Beyond the Four Walls

Offices as new centers of experience and connection

From efficiency to experience

Office design has shifted from mere functional structures to spaces of experience and connection that reflect the values and needs of today's society. This article explores how offices have evolved and can continue to evolve, not only as workplaces but also as destinations that nurture collaboration, creativity, and personal well-being.

In the not-so-distant past, office design aims to maximize efficiency and corporate hierarchy. However, a shift in focus gradually placed people at the center of design. Well-being and collaboration emerged as the keys to boosting productivity.

Technology has made it possible to sever the link between work and physical space and freed employees from the constraints of a specific location. Remote work became possible and this process, accelerated by the pandemic, led to a radical reinvention of offices as centers of experience and connection.

Today's offices are a patchwork of individual purposes. Employees choose when and where to work in search of a better work-life balance. Each visit to the office is tailored to a specific purpose.

Office design and co-working auditorium in Buenos Aires.

Auditorium/coworking for technology company, Buenos Aires, 2023, Estudio Mia-Coty Larguía. Photo © Daniela Mac Adden 

The company's community is now much more dispersed and scattered. Offices have been transformed into destinations where collaboration and interaction become enriching experiences, while the options of spaces are multiplying: work cafés, silent libraries, wellness areas, coworking rooms, concentration spaces, workshops, and innovation labs, among other alternatives.

In an expanding work environment, offices are the critical tool of a new ecosystem. They must offer diverse spaces and an increasingly attractive experience to be an eligible destination every day.

Extending the impact beyond the walls

But how can we continue to evolve and generate a different work proposal?

The value of an attractive work proposition transcends the physical design of the office. Companies seek to enrich their employees' experiences by extending beyond the workspace. They open up to the community to find that "third place" that fosters integration and transversality. They understand that this array of spaces that respond to the new needs of their employees can be more exciting and comprehensive if they expand into the neighborhood.

They also integrate the community into the design: offices are workplaces for internal employees and potential open spaces for everyone.

Office design finds new ways to create and integrate spaces.

Mercado Libre Melicidade, São Paulo, 2017, Milagros Irastorza - Paula de Elia - Athie Wohnrath. Photo © Ioanna Menendez

The business–community connection

A new approach to office design is emerging, focusing on becoming an active part of the community. Companies recognize the importance of being located in vibrant urban areas that offer a variety of options as an expansion of their own offices: parks, libraries, restaurants, bars, museums, sports and health areas.

Integrating into the neighborhood, experiencing it, being part of the community, and enjoying its uniqueness. Offices are no longer isolated, self-sufficient mini-communities but part of the environment. Enriching this work ecosystem will allow companies to attract and retain talent and give employees more opportunities to improve their quality of life and enhance their personal growth.

The example of Mercado Libre in São Paulo illustrates how a company can become a driver of positive change in a neighborhood. On the one hand, the general design conceived as a campus spontaneously generated uses that transcended the initial program. Clients began to propose their own events in the facilities, such as product launches, fashion shows, or concerts, and freelancers started coming to work on-site to join their teams. These new offices and all their services had a definite impact on the neighborhood, giving it new life and energy.

Office design contemplates interrelation spaces.

Work café, project for technology company, Buenos Aires, 2023, Estudio MIA - Coty Larguía. Image © Estudio MIA

Another example is the reception bar we designed for a leading tech company in Buenos Aires. In a neighborhood with a limited youth offer, the typical reception area is transformed into a trendy bar open to the community from 6 p.m., expanding to the outdoor plaza where the company proposes a cultural space for everyday use. In an age of constant experimentation, office design faces an exciting challenge: adapting to the changing needs of society. As we navigate into an uncertain future, it is clear that office design can no longer be considered by itself but as an integrated part of the city that has the power to influence its fabric, contributing to a more enriching human experience. Our goal as designers will be to offer a comprehensive approach providing richness in variety and a shared vision towards a more holistic architecture that is increasingly engaged with its environment and inhabitants.

Video: Azul Zorraquin Melicidade, São Paulo, 2017, Milagros Irastorza - Paula de Elia - Athie Wohnrath Arte Uno + Uno

Main image: Social floor, offices for Mercado Libre, Buenos Aires, 2019, Milagros Irastorza - Paula de Elia - BMA - Methanoia. Photo © Ioanna Menendez