Styling Spaces to a T/ Shagufta Anurag
Founder, MD and Chief Design Officer of Space Matrix
Shagufta Anurag is among a new breed of interior designer – young, energetic, enterprising – who is not only holding her own, but getting ahead in the highly competitive Architect & Design game. Taking her belief that a workspace design should be a bold reflection of a company’s corporate culture and brand identity, Shagufta founded the Singapore-based Space Matrix in 2001 with the main mission of creating workspaces that “inspire an audience, engage the user and have long-term value.” Since then, the interior design firm has completed a long list of exemplary corporate, hospitality, building design and retail projects, and earned industry recognition, garnering awards for “Best Office Interior in India” and “Most Outstanding Project in the Commercial Sector.”
Q: Given the trend towards eco-conscious office designs, describe the underlying philosophy of the design work of Space Matrix as it relates to the environment.
A: At Space Matrix we believe less is more – in our approach to sustainability as well as aesthetics. Designs that conserve energy begin at the conceptual stage when we look to optimize the natural elements of daylight, air movement and materiality. We create visual and tactile connections between the flow of interior and exterior spaces, and between people and the environment around them. Site lines between workstations and the outdoors and access to operable windows give people a sense of the office as a place of openness and connectivity. It has been proven that people’s control over their working environments in terms of adjusting daylight and thermal comfort levels reduces stress and fatigue. We take an integrated approach to designing passive daylight by harvesting elements and controlling active lighting, which reduces overall energy requirements. We seek to use natural and local materials, which have low embodied energy, as well as recycled and low-emitting products that are better for people and the planet.
Q: What was your favourite project in the commercial sector to work on? Why?
A: I would rate the Suzlon One Earth as a favorite for its sheer challenge of size, complexity and ambition, set at the outset of the project and culminating in achieving all those goals in the face of various adversities.
The Suzlon One Earth is the unique corporate headquarters for one of Asia’s largest energy providers. The campus is spread over 10 acres of land in Pune, India. The idea for an office campus was conceived with the client’s need to bring all of its business sectors and corporate services under one roof. Although linked to each other, they are independent enough to operate in distinct office spaces that meet their respective needs and requirements. The campus is named “One Earth” as Suzlon’s business believes in caring for the Earth. It further highlights the earth’s unique existence as an eco system, signifies a unified view of the planet and reinforces the company’s belief that coexistence and responsible usage of natural resources is the only way to achieve sustainability.
Q: How would you describe your design style?
A: I could relate my style as being timeless and functional: A minimalistic and honest approach to design where scale, proportion and rhythm find a place in each of my creative pursuits.
The core value is to integrate this approach while designing for a particular client or project, where their distinct taste is always being reflected through conscious effort and a thorough understanding of the design brief.
Q: Which designer has been your biggest influence and inspiration?
A: There is no simple answer for this one. Throughout my career and early design school days, I’ve been influenced by my travels and daily experiences. These could have been through works of professionals as well as individual users, living and using spaces for day-to-day activities. A series of arches, a flight of rugged steps, the texture of a mossy wall are all clues stored away towards a bigger creative inspiration for me.
I’d like to believe that a single individual cannot encompass all the aspects of a great designer. For me, great designers are intuitive, inspirational, and practical yet poetic in their approach. They have a quality which leaves little to be said. They create experiences — visual, spatial or tactile — for us to enjoy. I have strived to imbibe these aspects in my work, and the quest continues.
Q: What are the biggest challenges facing designers today?
A: Design is often considered a luxury and “designer” products are deemed unnecessary in a tight economy. Designers still struggle with convincing users of the “cost versus value proposition” for their solutions. However, a well-designed product doesn’t mean it is expensive.
A well-designed space or piece of furniture is worth investing in, as it recovers its cost in the long run by being efficient and effective. Today sustainability and durability are synonymous with good design. We can no longer afford apathy towards our working and living environments. Rather than pandering to the older norm, it is the duty of today’s designers and architects to be responsible citizens and help educate and inculcate their learning to the upcoming generation of creatives and stakeholders.
