Small rooms and flexible office environments see the light of day

New ways of working, a need to make better use of the available floorspace and a desire for more sustainable materials.

Exciting winds of change are blowing at the moment and influencing office design according to the architect Mette Gravergaard, creative director of space planning and interior design at Sweco Architects. Sweco’s Aarhus department has itself moved into new and flexible premises which the employees have designed themselves.

The way in which architects design offices is always undergoing some form of development. However, the COVID-19 lockdowns and the fact that more people are working from home have significantly accelerated this development compared to pre-corona times. This is what Mette Gravergaard, an architect and creative director of space planning at Sweco Architects, is observing. She highlights several emerging trends that will continue to impact office design in the coming years.

“We have been talking about activity-based working (ABW) for many years. However, the COVID-19 lockdowns have once and for all demonstrated the potential of activity-based working, which basically means that companies use the rooms at their offices in multiple ways,” says Mette Gravergaard.

Multifunctional spaces

It’s all about creating multifunctional spaces. Surveys show that people spend only an average of about 50 per cent of their working day at their desk – the rest of the time is divided between meetings, discussions and lunch breaks in various surroundings.

Given that people’s working days at the office are more ‘active’ than previously, this should be reflected in the office design, explains Mette Gravergaard.

“We have to create zones for different purposes in open office environments, for example high-backed sofas for work requiring undisturbed concentration and reflection, lounge areas for informal meetings and discussions, digital dayrooms for Teams meetings, conference tables and counter-height tables for ideation – and desk areas for when they are needed.

When adding working-from-home days to the equation, many companies could benefit from optimising the space at their disposal by minimising the number of desks in favour of more activity-based zones. Large empty atria and dedicated canteens are history,” says Mette Gravergaard.

“We’re going to see more multifunctional spaces and spaces that change character in the course of the day. A canteen may well be used for meeting stations during the day, as a canteen at lunchtime and somewhere for people to come together in the evening. However, the furniture and layout must be flexible for the room to quickly switch from being one thing to another, and the acoustics must accommodate this.

Recyclable thoughts

Within space planning – like in the rest of the construction sector – sustainability is becoming an increasingly important factor. For example, smarter layouts can enable companies to reduce the amount of space they need without compromising on functionality and job satisfaction. This makes a lot of sense for companies where more people are working from home as a natural part of their working week.

But in the interior design, it can also mean reusing furniture, for example, and giving equipment and fittings a new lease of life by painting and reupholstering them.

“It’s all about needing to feel at home at your workplace. For example, we’re seeing that the reuse of furniture can help to create a cosy and homely feel, which is important if the employees are to identify with their workplace, and when work comes to be seen as an activity rather than a place,” says Mette Gravergaard.

From factory to modern office in historic setting

Sweco’s Aarhus office has realised these ideas by creating smaller rooms and flexible environments. In 2021, the department’s 150 architects and engineers moved into a historic building on Willemoesgade in Trøjborg in northern Aarhus, where the employees themselves were responsible for transforming the former factory and warehouse into an exclusive office environment.

Aarhus University used to occupy parts of the block. Previously, the site was even home to a brewery, a margarine factory and a paper factory. The distinctive sawtooth roof was added in the days of paper making. It lets in ample daylight and created the considerable ceiling height needed to accommodate the large paper machines.

In designing the office space, considerable efforts were made to reuse the furniture from the former offices. Many of the work tables originated from Willemoesgade, and some of the conference tables have had new life breathed into them after being oiled or covered with linoleum, while the chairs have been reupholstered.

“We have prioritised design classics in durable materials such as wood, canvas and leather. Consequently, the furniture will last a long time, patinate nicely over the years and at the same time retain their value. We have also bought recycled furniture from other companies,” says Mette Gravergaard

Sweco’s 3,100-square-metre office is a beautiful and inspiring working environment for the employees and at the same time acts as a showcase for clients.

Forward-looking design

As part of the renovation, Sweco retained the existing facades and the load-bearing structure, as both the concrete and brickwork are beautifully patinated and can easily last for many more years.

The open-plan office landscape is broken down into smaller units, creating the flexible environment that the architects themselves recommend to companies, and which allows for both collaboration and concentration in varied settings. In the middle of the building are different-sized meeting rooms and more informal seating environments.

Troldtekt acoustic solutions have been chosen for many walls and ceilings and help – together with the rest of the interior – to soften the raw look. The outer and inner walls of the meeting boxes feature the design solution Troldtekt line with milled grooves, while the ceilings have white-painted Troldtekt acoustic panels to ensure superior acoustics and a comfortable sound environment.

“In order for a well-arranged and activity-based workplace to function optimally, we always perform acoustic calculations and incorporate well-documented acoustic products such as Troldtekt,” says Mette Gravergaard.


See more photos from Sweco Architects's office in Aarhus here

Facts: About Sweco in Denmark

  • In Denmark, Sweco has 1,350 employees, of whom 330 are architects working at Sweco Architects.
  • In addition to its Aarhus office, Sweco has integrated offices with both architects and engineers in Copenhagen, Silkeborg, Herning and Odense.
  • In addition, Sweco has offices in 13 other European countries: Norway, Sweden, Finland, Estonia, Lithuania, Bulgaria, Poland, the Czech Republic, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and the UK.