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Home and Building, Volume 37 Number 6 (1975)

Interior Design: Upgrading existing premises

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Interior Design: Upgrading existing premises

Old premises grow and are added to over a number of years, without any overall plan. Thus, how many organisations seriously contemplate a move into new premises because they see it as the only solution to improving inefficiencies, bad communication, overcrowding and low staff morale. Any one (or a combination) of these may have been caused through poor planning in the first instance or with growth and expansion over the years. The solution, nonetheless may not necessarily be moving premises at all, but a careful replanning exercise. Invariably substantial cost savings can be achieved.

As was stated previously, the design of new [or existing] premises for an organisation can be seen as an opportunity to re-evaluate the organisation's structure and to improve it through the circumstances of its physical set-up. If it is believed that an in depth feasibility study will determine the viability of upgrading, then an objective opinion should be sought from a suitably qualified planner. The latter, will, in essence, employ much the same methods as if compiling a detailed brief, by examining the fundamental grassroots of the organisation.

It is not uncommon in organisations who have occupied the same premises for many years, to find the "old timers" safely buried away in a corner, quite content with the way things are. Naturally they are resistant to change, and, therefore, must be made to realise the importance of corporate, as well as individual needs. Similarly, many of the older generation are against upgrading or change because of their belief that it will affect the client image, etc. — certain professional people are often guilty of this.

Having efficient and well planned offices doesn't automatically mean that you are making substantial monies at your clients' expense. Rather, it has the reverse effect of creating a favourable impression, particularly with prospective clients, who see it as a well-run and efficient entity. However, something of far greater importance than the design vocabulary in which the office is treated, is the functional aspect — the way in which the space is planned and laid out. Hence, communication, be it oral or otherwise, which contributes so much to the efficiency and smooth running of the office.

Thus, even when changing or upgrading existing premises, it is vital to have staff at all levels fully realise the need for such changes. It may well also be found that they can offer valuable contribution in how methods, etc. can be improved. By involving them, they are not only adjusting gradually, mentally and emotionally, but also made to feel very much part of the corporate structure.

In short, the process by which the plan is evolved for the upgrading of existing is little different from that involved in moving into new premises. The fundamental planning principles remain fairly constant (refer to the two previous articles). The gains invariably are significant in financial terms. Not only are the costs of occupying a new high rise building today high — but the continual delays before occupancy is effected, create frustrations (and inefficiencies) as well as escalating costs still further.

It is accepted that, in most cases, the modern high rise building today is airconditioned, and generally fitted out with all modern conveniences. However, to quote the old saying — "the user pays" — in this case, substantially higher rentals. In any event, whilst perhaps not quite as efficient, a variety of alternatives, such as portable air conditioning units, are available for this use.

The comment is sometimes made, that older buildings tend to be drab and dusty. Often this is only because the landlord and/or tenants have allowed it to become so. Further, it is conceded that whilst a tenant may upgrade his own premises, the public areas (being the responsibility of the landlord) remain shabby. The solution to this obviously lies in negotiation between the relevant parties; even if it does result in a slightly increased rental, the effort is well worthwhile. To see an old building restored with its generous ceiling heights and other physical characteristics upgraded, its something that is rarely seen in "the modern concrete jungle".

One of the easiest ways to upgrade the office is by opting for the "open plan concept". Invariably, in old premises, it will be found that over the years additional offices (or cellular boxes) have been erected haphazardly, and large square footage areas wasted. Maximum utilisation of space, has, thus, disappeared long ago. By analysing objectively the corporate and individual needs, it will be found that many cellular boxes need not exist at all in terms of function. To many, the 12'0" x 12'0" office has a psychological bearing on their behaviour — it offers them some form of security, yet from a corporate viewpoint, it contributes little, if anything. Thus, the space in question could be better utilised as part of an open plan office area.

Ideally, the upgraded office, therefore, shoudl perhaps consist of a combination of open plan and partitioned offices for those functions which require it. By arriving at this situation, the office (in broad terms) should be able to cope with change, as changing needs may require. However, will this find acceptance with the individual, and the answer to this, probably lies in considering such factors, as, the physical environment in which he or she works, salary, status, and the motivators which provide the stimulation and job satisfaction. In short, individuals cannot be continually used without an awareness of their needs being recognised.

Thus, there are a multitude of questions which must be answered concerning the organisation structure at the time of upgrading. If this is done, however, in a correct and logical manner, the results can be quite surprising, particularly when measured in terms of increased efficiencies, morale, communication, and that all important factor, the bottom line figure at the end of the financial year!

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