Creative, comfortable + collaborative

A mural of a recognisably local streetside scene in an overwhelmingly modern and minimalist foyer area sets the tone for the theme that informs iPartnership’s approach to TNS Malaysia’s design blueprint. A porthole-like window connects a small waiting area in the foyer to the inner sanctum of the office, signifying a seamless and convivial connection between the spaces

Just around the corner is a casual workspace comprising a comfortable banquette, chairs and tables where TNS clients can work.

The Energy Hub was conceived as TNS’ central space for the generation of ideas. It is also the place to enjoy some downtime with the on-site X-Box. The retro-Malaysian theme continues here with old-fashioned plastic string chairs and thin timber blinds, wittily emblazoned with ‘Makan & Main’ — ways in which to use the space. A chalkboard wall provides a constantly changing vista for this vibrant zone.

A small nook that extends from the Energy Hub is calm respite for anyone not quite ready to get back to work. The all-white walls are enlivened with motivational posters, framed photographs as well as certificates of achievement. This is one of a few clusters of seating you’ll find spread throughout the office to encourage informal discussions.

Elements typical to corporate offices like collapsible room separators meld with contemporary ideas to serve the needs of a youthful and modern corporate culture. For example, meeting rooms are equipped with boldly coloured, low-slung chairs for a more relaxed atmosphere. Overall, the energy is vibrant and inspiring, conducive to a more collaborative working environment.

The company practises hot desking whereby seating changes according to the nature of the project. Cabinets are used to demarcate workstations topped with lush ferns that infuse a touch of the outdoors.

From left: iPartnerships’ Indra, Syamei Salleh and Wiriyak Suvanmani, with TNS’ Lai

Staff lockers are given a coat of grey and bright yellow, turning something utilitarian into part of the interior design

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This article first appeared in haven, The Edge Malaysia, on Issue #80 August + September 2016.

 

A cheery mural in the foyer of market research agency TNS Malaysia’s 8,500 sq ft office is a most arresting design feature. It is a scene from a traditional kopitiam from the perspective of a diner looking out to the busy road. In animated colours, the mural is completed by an actual wooden table that extends from the wall, set with porcelain bowls and shiny chopsticks that are ready to be used. Compelling and evocative, it sets the tone for the rest of this comfortable and comforting office — retro-inspired, locally flavoured and yet thoroughly modern and contemporary.

The brief from TNS Malaysia managing director M C Lai to the team from design studio iPartnership was simple, based on the needs of a youthful and modern workforce in a very customer-centric business environment. 

“The idea was to change the look and feel of the office, as well as the energy and ambience,” says Lai. “Our old office was a very traditional office space and we found that it didn’t allow a lot of interaction between the various teams. So the main thing was to create a space that encourages collaboration while having a more energetic and modern vibe. TNS as a company, all over the region, is moving in this direction.”

Indra Ramanathan, managing director of iPartnership, approached this brief through a very broad lens, based on the principles of his design studio, anchored by education, lifestyle and art. “We wanted to try and do something unique while being Malaysian,” he says. “So we went through a series of exploratory ideas to discover what is recognisably Malaysian — if the double decker bus is London, Malaysia is the grilled gate, or the timber blinds that front old shoplots. Once we identified those things, we thought about how they would look in modern Malaysia. All those ideas were then paired with the practical aspects of the brief, which was about collaborative spaces that encourage activity-based work.” 

Aside from the mural, the foyer has a receptionist’s desk, a small seating area, two meeting rooms and, tucked away in a corner, a funky banquette with tables and chairs where TNS’ clients can work with some privacy. “Our clients often work here — it is a convenient location, plus they all really like the space,” Lai smiles. 

Beyond a solid white door lies TNS’ expansive work space. It is cheery and flooded with natural sunlight, as people work on tables arranged in a casually haphazard manner. The walls are relatively bare, the colour mostly coming from the grey carpet underfoot, zig-zagged with bright swathes of yellow, and matching lockers against one wall. I suddenly notice that the worktables have no shelves or drawer units — everyone has nothing on their desks, save for the laptop they are working on.

“We practice hot desking, which means no one is permanently based at one place — it makes it easier for various groups to assemble and disassemble when required,” Lai explains. “The lockers provide storage space, and also give everyone a sense of physical belonging.” Although we are in the digital age, we are not yet completely paperless, so, tall cabinets double as storage spaces and space separators, each one topped by extraordinarily healthy ferns. 

Indra and his team spent a lot of time learning about the specific work processes at TNS, and it is that intrinsic understanding that informed his team’s approach to the design. He says, “While we do have a lot of standard issue elements typical to all modern offices — collapsible room dividers, for example, and glass walls that double as writing surfaces — the company’s specific needs called for new ideas. The lockers, for example, are quite unusual and so is the quiet room.” 

The quiet room — which is more of an open space rather than a formally segregated area — is for anyone who needs undisturbed time to work and therefore has no phones. Although the other desks do have phones, small padded booths equipped with a colourful chair, phone and a small desk space are custom-created for teleconferencing purposes. 

Another unique space is the energy hub, which is an area conducive for brainstorming and casual meetings. A television in one corner is where staff often spend their downtime with the X-Box and a karaoke machine, while mixed seating can be assembled and collapsed at will. The locally-flavoured, retro-inspired aesthetic really comes to life here with specific elements that are visually arresting — plastic wire chairs, boldly printed wallpaper and thin timber blinds, but emblazoned with texts more suited to an office rather than an old shop selling biscuits. 

The design is a remarkable combination of practicality and spatial creativity, with visual accents that are meaningful and motivating. But most compelling of all is the way the design has actually worked for TNS’ staff count of almost 100. “For us, this project is a success because the space is still being used in the way it was intended,” Indra says. “Everyone still moves around from desk to desk, and the energy is very much the same — vibrant, collaborative and social.”