d. Magazine – Starhub

d. Issue Vol 1 No. 3 – Apr 1999

HUB of Efficiency
On 1st April 2000, StarHub will begin providing services in Singapore, the first info communications company in Asia Pacific to offer total convergence of fixed and mobile telecommunications on a single integrated platform. What this means is that your home, office and mobile phones can all be linked, and you can be reached anywhere you are with just one number. Formed as a partnership, StarHub’s lineup includes some of the world’s leading telecommunications players: Singapore Technologies Telemedia (STT), Singapore Power (SP), Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corp (NTT) and British Telecom (BT). As a full service provider, StarHub will be competing directly with Singtel. Its corporate vision is to be the leading innovator of info communications solutions. HAN YIP & LEE ASSOCIATES (HYLA) teamed up with HB DESIGN to take on the challenge of designing the new corporate headquarters for the start-up company. This involved fitting out 65,000ft2 of offices and data centre equipment floors in an existing building in Tai Seng Drive, as well as 75,000ft2 of offices in the newly refurbished Cuppage Centre (now renamed StarHub Centre).

As a start-up company there was no visual concrete identity for the design team to work with. In fact, at the time when the offices were designed, the StarHub logo and colours had not yet been determined. It is especially important that an IT company’s offices reflect a contemporary and progressive view of the workplace. Equally important to the task of accommodating the countless workstations and numerous specialist technical requirements was the development of a clear corporate design, identity and strategy – on that reflected the new company’s business outlook.

Beyond incorporating a suite of interesting materials and colours, HYLA and HB Design took on the challenge to develop a design that would play a pivotal role in encouraging and supporting new ways of working. Key terms that were earlier agreed on were ‘transparency’, ‘interactivity’, ‘clarity’ and ‘innovation’.

The project was approached with a view to identifying prototypical components reflecting StarHub’s key needs. This would ultimately allow the developed design to be applied to other locations as the company grows. In addition to the primary representative areas, such as reception, boardroom and meeting rooms, a lot of emphasis was placed on the ‘team’ – the staff on whom the operation relies. This required spending a lot of time on the design of key components, such as the typical open-plan workstation, the cellular office and the typical freestanding meeting pod.

Materials selected were also reflective of the hi-tech/hi-touch philosophy embraced by StarHub. While being modern and industrial, they also had to be simple and unpretentious. It was important to avoid the all too common hi-tech look dominated by greys, whites and silvers. Stained plywood, lacquered MDF and natural Indian canvas are contrasted with CorTen, a special rusted steel, and Lumasite, an acrylic and fibreglass composite. Key partition walls are brightly coloured while columns are celebrated with veneered plywood cladding, dropped ceiling panels and feature lighting.

Although accommodated on very different floor plates, both projects have large open plan office areas surrounded by cellular offices. Partitions for the workstations were maintained as low as possible (1.2 metres) to avoid the pigeon-holing that inevitably happens when these are taken up to standard height. In an effort to keep costs at a minimum, a standard partition system from Getz was modified to reflect ‘intelligent’ use of materials, The top portion of the partitions, where acoustic absorption and pin-up capability is required, is covered in natural Indian cotton. The base, exposed to higher wear-and-tear and for the most part not visible below the worktop, left the underlying construction material exposed of which in Tai Seng (photos l to q) is stained plywood, and in the Cuppage (photos a to k) lacquered MDF.

Located strategically within the open plan office areas are freestanding meeting pods (b, c, d and n). Made of tapering plywood fins with Lumasite panels, these open configurations provide a venue for loosely organised or spontaneous meetings amongst staff. For external meetings or ones requiring full acoustic separation, a series of formal meeting rooms were provided adjacent to the reception area. In order to establish a clear identity, the pods were given unique shapes – elliptical, circular, rectangular or trapezoidal.

The open area ceilings were already provided for in the Cuppage. In Tai Seng, however, the designers had the bare shell to work with. Instead of a wall-to-wall suspended ceiling system, a series of linear plasterboard strips were introduced. In addition to concealing the services (A/C, electrical trunking and sprinklers), these serve as a reflector for the custom-made suspended lighting fixtures (n and p).

Along the perimeter of the buildings, adjacent to the external wall, are located the cellular offices. These have been designed to allow as much light as possible to penetrate into the central areas but without subjecting the occupants to the ‘fishbowl’ syndrome – ie, being on display to the rest of the office through full height clear glazing. To achieve this, a pattern of clear and translucent glass was used. In addition to the front walls, the first section of the dividing walls was also glazed. The result is a situation that gives the occupants crucial visual connection to the central areas from their desks, while giving them privacy at the centre of the room for holding meetings (h). The dividing walls were painted a pale yellow setting them off from the external wall and accentuating their almost blade-like nature.

A unique feature of the Cuppage offices is the thick wall between the central core and the offices (I, j and k). Designed more as a screen wall than a solid separator, it is punctured every structural bay with a Lumasite lighting canopy leading into the offices. Tapered and featuring narrow ‘window slots’, this permeable wall allows for inter-office circulation to happen without disruption to the open plan areas. To further highlight this feature, it has been painted a vibrant purple, forming a striking backdrop to the workstations.

The reception and executive areas have been designed to combine the natural simplicity of industrial materials with a decidedly corporate feel (a, l and m). A dropped CorTen ceiling panel works in concert with a teak floor panel to focus ones attention on the simple wood and steel reception counter. Behind this is a series of Lumasite panels mounted onto a suspended CorTen wall. This backlit feature is still waiting for the corporate logo to be applied.

In the Cuppage a new connecting stair was inserted, a crucial organisational feature allowing for direct and efficient communication between the two floors of the tenancy (f and g). This involved making a structural opening in the slab between the two floors. The new stair is a lightweight structure consisting of flat steel plates as stringers, solid nyatoh timber treads and toughened glass balustrades. Suspended on solid steel bars from the upper level is the stair landing.

Directly adjacent to the stair is the boardroom (g-1). The walls of this linear space are lined in perforated timber veneer panels offset by the three stainless steel doors at the centre of each of the internal walls. These doors reveal a video conferencing room, access to the reception and a glass whiteboard panel. Over the custom designed elliptical boardroom table hangs a CorTen steel lighting beam providing task lighting for the table as well as indirect lighting that plays off the suspended timber ceiling panel.

In Tai Seng Drive the reception features a meeting pod (l and m), situated directly opposite the boardroom (o). This area was designed to impress visitors and to introduce them to the capabilities of StarHub. On either side of the circular boardroom are full height glass walls. At the flick of a button these can be converted from translucent to clear. On the one side is located the Customer Calling Service Centre, home to 120 personnel and the heart of the StarHub hi-touch service concept. To the other side is the Network Management Centre, the hub of StarHub’s hi-tech telecommunications network. 22 computer consoles and a 9-metre wide video projection wall keep track of the myriad operations that are ongoing at any point in time.

‘quality of environment’
After several months of occupation now, the offices are becoming what they were intended to be. Ay any given moment during the working day, employees are moving efficiently along the tapered corridor, meeting casually at the meeting pods, communicating directly between workstations or striking up spontaneous conversations in the café. As much as the new offices are about accommodating the over 1,200 workplaces, they are a testimony to the new working environment and the importance that design plays in shaping it. StarHub’s offices show how with lateral thinking, innovative planning and intelligent use of materials, the office environment can become a powerful vehicle for improving quality of environment and providing a wider range of work settings, which in turn promotes interaction and efficiency.

Writer: Hans Brouwer
Photography: Albert Lim KS and Hans Brouwer ,courtesy of HB Design