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It's not just the product on display in this LEED-registered workplace for a global office furniture manufacturer – the open layout creates a transparency that enhances communication at all levels


Moving into new custom-designed premises provides an ideal opportunity for a company to take a close look at its core values and workplace culture.

For office furniture manufacturer Steelcase, the commissioning of a new Global Shared Services (GSS) centre in Kuala Lumpur also created an opportunity to embed sustainability into the business.

Designer Dylan Tham of SL+A Sendirian, part of the Steven Leach Group, says the project is the first LEED Commercial Interior to be registered in Malaysia – it has achieved a Silver certification.

"Steelcase wanted an efficient, productive workplace that would encourage innovation and enhance communication – the new office had to be a great place to work in, and it needed to benefit the wider community and the environment," Tham says.

Ilona Maier, Steelcase knowledge consultant, and Saiful Anuar, assistant manager, design and visualisation services, say sustainability was one of several key criteria to be extensively researched in preparation for the move.


"The company took a human-centric approach to the design process, engaging in workplace consultation so that everyone could understand and contribute to the project, and embrace change," Maier says. "This consultative process provided the information and insights required to complete our design strategy and to define the necessary space settings. It also enabled us to apply LEED tools to help design and measure our environmental design initiatives."

The new offices, which occupy 3065m2 over two floors of the triangular-shaped building, integrate 250 employees from diverse departments. To support communication and team work, the design needed to be open and flexible, says Tham.

"Steelcase also wanted the entire two floors to be a showroom for its furniture. The product is not just displayed at reception – clients can walk through the building and see the furniture implemented in an actual working environment."

To enhance the sense of a journey through the office, the design team introduced a series of organic forms. Walkways are wide and curved, rather than straight and narrow. Partitions are also curved.

"The different shapes and the way the interior flows impact on the way people experience the space," says Tham. "The organic forms create a fun, dynamic interior – walking through the space is almost like walking through a park. Travertine tiles define the key circulation areas, much like an outdoor pathway."

This sense of a close association with the natural environment is also due to the material palette and the large amount of daylight entering the office. Curved partition walls are clad in a variety of different materials, including a wood-look laminate.

"Many of the walls form a backdrop to the furniture, so it was important these didn't overshadow the product," says Tham. "Introducing neutral colours helps maintain the right balance."

Other natural materials include bamboo poles set in beds of river stones. The poles create transparent dividing screens.

Elsewhere, curved partition walls are enlivened by bright graphics. Some of these feature text in several different languages – a recognition of the multicultural background of the employees and the global nature of the company's business. Woven screens opposite key entry points ensure the working office areas are not a distraction for clients.

Tham says the office was designed so that 75% of the regularly occupied spaces have natural daylight. There are also daylight and motion light sensors to ensure energy is not wasted. And meeting rooms are glazed to maximise natural light, and to reinforce the sense of a transparent, open workplace.

"The open spaces are positioned close to the windows, so everyone benefits from the light and the views – 90% of the seated spaces have direct outdoor views," says the designer. "There are also oxygen sensors that maintain optimum levels to ensure workers are not just productive, but also comfortable."

In keeping with the sustainable design brief, the office has achieved lighting energy savings of more than 30%, compared to similarly sized offices. The installation of water-saving fixtures has also led to a 20% reduction in water use.

Other environmentally friendly initiatives include the specification of materials with a high recycled content. Nearly a third of the furniture is from the former offices, and most materials have 20% recycled content. The timber flooring, for example, features recycled railway sleepers. Other materials, such as the bamboo, come from renewable resources. Low-VOC adhesives, sealants, paints, coatings, carpet systems, furniture and seating help to maintain a healthy environment.

First published date: 14 September 2010

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Credit List

Location Steelcase Global Shared Services office, Kuala Lumpur
Interior designer Martin Axe and Dylan Tham, SL+A Sendirian Bhd, a member of the Steven Leach Group
LEED consulting for commercial interiors SL+A International Asia, Taipei
Fit-out company ISG Asia (Malaysia)
Mechanical and electrical engineer Perunding Shanu
Fire consultant SR1
Partitioning system Hufcor Maroshumi
Window and door joinery Hafele; Progressive Success
Hardware Hafele
Blinds and drapes Moonlight Industries
Tiling Niro Granite Sales & Services; Venturi Stone Marketing
Carpets Interface from Carpet Ideas
Wallcoverings Autex from Innovasia Fabrics
Ceiling Armstrong from BDC Corporation
Veneers TAK Products & Services
Paints Nippon Paint
Lighting LSI Systems
Air conditioning York
Workstations, office chairs and loose furniture Steelcase Office Solutions
Reception desk ISG