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Rachel Savage from CitySpace talks to CID about ergonomics and people-friendly commercial design.

Rachel Savage is committed to bringing elegant ergonomics to Dubai.
Rachel Savage is committed to bringing elegant ergonomics to Dubai.

Multi-functionality; social-responsibility and corporate creativity are just some of the keywords in Rachel Savage's daily design vocabulary. As project designer for office design specialist, CitySpace, devising a new breed of workspaces in Dubai is her main aim..

How did you choose interior design as a career?

When I was 13 years old I went on a trip to Barcelona and totally fell in love with the Antonio Gaudi architecture from the late 19th century Spanish Art Nouveau movement. In particular, I was fascinated by the unique way he adapted curves from nature and the human form in his designs. From that point on I dreamed of being an architect, but became drawn to creating the inner space rather than building the space. I completed my BA (Hons) degree in Interior Design in the UK and I've been a practicing interior designer in the commercial world for the past eight years.

You moved to Singapore straight after graduating - how did this experience shape your approach to interior design?

Working in Singapore as a fresh graduate was really a sink or swim situation. I was given huge responsibility considering my (lack of) experience and thankfully I swam! One of the most important things I learnt was to trust my instincts and have complete confidence in my designs. Singapore is a very competitive market, so we were always trying to come up with innovative designs.

Which of your projects in Singapore are you especially proud of?

It would have to be the design office I worked at. I was a relatively new recruit and it was a fantastic - yet challenging - opportunity to express my creativity. The design of the reception area revolved around the eye of the company logo, depicting our philosophy of an 'eye for detail'. The focal point was the stunning cantilevered reception desk - a 4 metre long swathe of pure white Corian.

So what then brought you to Dubai?

I felt I'd firmly established my credentials as a professional and experienced designer and was ready for a fresh challenge. The media has had such a love-affair with Dubai in recent years and it's really staking its claim on the global map of 'happening' places. It seemed to be such a vibrant cosmopolitan city through the huge amount of development taking place and I thought to myself 'what an exciting place to be as a designer' ... and made the leap over to CitySpace!

What do you like most about your current role at CitySpace?

Believe it or not, I'm really interested in carpentry and marquetry craftsmanship! I especially enjoy being able to work so closely with the joinery company we partner up with. At least one unique feature usually appears in my design, be it a door or cabinet or reception desk. Watching it being built, I sometimes worry if it will turn out as I had pictured in my mind, but it's such a great feeling when you see the fabulous end result.

What positive influences do you think you have brought to CitySpace and its client projects?

I would like to think that I have bought a more creative edge to the company's projects. Our clients are mainly multinational companies and my ultimate aim is to create a space that respects their corporate global standards, yet is far removed from a 'cookie-cutter' workspace. In other words, I try to use their corporate colours in a unique way and represent their brand through the use of texture and unusual materials whilst also incorporating a distinct 'nod' to the part of the world we are working in. For instance, I love using mosaic tiles and stone feature walls, as well as selecting indigenous artworks and the rich vibrant colours of handmade Persian rugs.

What are the projects you have worked on in Dubai?

I've been working with CitySpace for about 18 months now and can't believe how much I've achieved in this relatively short time!

I'm especially proud of Carlyle and Société Générale, in DIFC. Other projects include Ashurst, which was a collaboration with an Australian firm. The design brief requested an extremely contemporary look far removed from the typical lawyer's office. The end result used stark white paint contrasted with bright orange, pink and blue fabric panels, with glass panels embellished with bold typography graphics.

The VP Bank proposal was pure dynamite! They expressed a desire to create differentiation between themselves and every other bank in DIFC. We proposed kinetic lights behind stretched Barasol to create a curved wall leading to the conference room; the idea being that the light would gradually change through a range of warm gold hues through to deep red to add constant movement and colour.!

What are the common design flaws we see in offices?

Where do I start? Uninspiring use of space; bog-standard layouts; cheap low quality furniture with not an ergonomic bone in its 'body'; poor use of space in relation to building footprints; not enough use of colour or different materials; not maximising Dubai's amazing natural light! However, the most common challenge of all is that we still sometimes see design briefs dictated by old-fashioned company hierarchy; massive lavish offices for senior managers while support staff are crammed into dull, soulless spaces.

Thankfully, many of our clients agree to our space plan proposals that situate private offices with large glazed partitions in the central core to allow natural light to flood through open workspaces. Many systems furniture and office product manufacturing organisations have been investing in R&D that truly reflects people-needs, and through education, such as our Workplace Freedom seminars at the annual Office Exhibition in Dubai, things are changing.

So what are the current trends in the way people work?

The days of 'one desk fits all work tasks' are severely numbered. Products such as demountable partitions, multi-purpose furniture, compact desk systems, and shared work benches are coming to the fore. One of the most interesting trends we've seen is the use of public space such as corridors, reception areas and break-out spaces, which I particularly enjoy designing and selecting furniture products that facilitate communication.

The use of space, soft seating and motivational graphics play key roles in how people interact. A huge amount of knowledge-sharing takes place in these informal gatherings. Does the space inspire trust, openness, relaxation, or fun? These are the new wave of questions that should be asked right at the design brief stage.

Have you developed a signature 'Rachel Savage' design style?

I like to create clean lines without any fuss and clutter; my designs are usually linear in form with strong lines. I strive to create warm and welcoming offices that people feel comfortable in. I also like to create contrasts with different finishes and colour; I love texture and fabric, and textured glass usually pops up in most of my projects!

What would be your dream commercial project - and what would your design look like?

Like every designer, a free creative rein and unlimited budget! I think it would probably be some sort of campus, where you virtually have a whole office village. The space itself would be open plan, with high ceilings and lots of light; it would house all kinds of facilities, from work areas, conference suites, restaurants, relaxation areas to medical facilities, with significant consideration to communication and integration; mixing up work, discussion and relaxation. The colour scheme would be clean and bold, using oversized graphics to enhance the brand. Tactile materials such as concrete, timber, glass and fabrics to create texture would certainly be on my wish list! I would love it to be a socially responsible office; although I am no expert, I am really trying to learn more about the'greener' options available - perhaps using solar or hydro power in some way.

Do you think there is a unique Dubai-style of design?

I think the traditional Arabian design is so beautiful, with its intricate archways and wind towers that evoke a feeling of elegance and splendour from days gone by. I also believe that Dubai has embraced a sort of global design fusion - mixing it all up. It's evident in many interior projects too, whether it be a bar, hotel lobby, residence or office. Having said that, there's also a distinct progression as the Dubai skyline takes shape, which I feel is best personified by the Grand Hyatt Hotel; it takes its inspiration from the ground up using palm trees and a traditional Arabian Wadi mountain town structure at the base level, towered by a monolithic sleek modern hotel building.

Actually, I think Dubai is a work in progress that still hasn't yet reached its culmination. Ask me again in another ten years!

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