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According to scientists, humans have an innate natural instinct to connect with nature and other living creatures – a phenomenon known as biophilia. During the isolation of the pandemic, that urge became even stronger and is now increasingly being reflected in the buildings where we live, work and play.
B+H Architects Principal and Director Interior Design Asia, Callum D MacBean, believes that one of the main outcomes of the turmoil of the past two years from an interior design point of view has been that growing shift towards biophilic design, the practice of connecting people and nature through built environments and communities.
“COVID-19 has totally changed how we’re designing spaces,” he tells The CEO Magazine. “I’m talking about the aspects of biophilia – making sure there are healthy workspaces, that people have a connection to nature to reduce the stress of a workspace.” Indeed, this type of design has been proven to support cognitive function, physical health and psychological wellbeing.
We believe in the power of design to transform spaces, communities, economies and so on, to live, work, heal, play and learn, and that’s sort of our design philosophy.
When also taking into consideration the emerging field of neuroaesthetics, which considers how art can trigger an emotional reaction, it’s clear that the world of design has become an entirely different ball game post-pandemic. Changing work dynamics are also calling for novel solutions and B+H is delivering. “We’re designing hybrid spaces where our clients have some of their staff at home, some at work – that balance is different than it was in the past,” Callum shares.
In order to prevent the spread of the virus, spaces must now be “hyper purified”. “We’re making sure that they are biocidal, antifungal, antiviral, anti-odour, with self-sanitising seats, chairs, materials and touchless sensors,” he says. “From a design perspective, that’s something we have never really looked at very much in the past.”
The sudden acceleration of technology adoption during the pandemic is also impacting how B+H approaches new projects, with the firm contemplating how to incorporate cameras, virtual reality and cutting-edge lighting into its designs in order to cater to demand. But Callum also highlights the need to balance this tech prowess with “unplugged time” – giving a building’s users the opportunity to detach from technology and enjoy personal time and life’s simple pleasures.
“We believe in the power of design to transform spaces, communities, economies and so on, to live, work, heal, play and learn, and that’s sort of our design philosophy,” he adds.
There’s never enough time in the day. That’s why prioritising your time is so essential, especially for leaders.
It’s a balancing act that is also reflected in Callum’s approach towards leadership, which involves him placing great emphasis on prioritising. “There’s never enough time in the day,” he stresses. “That’s why prioritising your time is so essential, especially for leaders. Part of that is that you need to prioritise time for your family and your friends every day and you have to make sure that weekends are family time. Otherwise, all you’re doing is reacting.”
This is where planning comes in. He creates specific time slots for meetings, for downtime and even for unscheduled events that may suddenly come up. “I just think that makes you a well-managed person for your own time and you need to do that because if you don’t prioritise, then you’re not in control,” Callum shares.
These strategies will help to drive the company’s ambitious expansion plans over the coming years, with Callum identifying China and the Greater Bay Area as having great growth potential. Many of its clients, such as Microsoft and OPPO, are on their own upward trajectories creating immense opportunities for B+H, particularly thanks to its international spread. The company has nine offices worldwide, which form a network of far-reaching skills and expertise that it can tap into to better serve its clients in any part of the world, helping to strengthen those critical relationships.
“Our strategy is always that you build the client relationship and the projects will happen. Any design firm that is successful, they don’t build projects, they build solutions,” he reflects. “If you go in as a salesperson, then you’re only going to get a product. But if you go in as someone who has an interest in the client’s business, understands their business, wants to understand them as a person, you won’t get a product, you’ll get a relationship and projects for the next five, 10, 15, 20 years because people want to work with you. You need to have that respect and trust. Once you build that, then the returns are manifold.”
The dynamism of working with good partners is you learn from them the same way they learn from you, and they push you in ways that you may not have thought of before.
Leveraging those client relationships is a big part of B+H’s growth strategy, but hiring and retaining “great talent” is also crucial, as is finding the right partners, according to Callum. “Everything in our design business is about relationships. We are only as good as the partners we work with,” he says. “So when we’re working with our design consultants whether it’s mechanical, electrical and plumbing, or structural, acoustics or lighting, whether it’s the contractors, the suppliers, the agents, the clients – we are part of a chain and any chain is only as strong as a link in that chain.”
B+H takes a “we” approach, which ensures that the final success is shared between all parties concerned – not just the client. “Once everyone is successful, then you want to work with each other again. That means the next time you do, it will be better, more efficient, smarter, and you can bring new ideas to the table, which allows everyone to grow,” Callum reflects. “The dynamism of working with good partners is you learn from them the same way they learn from you, and they push you in ways that you may not have thought of before.
“I think not just as a leader, but as a business, if you’re myopic in your focus, then all you’ll deliver will be the same thing again and again and again. But when you build your group of partners around the world who share the same values, vision, interests and ideas as you, and they all contribute together, then the solution is tremendous.”