Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

The Pitfalls of Refitting an Office

Fitting out office space anywhere in the world requires patience and enthusiasm. But in Moscow, one also needs a healthy sense of adventure and creativity.

Many spaces here -- both in older buildings and in some new buildings designed or built by companies without Western experience -- offer considerably fewer amenities than the Western client has come to expect. Space in such buildings may be less expensive, but the customer should be aware of the added challenges involved in outfitting offices there. The following points should be kept in mind when looking at potential space in Moscow.

Office planners often find that the layout of floor plans, even in relatively new buildings, is inefficient. It is not uncommon to find a large, poorly planned core gobbling up an inordinate amount of space in the center of the plan. Thick structural walls and fat columns also reduce usable space and complicate interior planning.

Lighting in existing spaces will probably be inadequate for Western tastes. Don't expect to find lots of electric outlets or phone jacks: One outlet per exterior wall and one jack per space are about the limit.

The reliability of building systems must be carefully analyzed when looking at space in old or new structures. The electrical supply in many buildings tends to fade in and out in a very annoying fashion. Businesses which rely on computer networks and data storage find it necessary to include an Uninterruptable Power Supply, or UPS, in their plans. These machines guarantee power to the space for a specified time period, during which the computer users can safely shut down their equipment without loss of data. The UPS also protects against information-destroying power surges and spikes.

The building's mechanical system may also differ from expectations. Typically, buildings are connected to the municipal hot water grid. Radiant heating may become unbearably hot before the system is turned off in the late spring, and the space may be frigid in the early fall before it is turned on. The building will probably be without any hot water for a system maintenance period of about three weeks each summer. In the event that air conditioning is available, the chiller capacity should be examined to ensure that there will be adequate cooling available in the heat of summer. Plumbing service also offers surprises to those with Western (especially new-construction) experience. Thick concrete core walls can complicate rerouting of pipes, and the quality of the fixtures themselves often leaves much to be desired.

Often, more work than expected is required to bring the "shell" space to habitability. A new space will normally require that a screed of concrete about 100 millimeters thick be poured to level and smooth the rough structural floor. Structural walls in older (and some newer) structures will probably need dry-lining with gypsum board or a heavy covering like Fintex to hide cracks.

Until fairly recently, building management was available in two categories: barely acceptable or non-existent. Now, a business can avoid many problems by locating in a building under competent Western management.

Doing business in Moscow will probably always be a challenge, but the experience of locating, securing, renovating and opening an office here need not be overly daunting. All it takes is a bit of professional assistance to guide around the pitfalls, some creativity to see past the problems and a sense of adventure to go ahead and do it.

Richard Steele is director of architecture for Hellmuth, Obata + Kassabaum in Moscow.