Many commercial, customer facing businesses have been disrupted by the notion of a comprehensive customer ‘experience’ that has been introduced largely by tech giants Apple and Google. In view of this, they are presented with customers and clients that have an insatiable appetite for a new ‘experience’. The challenge inherently begins with the business premises themselves, they need to hint towards the promise of being ‘interestingly different’ as we are all aware of the old cliché, “first impressions count”.
The space that a commercial business occupies has a number of requirements, it needs to be both functional and aesthetically pleasing but it also must carry the energy of the brand. The premises are integral to brand perception as well as productivity levels and staff morale. They need to be authentic; does this mean raw? Has the demand for authenticity caused us to shun whimsical and bohemian trends that have been favoured of late and revert to materials that are raw and elemental? These kind of materials only serve to embark a message of transparency; they are not masking themselves or dressing themselves up – they send a message of brand integrity.
The dynamic around industrial material has changed, no longer considered cold and necessary. The once clinical ambience of such materials are now bringing a much warmer and more sentimental, almost residential energy to commercial workspaces.
The term ‘industrial design’ is more than appropriate when talking about new trends in commercial spaces. Much more than an image, materials within industrial design serve to optimise function and value. I’m talking in particular about materials such as concrete, Corian, metals and brick. As separate entities, all of the materials have function and purpose, which will be explained shortly in their own right; but when used together they offer a contemporary combination of textures that has an underlying accent of masculine strength.
Commercial spaces are usually exposed to high traffic and for this reason they need to be adorned with materials that with withstand this. Flooring materials such as tiles and hard wood are being ditched for concrete. Usually found ‘polished’ when used within a space, concrete offers itself as a highly durable flooring option that is low maintenance and sustainable. It also comes with eco credentials, another important factor in todays ‘green’ obsessed world. Concrete is being increasingly used as a versatile option for interiors; as well as being used as a flooring option, it has also been known to be used on walls.
“As on any large development, we have used concrete extensively,” says Phil Sullivan, senior projects director at Argent. “It’s in the groundworks, big retaining structures, basements, embankments and roadways. But I have been privileged to work with some very talented engineers and architects who are really pushing boundaries and showing what can be done with concrete. I’ve learned a lot about the way the material can be used – especially within buildings from a sustainability point of view.”
Contrary to popular opinion its not a cold or inviting material, it can be stained to take on colours and various finishes, such as wood or marble – perfect for high end businesses. Its ability to impact the light within a space is one of the reasons that many businesses are turning to the material. Due to its natural high light reflectivity means that natural light is amplified, having an effect on the morale of both employees and customers in the environment.
As many businesses are looking for ways to become more innovative in their approach, Corian seems to be an increasingly favoured option. It has deep seated roots in the healthcare sector due to its ability to uphold strict hygiene levels within medical and dental practices, it has now filtered into the hospitality and retail sector, as well as many corporate offices. Considered to be a quality and elite material, Corian is used in a vast number of ways.
Roz Fairbank from Superior Surfaces gives her take, “Corian has been around for a long time but I think people are only just beginning to understand its numerous applications. One of the wonderful things about Corian is that you can thermoform it and so form it to a 3D so that it becomes one solid, seamless piece. Architects and designers are beginning to use the fabric more and more in various settings. Commercial designers are always looking for ways for a space to become more creative and Corian allows for this and stands out even against beautiful surfaces such as granite because of the flexibility it offers.”
Corian has even been used to create high tech installations, or ones that multitask as a screen by using fibre optic technology – creating a high impact space.
I wanted to touch upon glass. Perhaps not necessarily to be classed as an ‘industrial’ material, it has strong roots in the industrial trend and heavily used as an architectural feature. Using glass can transform a commercial interior into a dynamic space; it has gone far beyond being used as a simple window, but has been extended to being used as internal partitions and even entire walls, exceeding the necessary and decorate to being functional and even structural. As the era of ‘collaboration’ is upon us, glass is becoming increasingly relevant, particularly in businesses where teams are divided into different departments. It has been argued that using glass internally increases visibility, employee interaction and morale – all positive factors within any commercial space where ultimately the need to invoke the right culture to secure profits prevails.