x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

No more swimming pools for the office

The Life: An expert reveals how fitting out offices has changed since the global crash. No more swimming pools for a start.

Marcos Bish, of Summertown Interiors, discusses how life has changed in the UAE since he arrived in 1990. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National
Marcos Bish, of Summertown Interiors, discusses how life has changed in the UAE since he arrived in 1990. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National

Marcos Bish is the managing director of Summertown Interiors, an office fitting-out contractor that also manages green interior design projects. Originally from the Netherlands, he has been in the UAE since 1990. He talks about trends in office design and how the 2008-2009 financial crisis has changed things.


What was the business like when you started out?

The market was not as professional. It was not very transparent. Clients were often looking for a one-stop shop. They didn't go out for tender in terms of bringing in an architect and designer, cost controller, project manager and then a fit-out contractor. When the crisis hit it became more professional. You really had to specialise.


How else have things changed since the crisis?

During the boom, we saw the most crazy designs, including swimming pools in offices. There was a lot of excess. Now it has become about cost cutting. Clients still want a functional office that looks good but that is a good return on investment. A lot of bespoke furniture is now ready made.


What kind of projects are you getting now?

Larger companies that were sitting in several locations throughout the city [before the crisis], when space opened up, they could consolidate offices into one. Another thing, we haven't seen too many large projects [more than 4,000 square metres] in the past few years; they are coming back. Budgets are tight. It's still a client market. Margins are under enormous pressure but as supply and demand are aligning I expect that to also go up - maybe not this year but next year.


How often do companies refit?

They envision about four to six years, but it's eight to 10 years in reality.


Are individual offices still in vogue?

We see more open space, more hot-desking to reduce operational costs. It [also] promotes transparency in the workplace if you have a more open environment and it improves communication.


Are environmental considerations important?

I'd like to say very important but it's not. People still see it as an environmental issue only, whereas we are trying to tell people there are so many other benefits.


What are those benefits?

If you can show that there are operational savings, that their bottom line will improve, that their corporate image will be better, that they will be able to attract the best people and retain them, then they may go for it. Those companies that go the environmental route do it to quite high standards. If you do it, it means you understand it and you want to do a proper job. Once regulation kicks in, you will see most offices being at compliance standard, which is the lowest possible standard. There is also little experience in the market of how to execute this. If you don't know what you are doing, you are going to increase the price.