(a) journey home

Taxibeat on 17 October, 2012

The following is a guest post by Maria Doxa. Maria, and Marina Stasinopoulou, are the architects that designed and oversaw the interior decoration of our new Athens headquarters. In this post Maria analyzes the core philosophy behind their work for us, along with it’s “timeline” from start to finish. All we here at Taxibeat want to say a big thank you to both for an excellent job. They influenced us in ways more than meets the eye.

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Marina and I still jokingly talk about designing the office while TAXI-ing from place to place, during a period when we each traveled many miles a week… a few by taxi, some by train, most by plane or boat.

So it was, we started our design journey collecting stimuli to connect the work environment of Taxibeat with concepts and emotions relating to the movement of people. We started thinking of the experience of navigating cities from the point of view of the passenger and the taxi driver, attempting to analyse their perception of time and space whilst they move.

The urban realm served as our conceptual platform, not just for the selection of materials and visual themes, but, primarily, for the spatial configuration of workspaces. We studied the empty, single-volume space on 11, Sina street and the detailed building program that Nikos provided, and tuned into the dynamics of the Taxibeat team as an organisation in flux: informal, friendly atmosphere, direct communication, creativity, in prompt interactions, innovation and teamwork, as well as a need for concentration and introverted time.

We organised all workspaces – private and shared ones – and the brainstorm room around the work lounge, a space freely available to everyone to use –both visitors and employees. In open plan arrangement to the lobby, customer support and kitchen-dining areas, and directly visible and accessible from all workspaces, the work lounge metaphorically references the city square: It becomes a common point of reference, shaping opportunities for spatial co-presence, chance encounters and creative interactions.

Attempting to relate the work environment to its impact in the outside world, we were led into processing the concept of dual perception: the subjective visual reality of the person navigating the streets and, at the same time, the “panoptic” (bird’s eye view) perception enabled by contemporary technology.

Imagining the office space as an extension of the urban landscape, we introduced textures, colours, images and graphics inspired by the urban realm:
Carpet flooring was chosen to visually echo road tarmac and designed to have imprinted on it tyre tracks referencing vehicular movement.
Interior surfaces of perimeter walls looking out to the street were rendered with rough-textured paint, relating to building facades.
Party walls where wallpapered throughout with large-scale abstract images of scenes from life in Athens by photographer Sylvia Diamantopoulos, with a traffic graph of tweets from the company’s first year of operation, and, last but not least, with graffiti created on site after hours by artist Laline Pierrakos.

Partition walls between singular office spaces were conceived as free-standing panels. On them, we designed interpretative maps and charts using data from the Taxibeat app, to depict ‘panoptic’ readings of the city of information, enabled by GIS technology. (Many thanks to Vasilis Grammatikos and Konstantinos Koryllos for their invaluable help in geoprocessing the data!)
Adhesive membranes, imprinted with our design of the skyline of an imaginary metropolis made up of characteristic landmarks and various city parts, were installed on the glass partitions, to partially filter visual communication between spaces.

Following Nikos’ suggestion, partitions in the brainstorm room and his office were converted into full-size whiteboards – using white enamel paint – for the visual communication of ideas. Similarly, columns and locker doors were painted with blackboard paint: a constantly changing creative graffiti.

Nikos was engaged in the creative process from the start.  The first plural form throughout this post, subconsciously refers to more than Marina and myself… The fact that we were able to issue plans to begin construction a week into the project, was largely due to the clarity of the building program and requirements Nikos provided us with. His research on technology companies’ office culture enhanced our design process. We felt lucky, realising from the start his already formed in-depth understanding of the effect of spatial design on the well-being, productivity and creativity of the people who use it daily. Rarely do our clients commit to our carrying through the design concept from start to finish… so, this must have been, without exaggeration, one of the best collaborations we’ve had so far.

