Mitu Mathur is an accomplished architect and urban designer, with extensive experience in designing urban planning, institutional, commercial and housing projects. As the Director of GPM, she has been steering the firm’s growth since 2006, exemplifying its collaborative and interdisciplinary approach towards architecture and planning. Mitu continuously questions the current notions of architectural development and strongly believes in delivering innovative design solutions for rapidly changing urban environments. With a background in architecture and urban design, she brings the expertise of both disciplines in developing holistic plans for urban centres and capacity building for communities.
Urban areas today necessitate the need for constant growth and change. With the increase in social and economic demands, our buildings have not been able to respond to this change effectively. Generally, buildings are designed with the intention of serving specific functions and user groups, and not experience any significant change in their lifetime. The Covid-19 pandemic has made us realise how the spaces that we inhabit can profoundly be impacted by changing situations. The pandemic has transformed the way we work and has left us in anticipation of how the future of workspaces will look like.
Today, the true luxury that we seek is through the spaces we occupy – from our homes to our workspaces. Hence, each space has to be carefully designed to accommodate the changing requirements while ensuring physical and mental wellbeing. For instance, during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, adaptability and innovation have become the new buzzwords in the construction industry, especially with numerous commercial centres, hotels, stadiums and parking lots being adapted into makeshift healthcare facilities for the affected Covid patients. This has brought a considerable shift in the way we view our built environment and the need to re-evaluate them to come up with solutions that can cater to these ever-changing circumstances. This has led designers to rethink their design practices and integrate new ideas to ensure a better, safer and sustainable living environment.
Adaptability is the Future
The concept of flexibility and adaptability in architecture emerged with modernism and has been rooted in design ever since, particularly with the application of open plan design in building forms. With ever-changing human needs, architecture has to challenge to meet the needs of all user groups. The traditional approach to design needs to be replaced with innovative ideas and experimentation of spaces. As spaces have the ability to be used in multiple ways without any actual physical alterations, it becomes the key aspect of an adaptable and flexible design.
Adaptability refers to the ability of buildings to accommodate significant changes over the course of their lifetime without compromising the needs and safety of the users. The continuous reimagination of the layout of building spaces and their structure to the evolving needs of humans and the environment is an indicator of an adaptable design. In fact, the future of our built environment depends on such easy modifications according to the present requirements and can be assessed on the basis of its flexibility, adaptability and sustainability.
Within office spaces, flexibility and adaptability have created a niche over the last couple of years. It has enabled companies to adapt easily to new challenges, cut down operational and expansion costs, increase productivity, thereby, allowing them to grow steadily without the need to rebuild their infrastructure.
Adaptable workspaces have the potential to use the same amount of space more efficiently than regular buildings. This means that occupants are able to use the floor areas more effectively with changing needs and situations. Adaptability is also a considerable strategy for extending the lifetime of buildings without causing any significant environmental impacts associated with demolition and rebuilding, and significantly reducing the overall cost. It is also an effective way to incorporate new technologies and design innovations at work as they become available.
Solutions to Aid Workplace Productivity
The future of workspaces depends on the ability to adapt to dynamic and changing circumstances. To create adaptable workspaces, new practices need to be integrated, which lay down the various measures that we, as architects and designers, can take into account while designing for the future. An understanding of the human mindset post-pandemic is necessary to create healthy and cohesive spaces that can induce productivity, collaboration and creativity. Spaces that help people to network but at the same time offer them the necessary space for social distancing is the need of the hour.
Assessing all such conditions, it is realised that a significant shift in the design strategy for workspaces is needed to adapt to multiple functions. Large-scale corporate office complexes with column-free spaces offer us a chance to introduce flexibility into the design. An efficient design of structural grid and functional modules of built forms allows for an open floor plan that can freely be transformed as per need. Designing a modular and standardized structure creates the provision for further extension. Using lightweight and movable partitions, instead of fixed cubicles, that can be easily reconfigured can facilitate easy change of layout in the future. Planning the location of fixed elements in buildings like circulation cores, duct shafts, etc. ensures that the use of space is as flexible as possible. One of our recently completed projects, the office building at KG Marg, was converted into housing for defense personnel during the pandemic, thus giving an example of how spaces can be multi-functional and converted according to the present needs of user groups. In addition, all future offices and workspaces should be designed in such a way that they can be adapted into multi-purpose facilities in case of crisis and emergencies. Such strategies of adaptive reuse can change the character of workspaces.
Today, with the unpredictability of future needs, there is constant anticipation of how building spaces will be designed. With new innovations and increasing levels of comfort, transformation in the way of living and working has become very common. Hence, buildings should be designed to adapt, evolve and change with time. The future of workspaces has to be accounted for by architects and all aspects of adaptability have to be imbibed within the design philosophy.