by Jerry ElengicalAug 26, 2021
A space bright-hued, soft-edged, and kid-friendly is not exactly the most conventional office setting for adults. Think about it - when was the last time you walked into a workspace that did not have neat grey cabin rows, and instead greeted you with full-size teddies and doughy furniture... Roar design studio injects warmth and cheer for a similar encounter in the new headquarters for Early Childhood Authority (ECA), pioneering imaginative design for an office that inspires adults to view the world through the ever wondering, ingenious lens of a child. Based at the Al Mamoura tower in Abu Dhabi, the space is approached with a cutting-edge approach to office design that combines itself with righteously playful and coloured accents.
"The big design challenge was to create a space that grabs attention with the playful nature of childhood, amalgamated with a professional office set up,” says Pallavi Dean, creative director, Roar.
The 168 sqm office has a fluid plan with next to no linearity and will cater to 100 experts at Early Childhood Authority who are tasked with shaping the future of children aged between 0-8 years, with a focus on early care and education, health and nutrition, family support, and child protection in Abu Dhabi. The new headquarters presents various examples that straddle the two worlds of grown-ups and kids, with a dynamic design narrative based on "the synapses of a child’s brain: a series of hubs connected by organic, flowing walkways," shares the architecture and interior design firm based in Dubai.
"We had to keep reminding ourselves that it is not a space for kids – it is a space for adults who are making decisions about kids. The outcome is a sophisticated workplace for ECA professionals to do their job – from deep, solo work to collaboration – but with a warm, funky, playful vibe,” Dean explains further. The office is provided with dollops of lighthearted pockets and rounded surfaces with the inclusion of vibrant colours, tactile textures, and soft shapes, all the while ensuring that the interiors do not seem too childish or arbitrarily over the top.
Big Blue greets one at the entrance lobby, a life-size fluffy monster with chewing gum blue fur, springy eyes, and sunny yellow shoes. The smile spreading across Blue’s face puts one immediately at ease, creating an atmosphere that is child-friendly, convivial and attention-worthy. Designed to bring out your inner child, this vibrant roomy area finds mild contrast in the textures of furniture and tactile walls, as well as furnishings in the shape of rounded, coloured alphabets.
The story of Sheikh Zayed bin Zayed al Nahyan, founder of the nation, is projected onto the wall here, where 3D printed busts replace the traditional 2D portraits of the rulers. "It sends a powerful message about the history and culture of the UAE. This was something the client was tremendously passionate about,” explains Dean, who founded Roar in 2013, with an emphasised design philosophy of being half-wild and half-tame, to create interactive, experiential designs. “We nurture our wild side — the artistic free spirit that gives a space its wow factor by literally letting our imaginations run wild. The tame side which is scientific, evidence-based, and data-driven, informs the foundations of our spaces. The magic happens when these two worlds collide,” they reiterate.
No two meeting rooms are designed to look identical – one of them features a customised felt map of the UAE while another has walls decorated with playful heads of the nation’s indigenous animals including an oryx and gazelle. Circulation spaces are celebrated as expressive conduits of creativity, “a playful talking point for guests old and young". A corridor flowing inside the office sports distorting mirrors that make passersby seem minute or giant-like, giving into the childlike curiosity and easily awed temperament we all once carried with abandon. The casual meeting space is fitted with a room divider in the shape of giant sharpened pencils, with a dough coloured, rounded swing at one corner.
Modern, uplifting and inclusive, the interior design for the workspace was developed with a colour psychologist, leading to spaces that emote and influence energies. Orange pockets of space invigorate, while blue ones calm the senses, centring and relaxing users. Even the office furniture, including pieces from Maarten Baas, Vitra, Herman Miller, Moooi, Magis, and more, was carefully curated, and not just ordered and placed around. “No two chairs, table or lamps are the same; each one is selected to add the right function, the right ambience, for each corner of the ECA workspace,” shares the design team.
Because most of the staff have young children, a crèche and kid’s zone in the form of an Imaginary Room was central to the workspace. Moreover, the inclusion of a Maternity Room sets a necessary benchmark for office designs, where doughy textures and reclining furniture create a soothing setting for nursing mothers.
The client, Her Excellency Sana Suhail, Director-General ECA states, “Our offices are designed for focused work but also encourage collaboration. Inspired by elements of our childhood and heritage, it is a modern, welcoming, and inclusive space. By featuring ergonomic furniture, a well-equipped Maternity Room, an Imagination Room and space for our employees' children, the design has allowed us to reinforce our culture and values and always remember the child in our daily work."
The bathrooms are accessed by large and small-sized doors for WCs, a permanent reminder that this space is shared by adults and kids alike. From typography on the walls to the personal lockers for staff members covered in the Arabic script of the ECA logo, the client’s values are sprinkled and integrated throughout the office.
"The goal was to create a space that was child-focused – but not childish. With the help of a client who was involved every step of the way, we think we have raised the bar for an education-focused workspace,” concludes Dean, who reminds with this design that it is possible to be productive, functional adults at a workspace and not be stripped of their child-like, easily awed approach to life.