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Published 03.12.2021

Interview — A workspace on the move

Originally hailing from Genoa but now residing in the US, Francesca
Portesine is the Director of Interiors at BIG, Bjarke Ingels Group, in New York City. Here, she tells us about her appreciation of natural light in office spaces, and calls for way more rounded shapes in the future.


FRANCESCA PORTESINE — Director of Interiors, BIG.
Universita’ di Genova, Master of Architecture, 2003.
Nicol. Paganini Conservatory of Music, Degree in Theory and Solfeggi, 1995.

How do you believe the way we design our workspace has changed during the last 10 years?

“Previously the design of the workspace was very formal, and what we have seen recently is a move towards a more informal workspace. Some are even getting close to a home environment, with companies trying to imitate the same comfort as we know from our private homes. And then our workspaces have become more and more dynamic. We need to be able to move and change things often.”

How would you describe the design of workspaces today?

“They’re filled with as much natural light as possible. We are looking very much into creating dynamic environments with very organic shapes and flows. There’s definitely a move from square and rectangular shapes to rounder shapes. And maybe also an idea about moving through the office space not as a direct way between A and B, but instead more like a micro journey. We are constantly searching for a variation of shapes and experiences.”

Why are shapes so important?

“From an ergonomically point of view I believe we want shapes that are inviting. And it’s not just your chair that has to be soft and rounded, why not also your table and cabinets? It’s just something that creates a naturally comfortable working environment.”

Do you think this is something the average company is aware of?

“Yes, but not dramatically. We might see lots of height adjustable tables, which is good, but I believe companies should move in a direction towards offices with a more natural expression. I would love to see tables made of real wood instead of artificial imitations. Imagine a different atmosphere a handmade wooden table creates.”

In your opinion, what’s the most important or interesting trends in workplace design?

“The open office. Noone wants to work in a secluded office anymore. And then lots of light and natural materials.”

What’s the least utilized potential in workplace design?

“Ergonomic office chairs. Their design is not there yet. Office chairs are either classical or ergonomically correct, but none are really beautiful.”

What are the advantages of a company working actively with workplace design?

“Happier and more productive employees, which is the base of every successful company.”

How do you believe workplaces are going to look in 5-10 years?

“Like a home. Most likely as an interpretation of small apartments with customized spaces for total freedom. And definitely more handmade, natural items that don’t look like anything we see in offices today.”

BIG is a Copenhagen, New York, London and Barcelona based group of architects, designers, urbanists, landscape professionals, interior and product designers, researchers and inventors.

HOW DOES YOUR OWN WORKSPACE LOOK?

It’s messy. Lots of samples and books that are making a mess.

DO YOU HAVE YOUR OWN TABLE OR WORKSPACE?

Yes I do. In an open room. I share a long table with a designer.

WHEN ARE YOU MOST EFFECTIVE?

When I have the opportunity to isolate myself a bit, and just concentrate. You need multiple areas to concentrate. They should be everywhere. Areas where you can be alone and really get work done.

WHEN ARE YOU MOST CREATIVE?

In groups. When we share ideas. In the office, I think visible samples play are very important role as a driver for creativity.

WHAT IS THE SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT FACTOR IN RECENT YEARS THAT HAS SIGNIFICANTLY CHANGED YOUR WORK LIFE FOR THE BETTER?

The birth of my daughter three years ago finally obliged me to work normal hours.

AND WHAT PART OF YOUR WORK LIFE DO YOU WANT TO CHANGE NEXT?

After this Covid-19 experience I realized that architects can actually work from home. It turned out quite productive and efficient, so I will definitely want to organize my office space, at home, as permanently and efficiently as possible. It will become my new way of working a few days a week. This proved flexibility will make our homes a little bigger and our company offices a little smaller.

+Halle Scoop chairs in meeting rooms at the BIG office in New York City.