Talk to Adriana Graur – Inspiring Workspaces

Creating Workspaces that Inspire – An Interview with Adriana Graur

Adriana Graur is Associate Design Director bei dwp Architekten based in Dubai, VAE. Adriana is an award-winning interior designer. Although still early in her career, she has designed spaces for Adidas, Google, and other major brands, setting new standards for design and sustainability in the process.

How do short-term trends and long-term themes play off each other in the design process?
Design is easy to misinterpret because so much of its influence on people’s lives is concealed. But design shapes the way we move into the future and we, as designers, are responsible for innovating towards that future.
When we think of trends we think of experimentalism and expressions of contemporary fashion. Trends are a way for designers to translate their ideas into something that people of a certain time, within a certain place, can understand and interact with. But trends are just on the surface. It’s the underlying themes – functionality and workstyles – that guide the design process and more deeply resonate with people. And when we achieve a great design, it shapes the trends to come.
All of these different elements are fluid and adaptable, and combine to create a sort of micro-organism that gives design its life force.

Interior design is something deeply personal, tailored to the people who inhabit a space. This runs counter to the workplace, which is often transient and more strongly reflective of a brand rather than people. How do you bridge that contradiction?
A brand is defined by its people, so I begin by studying people and their behavior. This tells me how to shape the space in ways that can facilitate their work.
People look for two basic qualities in a space; it should suit their workstyle, and it should cultivate an environment they can identify with. If we create a space antithetical to their needs, the business suffers. We know, for example, that people, when evaluating a potential employer, often prioritize the office environment over potential compensation. To attract top talents, we have to start by creating spaces that are sympathetic to their needs, then we can find ways of connecting their goals and identities with those of the brand. It starts and ends with people, and the space where they gather is where meaning is found, where a connection is made.

Creativity has always been seen as an epiphany, a moment of inspiration or impulse. But the creatives today seems to spend less time in front of a canvas and more time doing research, using data to better understand humans. Is the modern creative a glorified researcher or curator, or does creativity still demand that you take leaps into the unknown?
Research is not just about uncovering data, but about discovering some deeper meaning. Having greater access to research allows us to explore ideas at greater depths and, by sharing our findings, helps us define new ways of thinking. That is still creativity in my opinion. Creativity demands that we evolve and adapt to the times, but also that we use emotion and human interaction to bring what we learn to life.
Creativity has always been rooted in curiosity and a desire to explore the unknown. The essence hasn’t changed. I will always begin with an immersive exploration of the problem using all the tools available to me, then draw on my experience, skill, and courage to find the right solution.

Most of our work now takes place on a screen. Physical space as the primary medium for work – the office, the desk, the meeting room – is losing ground every day to technology. Do the principles of design need to adapt to this shift, where vision dominates all other senses?
Humans are social animals; they require interaction and a shared sense of space to build relationships. The spaces we design affect the way we think, they help place us within the wider world, but today those physical spaces increasingly overlap with the virtual world. We are constantly adapting to that, but like all trends the pendulum swings back – in this case a return to natural connections and face-to-face interactions. I believe we will always need physical proximity to innovate. Technology has its place, but emotion and physical interaction are what spark new ideas.

So much of what defines a ‘modern’ space is the disconnect between the source of the materials and the place of construction. How can workplace designers preach sustainability without first building closer relationships with local materials?
Sustainability comes in so many different forms and colors; material alone does not define the overall sustainability of a product. Imagine a process or space that was designed without sustainable materials but, over the course of multiple lives – because it has been re-used or repurposed – proves itself to be ‘sustainable’. Looking at the entire lifecycle of a building, you must consider the immediate function it serves for its community and the possible futures it can offer them.
In my world, sustainability is not something we plug into a project, but something applied holistically. The harm already done to the local environment requires that our designs embody the spirit of sustainability and invite others to live within the spirit of the space. We design by mimicking nature, using innovative materials and technology rather than restricting ourselves to infeasible alternatives. So we need to look at the bigger picture, to create designs that patiently make an impact rather than just make a statement.

Designing for change can mean creating a new future or demolishing the past. The office, meanwhile, has evolved across a design trajectory first conceptualized in the early industrial revolution. Given a blank canvas, what would you change about the workplace first?
First, anticipate different scenarios, be flexible, and design for the future. In order to prepare for inevitable, unpredictable change we need to consider not only the climate and technological progress but also evolving uses and redevelopment possibilities. We need to plan and design with a second life in mind; if a school might one day evolve into housing, we need to design spaces that can effectively respond to the changing demands placed upon it. Sometimes the greenest building is the one that already exists.
Next, focus on health – something we think about on a social, physiological, and psychological level. Companies and designers have already redefined the workspace as we know it, designing for co-working and collaboration while creating a sense of home. Beauty of form follows environmental considerations, and both address the otherwise purely functional to create energy-positive buildings and spaces.

Space, in its most basic sense, lives in service of the senses. Meanwhile, the typical office is quite sterile, like a library without books. How can a business use space and sensation to enhance the creative experience?
A well-designed space should create room for a positive, energetic experience, but also one that is appropriate for its intended use. I seek out the heart of a place and leverage its history to create experiences rooted in the soul yet swathed in the currency of today.
Green spaces add to the overall impact – vertical gardens, thoughtfully placed plants, and areas for retreat can offer a sense of calm and well-being. Technology can affect the space, such as ambient light that adjusts over the course of the day to be in sync with a person’s circadian rhythm. Our innate love of nature, and an understanding of how our senses interact with it, is essential to designing a human-centric space. From the business side, such design decisions are cost-effective, energy efficient and create a minimal eco-footprint. From the human side, they provide comfort and support people’s overall wellbeing.
Simply, it’s about embracing beauty and simplicity to create efficient, healthy spaces. If a space offers sufficient daylight, a connection with nature, and support for a variety of needs throughout the day, creativity will flow naturally.

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