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[Photos] How DSTNCT turned Singapore's second oldest fire station into its new office space

[Photos] How DSTNCT turned Singapore's second oldest fire station into its new office space

At the space, everyone sits at a similar table and chair, from senior partners to interns – a visual and psychological affirmation of the firm's philosophy of everyone being valued for their opinions and contributions, Cheah Wei Chun, Creative Director, DSTNCT, shares.

Located at Singapore's second oldest fire station, the Former Geylang Fire Station, DSTNCT's new office space is hard to miss. With antique French windows and weekly fresh flower arrangements, the office space tailored the design to work for employees' work patterns and habits.

Read more to find out how Cheah Wei Chun, Creative Director, DSTNCT, revamped this heritage building for its teams, in this interview with Arina Sofiah.

Q Walk us through the thought process when conceptualising this office space - what sparked the decision, and what was your vision for this new space?

To be honest, some of us were not keen on this space when we first saw it. While the location and outside facade are great, the previous occupiers created a very plain and uninspiring office with the windows all closed up. It felt like a depressing box. We were considering a Chinatown shophouse and this fire station. When the former didn't go our way, we started to seriously think about how to make this space work for us.


Q How involved were your employees in this process?

We worked closely with our interior designers. It was mostly DSTNCT's partners that were involved in the process. As the creative director, I took the natural lead and worked with everyone to make all the different wish lists come together as a cohesive office. We really tailored the design to work for DSTNCT's work patterns and habits. 


Q Is there a particular significance in choosing such a unique building?

Once we committed, I think we really brought out the best of the space for our needs and aesthetics. For example, red is used prominently on the exterior, and is very visible in our interiors due to our many windows and doors. It's not a colour that we can change so we embraced it. Some of our artworks and furnishings feature red to make the colour look deliberate. Luckily our corporate colours are monotones so they blended well. All our tables and a lot of our shelving have a warm wood tone, which transitions well from the more aggressive red, creating a more mellow mood internally.


Q Overall, how do you hope this space would help with the company culture, engagement, and productivity?

We had moved because we were expanding rapidly. At our old office, we observed that everyone liked to sit near the windows. Through my years of working in different environments, I am very particular about office spaces. I firmly believe that staff feel more relaxed and less stressed if everyone works near large windows with lots of natural light, and we are all able to see if it is sunny, cloudy or rainy outside. We spend the majority of our time in the office so it makes perfect sense that office spaces help put us into a better mental state; that we are able to enjoy views and even hear the rain and soft traffic noises. It makes a good balance to the fact that we are constantly staring into artificial spaces, ie. our computer screens.

On a more strategic level, the partners, in particular Matthew our MD, knew that this iconic memorable building would be great for DSTNCT. Not every agency gets the chance to occupy a visible landmark.

In the office itself, everything looks sleek and modern but without extravagant (useless) frills — no kooky fireman's poles! We use soft, slightly warm sunlight bulbs though we do not need much artificial illumination as the space gets so much natural light. We also rented large plants to add life and soften the space. Gardeners come regularly to water and prune them so that the greenery always looks in peak condition. And often we have a fresh flower arrangement every week on our well-used, extra large dining table. It's a small expense but appreciated as a joyful gesture for staff. 


Q On a broader note - how does this office space convey what DSTNCT stands for as an employer & a brand?

Everyone sits at a similar table and chair, from senior partners to interns. We do not have special rooms for certain staff. This is a very visual and psychological way of affirming DSTNCT's philosophy of everyone being valued for their opinions and contributions.

We do have two large meeting rooms that are mostly transparent. In fact, one of the rooms is called the Glass Room, situated in the middle of our office. We spend many hours in there brainstorming and working out ideas; so the transparency makes us feel connected to the rest of the staff, working but not in that meeting.  


Q What advice would you give other companies that are planning on redesigning their office spaces to cater to the new way of work?

My main advice is to design for the main bulk of the staff. Place the majority of staff where the best views are. And if private rooms are needed for senior staff, place these rooms around the main area. Do not allow the bosses to hog the best views for themselves. This makes staff feel that they are less important. After all, it is the middle-level staff that generally do the bulk of the company's work. They deserve to be the happiest in terms of space. It can only be good for the company.

Do look for office spaces with good natural light and definitely avoid cold fluorescent lighting. No matter how expensive the office furniture is, there is nothing worse than making people work 40-plus hours a week in a room with no view, no sunlight, and morgue-like lighting.  

Q To end on a personal note - what is your favourite feature/spot in the office, and why?

It is definitely our five huge, antique French windows. They line the entire wall of our office. We keep them open 24/7 and the interior designers created minimal glass frames to keep the air conditioning in. We have lovely, inspiring views of greenery, and at night, PLQ Mall lights up and reminds us to go home and to balance our life. 


Image / Provided

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