Creatif Conversations: 01. Gidi Matlin

Gidi Matlin has created coworking spaces that turn the notion of the traditional office on its head.

In this, the first of a new series, Creatif sat down with the Head of Capital Projects for Village Hotels to discuss what goes into his design process when it comes to these open-plan, communal workspaces

Pioneered by Brad Neuberg in 2005, coworking provides “the freedom and independence of working for [yourself], whilst having the structure and community of working with others.”

The growing uptake of coworking spaces is having a major influence on mainstream office design trends. By 2020, it is predicted there will be over 50,000 coworking spaces across the world, serving telecommunication, marketing, media and technology start-ups. 

This genuinely disruptive phenomenon marks a fundamental shift in the way office space is used. It is no longer occupied but rather consumed; built upon an idea that sees people who use the area as individual members rather than a collective.

With modern layouts and artistic designs, Village Business Clubs (BClubs) provide an aesthetically pleasing functional space for freelancers and entrepreneurs alike.  Gidi took time out of his busy schedule to exclusively talk to Creatif about the design process that underpins Village Hotel’s successful BClub initiative.

“First impressions are the most important thing to me,” he begins. “As soon as you walk in, you have to be drawn into the space so there has to be that initial ‘wow’ factor. That said, you can’t have style over substance; there’s a real balancing act between aesthetics and acoustics, flexibility and functionality.

Creatif: What are the key elements you think about when designing Village coworking spaces?

GM: Comfortable seating across a range of flexible working environments is key, as is good lighting. People’s spatial needs change throughout the day so it’s essential members can move from an individual private desk to a collaborative meeting pod.

Co-working is about choice. Village BClub houses a huge range of professionals who all need different types of space, so to cater for everybody we provide a variety of areas such as:

  • Private booths
  • Open space
  • Team rooms.
  • Various meeting and brainstorming spots to stimulate collaboration and interaction between members.
  • Comfortable break-out areas and places for rest.

We work hard to ensure that these spaces fit seamlessly together whilst maintaining a fluid layout.

[Another] one of the most important design elements of a coworking space is having an open space as your central hub. It creates that vibrancy and energy and stops people feeling isolated. At the end of the day, people work in a coworking space because they want to connect and collaborate with others.

It’s important to me that you get a real feeling of openness across a 200m2 space.

To achieve that you have to have a clear line of sight across the whole room with plenty of natural light. We’re lucky at Village Hotels because the majority of our spaces have big curtain wall systems, and we use white hot-desk style tables throughout, so both natural and artificial light can bounce off it.

When it comes to layout, open space gives you the most flexibility. We utilise easy-to-move dividers [and] ensure all of our furniture is light so it can be moved in a matter of minutes to suit our clients’ needs.

With people working so closely together, it’s important to create an environment that feels spacious and gives individuals the option to work in their preferred environment. Height is really important in developing that sense of space.

Our BClubs have exposed ceilings whilst large bookcases frame the walls yet only require a reasonably small square footage per person. 

Personally, I love bookcases; with neutral colour schemes it can be difficult to incorporate the fun element of work, so we express this through books and decorative ornaments.

We also add various pieces of art throughout the hotel that reflect to local area. For example, in the new Bristol hotel, we’re paying homage to Banksy.

Creatif: You mentioned open space; how do you manage the criticism and the epidemic of overwhelm that is often mentioned with open plan offices?

GM: Space can be a problem – you don’t just want one open plan space.

People need to feel like there are different areas they can work in depending on the task at hand. For example, we create areas with a number of small high-backed chairs.

This creates an area that has almost a library feel to it; it’s clearly a quiet space for focused work and we expect our members to respect that. 

We also provide areas where people can communicate and collaborate with others in larger pods. The furniture effectively signposts the behaviour we expect our members to observe, not forgetting the separate area for utilities like printers as well.

It’s often overlooked but service zones are a great way of creating sporadic interactions between people that builds a sense of community - which is at the heart of what Village BClub is all about.

Creatif: The increasing popularity of coworking hubs has some interesting implications for acoustic design. How is that reflected in the Village BClubs?

GM: What often makes design coworking hubs more challenging is that there is generally a greater emphasis on aesthetics, rather than acoustics, often with a desire for open-plan spaces flowing seamlessly into one another. How do these spaces meet the needs of louder members who often need to talk on the phone, yet still create an inclusive, collaborative work community space?

At a subliminal level, humans are acutely aware of the acoustics they find themselves in. It throws up many acoustic challenges that broadly fall in to two categories:

  1. Achieving the appropriate level of acoustic separation between adjacent areas.
  2. Getting the right acoustic ‘feel’ for each space so that people feel comfortable and productive.

At Village, we use ancillary areas as buffer zones between quiet and loud spaces as well as using movable acoustic partition dividers.

Even if you have three or four hot desks in a row, you can separate them with these acoustic brick partitions. Made from wool fabric and acoustic foam, the partitions are quick to reconfigure, perfect for dividing space, and excellent for reducing noise.

In certain areas, we limit the acoustic absorption in the space. Hard, acoustically reflective surfaces give an increased noise level and therefore a livelier atmosphere.

Additional absorption can then be added through soft furnishings to transform in to a calmer environment. We also use carpet throughout our business clubs rather than highly reflective floor surfaces such as concrete, wood or tiles. Carpet acts as an additional sound-deadening covering.

A side benefit of increased acoustic absorption is reduced ambient noise levels. Whilst this is normally a good thing, we have had several cases where noise levels end up being too low, which results in people being able to hear everything that is going on in different parts of the building.

An effective way of dealing with this in coworking hubs is the introduction of sound masking. This technique electronically raises noise levels in certain areas so as to reduce disturbance and provide enhanced speech privacy. 

We use a combination of acoustic solutions – movable partitions, screening by furniture, and sound masking. We’re always trying out different ideas and ‘tuning’ the space over time. In the new BClubs we are also looking at installing acoustical ceiling treatments, like those provided by Creatif.

Essentially every person that enters BClub should always feel that they have everything they need to be set up for success [and] what brings it all together is that polished modern look that we strive for in every Village hotel.