At Aartsen, everyone is always striving to make things better. It is one of the reasons why Aartsen keeps growing year after year. The idea that things can be improved is, of course, also shared by Aartsen Asia in Hong Kong. As a result, this branch has already relocated several times since 2012. The fifth move took place only recently. The architect responsible for designing the new office interior was Jan Geysen of Puur Interieurarchitecten, based in Antwerp.
It was a challenging task, because the distance between Antwerp and Hong Kong is more than 9,300 kilometres, and a flight (Amsterdam-Hong Kong) takes at least 11 hours. Fortunately, if you work online, coming together to discuss something takes just a fraction of a second, so that was how Menno van Breemen, Jan Geysen and Jack Aartsen worked together on this project. This conversation, in which Menno and Jan tell us about the new office’s interior design, similarly took place via Microsoft Teams.
Aartsen Asia had to relocate due to its continuing growth. Thanks to the relocation, it now has space to grow further. Menno explains, ‘The previous office was too small. Moreover, the rental contract was coming to an end. With an eye to the future, we chose an office that gives us twice as much space.’ Jan continues, ‘After Aartsen had rented the new office, Menno showed us the empty space in a video, and the view immediately revealed that it’s a superb location. I then asked myself how I would approach the interior design. I initially thought, “I need to go to Hong Kong”, but I quickly realised that I could easily do the job from Antwerp, by consulting with Jack in Breda and Menno in Hong Kong. We often held meetings via Teams, and we also shared and consulted on various issues using the program Whiteboards.’
‘We’re really high up, with the entire space between four walls, and there’s nowhere else you can quickly go to’ says Menno, ‘in contrast to the other Aartsen branches, which all have a warehouse. So you need a good, fresh-feeling and light workspace that makes you feel at home.
This helps people to perform better, I’m sure of it. We took a look at the kind of set-up they have in Breda, with the office and the farm. That farm is a place where you can sit outside your normal workspace. That’s why our board room and meeting room have a different interior design, intentionally creating a different atmosphere. It’s a really nice space where almost everyone eats lunch. These are moments when you can chat to colleagues and catch up on developments. It’s also a good way to get people away from their screens for a little while. Interaction provides important added value, so the office has a work section and a non-work section. This is reflected in the furniture and in the floor. The floor of the work section is carpeted, while the floor of the board room and the lunch room is concrete. Another striking element is the phone booth, which is both modern and retro. Taken together, all the details create a rich experience.’
Puur takes a specific approach to its work, and Jan believes in designing things that will enrich the client’s experience.
‘We always aim for dialogue. Initially, we didn’t have the idea of using the board room as a lunch space, but this arose during consultation. This double function benefits the atmosphere and helps them to use the available space in an efficient way. Informal contact also leads to better and more enjoyable collaboration.’
Menno: ‘In Hong Kong, they don’t really have company canteens. The square-metre price is incredibly high, so they don’t assign any space for this function. But now we’ve created a double function, and that works great.
When I told people here at the office that we wanted to set up a general lunch space, the locals said they would prefer to have lunch at their screens. However, pretty much from the first week on, almost everyone has been sitting together for lunch in that space between noon and two o’clock. At a nice, big wooden table with informal chairs – very cosy and homely.’ Jan adds, ‘We considered what elements we could use to create a more homely atmosphere. The way we treated the walls is not exactly typical for Asia, I think, but it works fine. Additionally, wood is an important component, a warm material. The farm was a great source of inspiration for this.’
‘I prefer to visit projects in person and, to be honest, I haven’t carried out a lot of complete projects remotely like this. Luckily, this isn’t a very complex space. Moreover, Menno was a great project manager’, says Jan. ‘We ensured everything ran smoothly by providing clear documents with good descriptions, and we made overviews with the brands and model numbers of products that we selected for the office. Besides this, I was impressed by the local contractors. They work and purchase materials unusually fast.’
‘In principle, we always look three years ahead, but we can’t predict the long-term development of Aartsen Asia. We’ve made provisions so that we can quickly expand the number of desks. There’s potential to take in another 24 or 25 employees – but it’s difficult seeing beyond that point. We hadn’t expected to outgrow the previous office within three years, either. Should that happen again, we might be able to break through a few walls to increase our space while remaining in this office building’, says Menno, looking ahead. ‘I know these people a bit better now’, responds Jan with a laugh. ‘That’s why, right from the start, we checked how many desks we could include in the space, to show Menno and Jack the possibilities. It’s future-proof.’ In Menno’s view, the new office is a lot more than just future-proof, ‘It has all turned out extremely well! It’s even more beautiful than I’d hoped.’