Not to say that there haven’t been any doubts in this process… especially during the most un-charming phases of construction! But if for one or two out of the ten suggestions we made, Nikos was skeptical or negative, this became a challenge for us to go beyond the idea, making the final outcome better than the original proposal.

It was not always an easy journey. A small budget and a tight timeframe… Some features (such as the digital projection on the floor of the lobby) were not implemented, at least not yet. And for many of our ideas we had to find alternative, cheaper ways. The carpet is the best example: we imagined printed traces of car tracks on it, but to order this manufactured was way out of budget. Rather than abandoning the idea, we went for a handmade solution: installing a plain carpet in tones of asphalt, we asked artist Laline Pierrakos to imprint tyre marks on site. And so, on a Saturday morning, after many trials of different kinds of paint and tests of track paths, Laline rolled old tires ‘dirtied’ with anthracite paint on the brand new carpet… (To see Laline in action, you can watch the video below).

As for the timetable… well, the final stages of construction took place after the team had already moved into its new space! Timos Zaverdinos, the most conscientious and impeccable cabinetmaker we have come across, while assembling all the custom-made wooden furniture, became a regular in the office. But so did we! And it worked to our benefit. While overseeing the works, we had the opportunity to be hosted on site and experience the office environment first hand. Trying out all workspaces one by one, while designing the graphics for their solid and glass partitions, we got to know the members of the team better and ended up designing both for- and with- them.

Spyros’ practical, analytical way of thinking, more than just inspiring the infographics for the wall of his own office, helped us fine-tune a series of details. And should we not mention the choice of Waterman’s butterfly world map projection on the entrance wall bearing the company’s logo‚ which is in effect his idea? Marina and I had proposed a different map projection, but Spyros’ enthusiasm about Waterman’s butterfly map (ref. xkcd by Randall Munroe) got us convinced to implement this one. Using a router, we carved on a marine plywood panel the outline and meridians of the butterfly map, then ‘voided’ the continents using a laser cutter, and replaced them with a metal plate fixed behind the panel. On it, custom-made miniature magnets are held in place, indicating the cities around the world Taxibeat is expanding to. (We truly wish for the map to fill up with magnets!)

There is no reception desk by the entrance of Taxibeat’s office. So when Agni and Electra had difficulty seeing from their customer support workstations if the person entering the office was a visitor requiring their assistance or not, we added on the column across their seats a panoramic road mirror, so that by raising their eyes from the screen, they would be able to see in reflection the entrance door.

One thing led to another: the panoramic road mirror on the column helped us complete the last map – the one intended for Nikos’ wall. We were nearing ten variations, but, despite its strong concept, there still seemed to be something missing. Discussing about it on site, looking at the road mirror fixed in the backdrop, we had a little epiphany: to process the aerial photo of Athens city, centred around Sina street as if through a magnifying lens, equal in size and all to the mirror on the column. The magnifying lens completes the wall map, by ‘zooming’ on the detailed journeys made by Taxibeat team members’ within a set 24-hour interval.

At times, feedback worked in reverse as well, to simplify the original scheme: As we were sampling accent colours for the walls, Nick Damilakis told us how important minimising contrast between computer screen and wall background is to him. So we reduced the wall colour palette around workspaces to make the environment more relaxing.

As for Kostis… well, we often thought of kidnapping and recruiting him for our other projects, as his ideas on furniture design and graphics are just … way out there!!! We have refrained from doing so just yet, so he is still to be found on his corner desk by the Skoufa street window. But we are hoping to consult both him and Michalis for Taxibeat’s next office project!

I could go on for many pages more… Every detail comes with a short story…  But I think I’ll stop here. At the end of the day, designing Taxibeat’s new home in Athens was all about creative teamwork and enthusiasm and we think (hope!) these are the values and feelings that the space conveys.

note: All photographs of the office in the slideshow, as well as the full-wall images within the space, were taken by Sylvia Diamantopoulos. Thank you so much Sylvia for your very unique work!

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