card' of the hotel."

Current trends

The rapid expansion of the region coupled with the desire to create a plethora of iconic buildings and interiors has resulted in a design boom where creating striking designs are often placed higher on the importance list than longevity and durability.

McLachlan comments: "The ‘WOW factor interior design scheme is all show. The down side is that many designers lose control of these types of schemes and the result ends with many different ideas all competing for the user's attention in the same space, often leaving the space looking like a mess! It often leaves a very shallow design concept that lacks integrity and substance. Usually we find opting for the wow factor means being tied to the latest fashion, and fashion, as we know, can come and go. These proposals are usually short-lived, which is good for our business as within a space of five years clients feel the need to refurbish in order for their interior to compete. I believe that these impressive schemes should still carry a story with a beginning, a middle and an end."

Pharr asserts that despite the sustainable option carrying a higher price tag, more clients are now realising the importance of travelling down the ‘green' route in their projects: "There is much greater emphasis on energy economy and ‘green' design than ever before and this is increasing dramatically." Design with a social-conscience is affecting other areas of design too as Lyon points out that the UAE is starting to realise the importance of catering for less able-bodied guests and providing disabled access and amenities, which is impacting the designs of public spaces in terms of door widths, ramps and flooring materials making wheelchair use easier.

The increased use of technology means that having broadband wireless in all public areas is now a must, similarly technological advances has affected the use of plasma screens in receptions, and increased the need for acoustic wall and ceiling panelling. In addition Lyon suggests that: "Raised access flooring is also seeing a rise in popularity due to its obvious benefit to flexibility, data and power supply."

In terms of furniture specification, Barend Van Mullem, export manager, Vincent Sheppard says: "Interior designers face three primary challenges for furniture design and selection: how much is needed, what amount should be budgeted and what designs, patterns and materials are best suited for the particular environments. Planning often involves reviewing historical data and determining the specific needs of the facility and each area. To help guide the specification process, designers need to focus on an obligation to create the right ambience based on the theme and philosophy of the facility; a responsibility to design a comfortable and effective waiting or relaxing area; as also the need to maximise space and take the most out of it." He maintains that the hotel industry is tending to move away from outdated styles and ornate embellishment: "Facilities are increasingly emphasising a softer and cleaner aesthetic creating a contemporary environment. Colourwise, we are back to neutrals with contrasting highlights, though the ‘burlesque' atmosphere: gold combined with red is also in. The indigo blue is also popular. With respect to materials, sofas and chairs upholstered with leather or more lasting leather look-alikes and velvet are in vogue."

Moro adds: "Wenge wood and zebrano wood are still in trend, whereas new materials like laser cut MDF panelling are being used for the wall cladding since you can create different patterns and designs. Light and dark colours are used accordingly."

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