Shaping the future of design and creativity in African spaces
It is widely believed that appearance influences our perception, and to a significant extent can shape our thinking-all of which comes to play when a design is being implemented.
According to Renowned architect, Charles Eames, “Recognizing the need is the primary condition for design.” Tapping into this key sector and taking design further from the norm is Nigerian architect, Remi Dada, through the creation of SpaceFinish, an unconventional architectural company, based in Lagos, the financial capital of Africa’s largest economy.
SpaceFinish explores a unique path of architectural styles in Nigeria that seeks to change the traditional office environment from overly formal and less interactive to a space that makes the body feel at home while the mind is at work. The building outline deeply emphasizes productivity, innovation, and collaboration.
Since its launch 2 years ago, the company has pioneered iconic projects like the Google workspace for Nigeria and designed workstations for top companies like Renmoney, Vibranium, Valley PwC, DHL, Verod Capital Management, Andela, Sterling Bank, Stanbic IBTC Bank.
In an exclusive interview with Ventures Africa, CEO of SpaceFinish, Remi Dada discusses the potential of unconventional spaces in Nigeria and Africa and also shares some insights on the company’s future plans.
Ventures Africa (VA): What was the idea behind the creation of SpaceFinish?
SpaceFinish (SF): Working as a Googler brought me so much inspiration because I got to work out of some of the best designed and most innovative office spaces in the world across Africa, Europe, Asia, North America, and the Middle East. So I was surprised when the Nigerian office was not as amazing as the other Google offices across the world. I then took it upon myself to address the problem. SpaceFinish was formed because I simply wanted to create the best work environment for myself and co-workers.
Over the years our mission and vision have evolved. As a company, we are focused on organizing and empowering talents to design and build impactful solutions for businesses and people all over the world.
VA: Gives us some insights on the journey of SpaceFinish?
SF: Our vision at SpaceFinish is to design and build a better world for all humans to live and work in. Our first step to improving the quality of life is to start with the areas that have the biggest impact on people’s daily routine – workspaces. Today people spend about 80% of their time at work. We are honored to have had the opportunity to create impacts through workspaces with clients such as Google, PwC, DHL, Andela, Venture Garden Group, Sterling Bank, Union Bank, Facebook, and many more.
More recently, we are beginning to step outside the design of workspaces to venture into new verticals that allow us to impact other aspects of people’s lives. With two international airport projects in Port Harcourt and Lagos, a training institute for Wema Bank Plc, and a word-class laboratory for 54Gene, SpaceFinish is staying true to its vision.
VA: How has it been trying to change the narrative of how office spaces should be tailored to the needs of employees in the organization?
SF: Architects have historically designed standard office spaces for one type of individual profile – hence the boring cubicle systems from the ‘70s. But as we have evolved in the workspace, we are now aware and championing the narrative that businesses need a diverse workforce to remain competitive and innovative. In other words, it is now even more important than ever to design for the multiple individual profile types in a workspace – the introverted, the extroverted, the conformist, the rebel…etc. – all these profiles need to express themselves in unique ways that allow each of them to maximize how they work, whether it is through providing elements like a focused space, or a casual couch, or a nap pod…etc.
More recently, the narrative has changed even further as we are now faced with the biggest pandemic challenge in modern history. For us, this means that we are now providing design solutions that keep people safe and allow for easier social distancing, material cleaning, crowd control…etc.
VA: What is the potential of creative spaces becoming more explored than the conventional style in Africa?
SF: At Spacefinish, by taking a human-centered approach to design and investing in technologies that make it easy for everyone to access creative talents in the design-build industry, we are making creative spaces more mainstream. Our amazing product team has been working on a solution to make creative design and build solutions more available to smaller-scaled clients across Africa. We are excited to announce that we have released the beta version of an easy-to-use virtual service called DesignMatchup which matches StartUps and SMEs (who otherwise cannot afford our enterprise services) with SpaceFinish vetted design partners and builders at an affordable price. We are hoping this would address the talent access problem and democratize access to great design solutions.
VA: What are the challenges or obstacles hindering organizations from exploring unconventional design in Nigeria?
SF: In Africa, especially Nigeria, the workspace has been marginalized with little attention given to the environments in which employees work. Over the years, a one-size-fits-all approach has been employed in building spaces for employees, and this has deeply impacted employees’ productivity and innovation and ultimately organization’s bottom line. Architects have also not done so much in enunciating the business benefits of building creative, user-centered spaces for companies. Our first real commitment after designing the Google office came from Andela but they were looking to create a space just to meet their capacity and meet their headcount, that was all. We went and pitched for them to do something different instead of creating the standard, generic workspace that we’ve all seen. We connected the expense and cost of that project to the potential output of the team working there and how that could affect the company’s bottom line. When we did that and gave them metrics they actually care about, it became an easier conversation to have. For businesses, when you show them it’s not just about having a pretty space but more about having a space that will allow people to achieve their short and long-term goals—they tend to be more receptive.
VA: Working with Google and Stanbic Bank amongst other big companies, must have required a lot of trust and confidence from their side, how was SpaceFinish as a startup able to convince these organizations?
SF: Reputation is the ultimate currency as a startup servicing established companies. SpaceFinish has invested heavily in building its reputation, we were very deliberate in targeting fortune 500 clients first. Once we could prove ourselves to one of them, it became easier to do so for the next. In all this, we try to operate above the fray and avoid the standard excuses that most businesses give in Nigeria. On our journey to provide truly global services to our clients, it was clear to them that we were a company that cared too much about our reputation to jeopardize their investments and business.
VA: SpaceFinish has already emerged in the largest market in Africa (Nigeria), this definitely spells potential in other African countries, will space finish be drifting towards that market in the future?
SF: Pan African expansion is definitely on the radar, however, we are focused on getting an even stronger foothold in Nigeria before expanding. When we do choose to expand we would do so with our trusted clients. However, with DesignMatchup who knows, maybe we would be entering new markets a lot sooner than we think. You’ll just have to wait and see.
VA: In terms of Corporate social responsibility, what fields will SpaceFinish be exploring?
SF: Corporate social responsibility is very important, especially in underserved markets like Nigeria. For us at SpaceFinish, we understand our roles as designers and we make the greatest impact by leveraging our talents to push humanity forward. Even though we are traditionally focused on workspaces, we are currently working closely with top healthcare players to provide design solutions that ensure they work in safe and protected environments. We are also playing our part in addressing the huge employment gap in the country by providing opportunities for professionals in the design community to get jobs through our Designmatchup platform. The DesignMatchUp platform would put the power back into the hands of the freelancers, allowing them to chart a course for their own future, and hopefully, one day would be in a position to hire others.
It is our vision for the platform to empower over 1 million designers, engineers, and builders across the content. And we are on the course to achieving that.
VA: What is the long term vision for SpaceFinish?
SF: It’s very simple. We want to design and build a better world for every person to live and work in. It sounds daunting, I know. But we have started that journey. For the first time ever we are stepping into new verticals, our most exciting one is “travel”. In 2019 we were commissioned by the Federal Airport Authority (FAAN) to design and fit-out two major international airports in Port Harcourt and Lagos. We have just finished the Port Harcourt Airport and work is already underway in Lagos.
For a long time, designers played a supporting role in the industry. Companies would come to SpaceFinish with a request for proposals and our designers would act on it. In the future, we envision that our designers would no longer want to respond to the RFP—instead, they want to create it. This shift as playing a supporting role, to becoming the leading force driving innovation is where we see ourselves.