When you think ‘Asian’ what comes to mind? Perhaps your favorite Asian food, or curved roofs on exotic pagodas, or perhaps the martial arts?
Asia, or as it’s sometimes called, ‘The Far East’ has had a profound influence on many aspects of Western life, not the least on the interior design of contemporary office space.
However, the Asian influence on Western design isn’t a new phenomena. Centuries ago, that intrepid trader / explorer / adventurer, Marco Polo, became fascinated by Asian design and decor and began bringing samples back to the West. It wasn’t long before European designers were making use of lacquer, fretting, oriental motifs and rich fabrics in their interior designs.
It seems that the fascination still runs strong, although today, in most Western commercial environments, we tend to favor a simplicity of design that leans more towards the Japanese than the other lands of Asia.
Chinese design, for instance, is a lot bolder, using a lot of red and accenting heavily with gold. Japanese design is more restrained, focusing more on creating a sense of tranquility and incorporating natural themes and colors.
Offices filled with light and air. Backdrops inspired by nature. Neutral colors in juxtaposition with rich hues ranging from wood to black. Sliding doors with semi opaque panels reminiscent of the sliding doors in a Japanese house. Simple green stems or cherry blossom branches in a clear glass vase.
A key in Japanese interior design is balance. A creation of harmony. An organic statement. A flow between interior and exterior.
We see this Asian preference for incorporating nature into our built environment emerging in our modern work environment as a response to our frenetic society. The 24/7/365 lifestyle means that it’s easy to experience sensory overload. We spend a huge amount of time at work, rushing to meet deadlines and deliver above expectations.
It’s necessary to create spaces where we can occasionally catch our breath and literally… just breathe, refocusing and becoming centered in order to avoid burnout.
This is why, although open plan design is becoming more prevalent, most organizations are ensuring that there are private or, at least, semi-private spaces, both indoors and outdoors, where people can go to escape the buzz and simply be. It doesn’t need to be a dedicated meditation room, it simply needs to be a retreat. A retreat can be created easily using architectural moveable walls – which, by the way, are reminiscent of those sliding Japanese doors.
At one time, we saw miniature Zen gardens on desks. Tiny crates of light colored sand that came with tiny rakes and miniature Oriental ornaments. You would use the rake to first rake pathways in the sand and then flip it over to clear all evidence of these tracks, leaving the sand clean and smooth. The idea was that it would focus your attention, clear your mind and help you to get grounded.
While Zen gardens may not be as popular as they once were, we’re fortunate now that office design is becoming much more supportive and understanding of our need for calm.
As we’ve mentioned in many previous articles, this is the impetus behind the incorporation of living green and water features becoming so very popular of late. Both, by the way, are important elements in Asian design, particularly in Japanese design. In our Western world there’s a growing recognition of the natural symbiosis between humans and nature – a relationship long understood in the Far East.
As a side note, Google’s Japanese offices in Tokyo, designed by Klein Dytham, have adopted the Japanese design ethic with a digital flair. One floor is designed like a traditional bathhouse and another has a digital Koi pond with interactive Koi carp!
India is another country from the Far East that is currently having an impact on interior design. Right now, in Europe, Indian textiles, statuary, furniture and ornaments are all the rage. While more elaborate than Japanese design, it shares a love of creating drama using contrasts between light and dark, simple and sophisticated. In the work environment, we’re seeing the Indian influence in many textile designs, floor coverings and wood finishes.
As a fun exercise, look around your work environment and make a note of all the elements which demonstrate an Asian influence. We think you’ll be surprised at just how many do!