Flexible Rooms, Sliding Walls and Breakout Zones Are The Must-Have Features Of A Modern Office

Martin Kienberger
Managing Director
Tetris Solutions, Russia & CIS

If the façade of a modern office building is part of a company's image, it's even more true of the interior, from the reception lobby to the working environment. Tetris is a turnkey, design and build company, recently acquired by Jones Lang LaSalle. Martin Kienberger, Managing Director of Tetris Solutions, Russia & CIS, spoke to Mark Gay about the latest trends in fitting out.

When you talk about the supply of a turnkey product — the supply of a ready-to-use building to clients — what does your role involve?

Martin Kienberger: Shell and core is about 10 percent of our business, the rest is fitting out and refurbishment. We work mainly with foreign clients: international companies. We have a lot of requests from Russian clients but it has been difficult to accommodate everyone and we try to avoid growing too fast.

We are also working with old or existing buildings. We do site surveys and technical due diligence even on new ones because we need to know exactly the condition of the building and the parameters of what we can do there. Each building, especially in Russia, is individual and you have to do a site survey in each case.

Are you working for the developer or the tenant?

MK: We work mostly for the tenant, working with floors rather than the whole building. In the core of the building are the connection points to the ventilation, the smoke exhaust system, sprinkler system, the heating, water supply and so on and then we follow up with the distribution along the floors. There is basic heating for the winter when the floor is empty and fire fighting systems that are built in as without that the landlord won't get a certificate to use the building.

What are the demands, in terms of fitting out, of certifications in BREEAM or LEED?

MK: There is a trend among corporate clients n Russia to go with BREEAM and LEED and we are certified. Clients are ready to spend money and it is a question of cost because you do not have simple lighting fixtures but instead motion sensors and cells to measure the levels of natural light coming into the room which dim the lights accordingly. Certification also affects the heating system, the air conditioning, the ventilation, and the mechanical and electrical engineering systems, which are more efficient. In Russia, saving energy is not people's first expectation but it is increasing.

What about office fittings, the painting and final finishing?

MK: If it is a turnkey fit out that we are providing we have in house designers and we work with international and European architects to provide high quality international design.

There's a big focus on the informal nowadays — meeting rooms, cafes, even rest and play areas. Do you see that in Russia?

MK: We work with many corporate clients and they expect this. We are doing some nice coffee kitchens with lunch zones and breakout areas. The trend is to have flexible and transforming offices where you can create a small meeting room or move the partition walls to make bigger meeting rooms or a large zone for speeches, birthday parties or seminars. That is a big trend.

The walls are on rails at ceiling level. It is very soundproof. There are already good room divider systems available in Russia which park in cupboards next to the walls. When you remove them what is left is just a slot in the ceiling and floor.

How much do you import?

MK: We are still importing quite a lot because we want to provide high quality and although some companies are producing in Russia the quality is not the same as you get from Europe. I would say, excluding the building materials like plaster board or suspended ceilings (though even ceilings are sometimes imported) on average 60 to 70 percent is imported: carpets, floor tiles, kitchen equipment, desks etc.

Obviously it adds cost, but does it add a lot of time to a project?

MK: The delivering time is six to eight weeks but if you plan it from the beginning and think about it during the design phase and fit it into the time schedule, everything is possible. It just takes more organizing and is one of the challenges of doing business in Russia.

Is it true that Russian building standards can be higher than European standards?

MK: Because of what people expect for the money, yes. Standards according to a Class A office building in Russia are one of the highest because the rent or lease is one of the highest globally and the client is expecting a very high quality building to a very good technical standard. There can be 24-7 cooling ventilation, two independent power supplies, with triple back up. These can be crazy standards.

You say you expect to add more Russian clients with time but do you expect the demands of Russian clients to be different.

Russian companies are a bit more individual. Those which can afford a Class A building in Moskva City are investing money in what they call a VIP office. They often expect higher standards.

What other kinds of projects do you handle?

MK: We do all kinds of fit out work office, retail, residential, industrial, hotels and resorts. Tetris may be involved in the fit out of the arenas but more likely it would come under the project management of Jones Lang LaSalle.

At the moment 90 percent is office, the rest is divided up. We have a warehouse in Moscow region of 20,000 square meters with an adjoining office of 1,500 square meters fitted out to very high standard. In Chekov there is a laminate plant. They have an office park with a Class A office. They all want fit out to a high standard. For the moment we are focusing on Moscow and Moscow region.

How have office interiors changed over recent decades?

MK: Some companies developed their own office strategy and design, a house style in terms of layout and look. Most important today is high efficiently offices which are transformable, the ability to have a meeting room one day, and put six work stations there tomorrow. Hot-desking is a growing trend.

How do you see the market developing?

MK: There is a huge office pipeline over the next three years and from our side we expect to deliver some big projects. And half of this will be class A, and out of around 12 million square meters to be delivered globally in 2013 to 2015, each year about 6 percent of that will be in Moscow, which is one of the highest global pipelines.

Tetris is now in 13 countries, and is expanding to Germany, Switzerland, and South Africa. We have access to team of 50 architects in Tetris EMEA.

How does the retail market differ from the office market, when we talk about fitting out?

MK: It is very important to figure out the needs of the client and the timeline and to be open about what we can and we cannot do. In retail, many shops are from 150 to 1,000 square meters, sometimes bigger, but in the smaller shops you can only do so much. You can never put more than a certain number of people in one place. A lot of clients will go to another company that promises to do the impossible and then they come back to us.

Do companies still tend to try to squeeze as many people as possible into offices or has this changed?

MK: According to the lease prices in Moscow everyone tries go get as much as possible on one floor but there is a limit according to the building capacity. There is a limited volume of cubic meters of fresh air per hour: this is my first limit. Then we have norms, standards, and if the client wants two square meters per workspace we are going to decline that because we would be a guilty party. The health and safety norms in Russia are of a high standard and even more difficult to implement than in Europe because the requirements of the fire marshal are very high. They check everything carefully.

Is it true that renovating older buildings is necessarily more expensive?

MK: It is partly true because if you are doing a refurbishment or a refit you have an existing office which is theoretically ready to use but the headcount and how departments are laid out is very different between companies. Clients might think it is a slight modification — carpets and modifying the air-conditioning — but there can be associated engineering works and usually about 70 per cent has to be demolished or newly installed.

Once you complete a fit out are you retained to maintain the office?

MK: We hand over the keys. The landlord has his maintenance company. We are handing over the premises not just to the tenant, who is the client, but also to the landlord. We have to deal with two clients. We have to agree the working documentation with the landlord before we start then hand the systems over to the maintenance company. We provide a guarantee but they maintain it.