Drako – A global brand with products present in almost every continent on earth. A company that specialises in the design and production of machines for land-based casinos. An engineering team that thrives on design ergonomics, longevity and usability. A client with real understanding of human interaction with space, equipment and how the wellbeing of one is intrinsically linked to the other.
The CEO of Drako is also an engineer by profession. When he approached us to discuss the interior designs for their new Head Office in Spinola Bay Malta, we knew this was a company that would have strong demands but would equally appreciate the attention to detail our team provides.
The office in question was 500sqm of open space on the 5th level of a relatively new office block in a prime location in St Julians. With a blank canvas in front of us we explored and discussed the overall brief and the specifics that our client wanted to achieve within the space.
As this was for a Head Office, it was a rather unusual request in that there would be no need for open plan, rather all departments such as Management, Finance, Marketing, and Engineering Design would each need a dedicated area to operate within. Privacy, space focus and function came out as the key requirements for this project.
In this new as yet unoccupied space, we were faced with two challenges. In modern buildings which are purposely designed to hold offices, raised flooring is a must. Also linear walls aid fluidity of the design and help to create a more natural way in which to separate the rooms. Neither of these existed, unusually placed columns interfered with the space, making it difficult to capture a natural flow and find a way to keep the interiors free from clutter such as wiring and cables.
We accepted the challenge, keen to explore a design solution that could match the client’s requirements. A work environment that was conducive to people’s wellbeing and productivity thereby providing the team with an environment befitting of this successful brand.
Office Interior Design
Whilst technology and manufacturing might be at the heart of Drako’s business, the first step for their team, as for ours, is always the design. How can you adapt an existing space, albeit a relatively blank canvas, into your client’s vision?
You ask. You listen. You ask some more. You explore ideas. You dig deep into the basic requirements – how the space will be used, how many people will it need to hold today and tomorrow, how important privacy was for each separate team, what storage space would be needed.
Drako has an understandable passion for technology and innovation. They provide machines that not only perform, but that can solve several ergonomic issues for their clients’ customers. This includes aspects such as how long a player is likely to sit at any of their machines, how they interact with handles, levers and buttons. Their designs must cover all possibilities and provide solutions for them. We share this passion for ergonomic design, always looking at how people interact with the spaces we create, what actions they need to perform and how the design impacts their wellbeing.
With all of this in mind we kicked off our initial designs, needing to overcome the first and biggest hurdle, an asymmetrical space that needed neat divisions. Taking a step back, our design team realised that the symmetry that was lacking through non-linear walls could be brought back into the space if we imagined it differently using customised furniture designs. Working around the inconveniently placed columns, we began to sketch the vision.
Design & Planning
Situated in the heart of a buzzing location, the office was on the 5th floor of a relatively new building. Whilst there was natural light in shell form, we had to consider working around the need for private team rooms and how that would impact the available lighting. Openness was key, so glass partitions were going to be a crucial feature in our design.
We also knew what we didn’t want. Long, bland hallways perforated by the occasional office door. We definitely didn’t want darkness, confused pathways and a space that lacked personality. We wanted angles and lines which allowed the eye to rest comfortably. We wanted the space to feel ‘light’, making it more conducive to a positive work environment. And we asked ourselves the question – how do we make so many glass partitions look good?
We investigated each teams’ specific requirements. Finance needed vast amounts of storage space for files, all within easy and quick reach. Marketing needed a more conceptual space, that would support their creativity, planning and campaign work. Engineering on the other hand needed to be surrounded by the very prototypes they were developing.
Another challenge we faced was that by creating the individual rooms, we wouldn’t necessarily have access to wall power supplies. Without raised flooring, we needed to find a solution to the inevitable question; how do we give power and data to each and every desk without any visible wires? – not easy challenges in a rented space.
The answer to this challenge was in fact to look above, instead of below. We created central workspaces by building custom designed metal structures that connected the soffit to the desks. This gave us the ability to bring power and data cabling down separately from the ceiling at each end of the desk area. From this functional metal structure, we included a metal shelf that went along the breadth above the desks. This became an area where we could incorporate biophilic designs, using hanging plants to give the area touches of greenery and life – a favourite of ours. This solution allowed us to combine functionality with aesthetics to create a practical result.
But by far the greatest inspiration during the development was the glass partition bulkhead detail. Instead of trying to create the general classic U-shaped bulkhead – we turned our attention towards the glass partitions – could we evoke this feeling of lightness and create a sense of openness rather than encroaching on the available space? Could we re-interpret and re-invent the way people have been building glass partitions for decades? We gave ourselves this challenge because we knew there must be an alternative solution – and there was.
