Photo by Bagus Tri Laksono
Entering the British Council office in Senopati, South Jakarta is like stepping into a sleekly designed office of the future. The space has an open plan with no assigned seats. Every employee, including Country Director Paul Smith, uses a web interface to register for a desk. Organically curved mesh chairs by Herman Miller mate with a 10-person collaboration table with ergonomic cutouts, while a high-walled diner-style booth, informally called the Karaoke Room, sits six facing a flat-screen monitor.
The office, Smith says, is more than a base of operations. It captures the essence of the British Council. “It’s not being done because it’s ‘modern’,” he adds. “We are a single team, moving around and constantly engaging. Our mission is holistic, inclusive and democratic, promoting equality and diversity. No one is privileged. They’re all hot desking. I would much rather that the staff is outside the office, making it happen. You don’t relate to people by having endless meetings.”
In Jakarta, Smith leads a team of about 10 British citizens and 90 Indonesians running programs including language training and assessment, as well as arts and societal development initiatives that operate throughout the archipelago.
Space, line, colour, technology, ergonomics and an enlightened management philosophy have all been deployed to yield a space that encourages creativity by removing borders. In the spacious lobby, cleverly deployed vertical wooden baffles cut a path through the ceiling, running in a zig-zag pattern that’s mirrored below by wooden flooring, neatly defining a walkway between carpeted sections as well as dividing the space.
Filled with a copious amount of playfully coloured stools, chairs and Y-shaped seats, the lobby is bordered by a meeting room divisible into smaller spaces such as classrooms, when the British Council offers students language assessments. In a nod to Indonesia, a diagonal batik pattern has been emblazoned on the glass wall separating office and lobby. The motif reappears throughout the office, laser etched into room signage or on glass room panels, among other places.
Passing from the public to the secured space, a visitor has a sense of openness.
Floor-to-ceiling windows run the length of the front area, bathing it in natural light. The high exposed ceiling has been done in black, with the vertical wooden baffles from the lobby continuing to weave their way above.
A kitchen done in warm wood stands by the entrance and is flanked by the 10-person ergonomic collaboration table. Dubbed “The Warung”, the glass-enclosed kitchen features excellent views; mod/cons such as a flat-screen television, microwave and refrigerator, and a high wooden table with minimalist bar stools and built-in table-top outlets so staff can dine while working. Colourful bench seating and stools sit in front of a sleek white cafeteria tables under the batik motif.
The build-out encourages work to be done in many different ways. Past the collaboration table is a wraparound booth and worktable facing a flat-screen monitor smartly mounted on a structural support, around which people must squeeze to enter. High fabric partitions offer privacy in a public space.
On the other side of the column are two 2-person tables oriented perpendicular to the space’s main axis. The seats look as if they’ve been taken from an American diner, although they are topped by a futuristic light fixture/USB charger and not salt and pepper shakers.
To the left are meeting rooms, some barely big enough for two, offering privacy for phone calls as well as dazzling high-tech touchscreen whiteboards. On the right, perpendicular to the main axis, are seven long worktables, each seating four. The 28 workstations feature Black Herman Miller ergonomic seats, as well as a dock for the laptops issued to each employee that mates with a built in charger, internet access and adjustable flat screen monitor.
Smith says he typically sits at the very first bank of worktables, by the window, facing people as they enter–and his senior managers typically sit close by. Those first workstations feature desks that can be lowered for wheelchair access or raised as standing desks. Inclusion has been writ into the office design, he adds. “We seek to empower, taking it from sympathy to liberating the capability of the disabled.”
A back room hosts an additional four banks of four workstations and is rimmed by cafeteria-style seating and barstools that can accommodate an additional 20 or so people. To the rear lies “The Pod”: Four high cubicles done in green, ideal for intense quiet work, as well as a privacy room with a comfortable chair that staff can reserve for anything from pumping breast-milk to meditation or even a brief mid-day nap.
While having an open-plan office that has fewer workstations than staffers might seem risky, the solution works, given that staff are usually in the field, Smith says. Accordingly, desks are booked on a half-day basis. Further, the perennial problem of open-plan offices–no personal space–has been solved, giving each staffer a huge locker for backpacks and papers and business units also have lockers for shared equipment.
While all furnishings were British import, so is the office art, which came from the British Council’s art collection, the world’s third-largest collection of British art. Design and architectural standards for the Jakarta office came from the British Council in Hong Kong, which coordinates this work globally and which hired contractors in Singapore, as well as local interior design consultants for the build out.