Characterised by its serene, cosy vibe and sunlit interiors, Banyan Workspace is a luxury co-working space adding a new dimension of conscious comfort in the hectic work environment in Hong Kong.
To most people, their work is where they spend the second most (if not the most) number of hours in the day. Founded by entrepreneurial couple Rasheed and Amy Shroff, Banyan Workspace was a conscious effort to fill the gap between the highly corporate high-end co-working spaces and the vibrant, millennial-centred shared offices that populate Hong Kong today.
Following a tenure at Fossil Group and 22 years working in a corporate environment, Rasheed Shroff was searching for an appropriate shared office when he began working for himself. “Hand on heart, I can say I didn’t find anything I liked. They fell into two buckets: either really really corporate, or really young — the kind with pool tables and table tennis tables — it didn’t really appeal to me. I also found them very cramped.” He adds, “I started working at home, which came with a lot of advantages, but it also came with a lot of distractions. The kids came home from school, the dogs were barking, and just one thing after another. That was when I thought there might be a better way to do a shared office space: I would take the best of a home office and the best of a corporate office and put them together.”
Inspired by Hong Kong and seeing the lack of working environments that paid tribute to the city’s unique position between east and west, the Shroffs decided on the name Banyan Workspace. The symbol harks back to the heyday of the Silk Road, where merchants would take refuge under these large sprawling ancient trees. The idea is that Banyan Workspace is where your business takes root and grows; it’s where you are supported.
The founders clicked instantly when they met with S.Lo Studio, a boutique design and branding agency founded by project manager Sabrina Ettedgui and Lo Eli, the ‘creative soul’ behind the firm’s designs. As a portmanteau comprised of Ettedgui and Eli’s first names, it also corresponds to their conscious and holistic approach to design.
“There’s a personable, human aspect to it, says Eli. “I always look at my client’s brief and layer on top of those constraints my own idea that a space should be either somewhere you can either connect with other people, or align with yourself; it should be a place that delights you and makes you happy.”
Transforming an industrial space
Beyond the expectation of offering a certain capacity, and the constraints of the layout itself, S.Lo Studio had the flexibility to transform a warehouse shell into a hospitality-forward space. “There was a wave of offices that were very stark and industrial, geared at millennials, because it was meant to be cheap accommodation. But I think people are still looking for more than that, especially millennials and people in their 20s and 30s, those who were more sophisticated, mature, experts in the field and not necessarily just for startups. We wanted to be more cross-generational and totally cross-cultural too.” She adds, “I went with the angle of thinking sustainably, and making people feel really comfortable at work. It’s essentially wellness in the workspace. It’s a home away from home.”
The original space was dark and compartmentalised, unable to take advantage of the sweeping ocean views at this secluded corner of Quarry Bay. Located in an industrial building with loft-height ceilings, S.Lo envisioned the heart of the space to be an open atrium, starting from the tall library area that acts as a place for informal meetings. Private desk areas and meeting rooms flank two sides of the main floor, while private offices in the mezzanine level look out over the atrium, benefitting from more natural light and visibility this way rather than being completely closed off.
With ocean-facing meeting rooms, moveable panels to create versatile event spaces and ample greenery, the aim was to create a breezy, indoor-outdoor vibe. Eli says, “what we tried to create and achieve was somewhere you could move around a bit when you’re working. You would have your private office or desk, then you have the main rooms with seating areas — the lounge, the library, and upstairs there are a few [informal] meeting areas.”
The private desks in particular were a bespoke design to combat unique constraints within the space that came with the dropped floor upstairs. Eli adds, “we used the idea of getting sheltered or supported by the Banyan within the space. We worked on the existing columns to represent the aerial roots that came down, using specific features to create a nested treehouse effect.” The result is what the designers call niche desks, where the tables are nestled within mini alcoves framed by rattan pieces. “It ends up being a really nice private field, despite being in an open co-working space.”
A workplace that gives back
Unlike the pop-styled, convivial co-working offices geared at millennials, Shroff and his team hope to have Banyan Workspace become a sustainable, community-minded environment, where coworkers can gain a sense of belonging thanks to its bold social responsibility initiatives.
For instance, Banyan Workspace donates two percent of individual membership fees to one of four local charities, subject to the member’s choice. Banyan Workspace’s values have attracted companies that perhaps haven’t been able to make time for corporate social responsibility but want to start.
Aside from higher level CSR engagements, there are other small ways to involve community outreach, and a lot of it is in the pantry: The cookies come from St. James Settlement. The nuts come from the old lady down the road. People prefer oat milk in their beverages rather than dairy. There’s a sophisticated, seven-category waste management system including tetra pak recycling — where they are taken to a local plant to get turned into toilet roll. Food waste, used coffee grounds and tea bags are composted so they don’t end up in the landfill. Members receive a collapsible silicone coffee cup that they can take around. The company also offers reusable lunch boxes that people can take to nearby restaurants for their takeout — these are early-generation tupperware boxes from Hong Kong startup Revolv, which offers eco-friendly to-go solutions.
Within the interior design itself, these values come across with a lean towards natural materials and eco-friendly touches. For instance, the wallpaper is made from 100 percent woven raffia, which uses recycled backing. The plants have all been chosen for their air filtering quality. Furniture and upholstery were considered for their locality wherever possible, to lower the shipping distance and the carbon footprint that comes with it. Natural leather was selected for the chairs rather than PVC as it was better for the environment, plus the life cycle of the chairs last longer.
“What we’ve found is that the giving back, the sustainability and the aesthetics of the space — it attracts a certain type of like minded person,” says Shroff. “It’s nice because I feel like even when someone walks through the door here, I don’t feel like you’re meeting an employee, they’re meeting someone who is actively passionate about the business, passionate about the space. If a business has already got those values, it’s easier to decide whether you’d like to be a part of it or to work with them.”
Banyan Workspace, Suite 1204, Eastern Harbour Centre, 28 Hoi Chak Street, Quarry Bay, Hong Kong