We explored a design-first for Malta – L-shaped bulkheads which held glass partitions on the horizontal part of the ‘L’ all the way to the floor. The vertical part of the ‘L’ was pushed 20cm inwards from the face of the glass partition, extending up to the concrete slab. The result were rooms that seemed almost to float through the corridors, creating a sense of sophistication and organised openness.
The glass partitions were sealed horizontally with black edging on the top and bottom which created harmonious balance with the vertical black edging on the veneer oak wood doors.
By leaving the height in the corridors at 2.8m, we created a sense of there being more ‘breathing room’ within the common areas. No dark, cold corridors. Instead the office had an almost Manhattan law firm feel about it – a professional ambience that was both calming and conducive to a specialist, focused workforce. We achieved this by leaving the ceilings in these areas open and white washing the minimal mechanical and electrical supplies attached to the surface.
Sustainability is a fundamental part of our design process, because designing for the future today is how we can make a difference for a better tomorrow. We opted for smart 60x60cm functional soffit lighting panels, which would automatically turn off when the room was not being used, or dim when there was already enough natural light in the room, providing just the right lux to work in. In the corridors we used directional track lighting and cylindrical spotlights, with a yellowish tint for a warmer and more inviting tone.
Detailing and Customisation
We had two rooms in particular which had windows looking onto an internal shaft: finance and marketing. Without an easy wall line to follow and still wanting to make each room as symmetrical as possible, we crafted a moveable wall made of a white board and cork board. This could be pulled aside to open or access the window if needed but gave the team more space to explore ideas to increase sales. Whereas in finance, where access to files was important, we opted for floor to ceiling shelving units – within easy reach of the whole team.
The difference between good design and great design, is finding ways to meet functional requirements using aesthetic solutions that create harmony and balance. One doesn’t live without the other.
The colour scheme was derived by studying our client’s natural heritage. With both company founders raised in Brazil (which is also where their company was founded) we naturally took inspiration from Brazilian design aesthetics. Materials and texture – natural wood, white, black and lush greenery with large leaves – making this the backbone of our mood board and re-interpreting it to fit within a Mediterranean island. Large, brushed effect concrete planters, each filled with luscious green flora, were dotted along the hallways and carried staff and visitors through an interior that was awash with greenery and natural energy.
In the boardroom we continued this linear feel with overhanging lights lowered from the ceiling along a black panel and we introduced carpeted flooring to help with soundproofing. Using both a sheer and thick curtain, guests could enjoy privacy in two ways. An American walnut veneer wood wall complemented the feel of nature being delicately integrated into the space.
From rectangular mirrors with black trimming on a whitewash wall in the bathrooms, to smart black door handles throughout each office, we brought symmetry into the design with consistent touches of the same materials and colours.
Project Manegement & Execution
The project kicked off in the last quarter of 2019, with designs and quotes approved by the end of the year. Construction work commenced as planned in February 2020, but with the spread of Covid19 into Europe during March, some delays were experienced.
The project never came to a complete stop, but to respect social distancing rules, workmen were reduced to teams of two instead of ten. Considering this, the project only suffered a slight delay of 6-8 weeks.
Thankfully, the design brief for separated offices was not impacted by the new health and safety measures that interior designers and architects will face going forward due to the pandemic. Still attention to detail was important, areas designated for hand sanitizer and desks kept a minimum of 1m apart.
The design relationship between wood and glass, black and white, with crafted bursts of nature create the sophistication. The L-shaped bulkhead gave the offices a very significant feel. Designing each room to serve a clear purpose gave the office a calm energy.
We’re excited about moving onto the next phase of this project, when Drako take over the 4th floor of the building as part of their expansion plans. We are already exploring concepts and ideas on how to continue the feel achieved so far on the 5th floor.
Drako’s new head office is an example of what can be achieved with an integrated team and an engaged owner. The contractor fulfilled our vision for lightness, the client worked alongside us and became a valuable member of our unit. The builders, M&E engineers and project managers, worked tirelessly to help us reach the deadline and follow safety protocols.
The design of this office is rooted in Drako’s own offering – a priority on well-being, functionality and above all providing an enjoyable experience for all.
Facing new challenges is why we love our job. If you find innovative solutions, the results speak for themselves. Going the extra mile does pay off and incorporating detailing and design not common to Malta gives this office a unique edge.
We have no doubt that interior design in a world experiencing its first pandemic of the century will be impacted. But if you work with a team committed to creativity, innovation and safety – results can still be simple, sophisticated – with just the right hint of significance to meet the demands of today’s world head on.
In the meanwhile, we will keep designing captivating spaces for our clients – to be explored and above all enjoyed.