Q: As a female designer, what specific challenges, if any, have you encountered throughout your career?
A: I have come to believe that capability gets its due eventually, be it for a male or female designer. To go by personal experience, it’s been the contrary: I have only had support and encouragement from family and friends including the professional circles, be they partners or clients. Their encouragement has definitely fuelled my desire to succeed against all odds.
Q: Do you feel there is enough encouragement for women to enter a career in professional design?
A: Today, any industry allows its patriots the same milieu of circumstances. Individuals with an opportunistic outlook to take encouragement from the most unexpected of quarters and turn it into a positive impact to their professional growth.
I am happy to say that we have very good design talent within the firm who are women and have seen the same with the interns who choose to work with us. The challenges that they have experienced elsewhere only make them stronger.
Q: What do you consider to be your motto or design philosophy?
A: Any designer has to take their philosophical lessons from nature. Designs in nature are true to their intent; they are enduring; and they capture all the requirements for their reason ‘to be’. There is no place for personal ego in nature’s design. If the being is not justified, then it loses its virility and disappears.
My design philosophy is to be true to the Intent of the user rather than being fed by personal ego alone.
Q: What do you like best about being a designer?
A: I value the capability to create and impact life’s experiences as well as the environment in a positive and constructive way. I approach any task at hand with the intent of making a contribution to the life and work experience of every user who comes in conversation with the space I design.
Q: What trends are most prevalent in office design today?
A: One of the most significant trends is that of determining the
A second equally significant trend seen is the importance of workspace adaptability to suit the user’s requirements, rather than where physical space dictating the work behaviour of the user.
Thirdly, technology is being integrated into the workspace as an active participant rather than a passive tool. Technology in the office is now as agile and intelligently intuitive as its user. It is transforming into a major contributor to workplace productivity and is seen in its next-gen phase on mobile hand-held devises within the office. The divide between technology being restrictive for work and its use for social aspects is a line that is almost obliterated. This, to be sure, has had a liberating impact on space design.
In my opinion these trends are here to stay.
Q: How do you define “good” design?
A: A good design is one that delivers its objective intent most efficiently and effectively while still being aesthetically uplifting. Good design is not only about colours, but whether the space aesthetic contributes to its intent. ‘Good design’ has moved into the realm of ‘responsible design’. For instance: To what extent can a designer exert his/her influence on a range or spectrum of human behaviour and emotion? The more panoramic the approach, the ‘better’ the design.
Q: Talk about a recent project you completed. What was the concept, solution, location, highlights?
A: Vestas, a leading Danish firm, is a manufacturer, seller, installer, and service provider for wind turbines. In Singapore, Vestas’ brief to Space Matrix Design Consultants was clear. They wanted a sustainable workplace that is in line with their corporate objectives: green, clutter-free, innovative, collaborative, fun, and tech savvy. This new office has recently been awarded the LEED Corporate Interior (CI) Platinum certification, the highest credentials issued by the US Green Building Council (USGBC) to facilities that meet rigorous sustainability guidelines.
Until now, no other office in Singapore had previously received LEED CI Platinum status, thus making the Vestas office the greenest corporate interior in Singapore and, with an overall score of 93 points, the third most sustainable facility in the world.
Q: You’ve seen the Architect & Design industry in Asia change and evolve throughout your career. What has been the greatest change you’ve witnessed?
A: Asia’s embrace of green design in the past 5 years has seen a very conscious change toward environmentally responsible design practices. This growth has been a tremendous leap, and I am looking forward to Asia being the leader in this movement.
Another change is the trend towards understanding the value of workplace strategy, where the requirement for spatial design is user derived. It is for and by the user, and is customised to the way these users work. User work culture, workflow and location define the values of consulting in the workplace – the value of who, what and why the design project is commissioned. Asia has consciously moved from a period where aesthetics was the driving parameter to the present, where a balance of various performance criteria is goal oriented.
Space Matrix International Awards