Born and raised in New Zealand, Nicola Greenaway’s career in interior design has taken her to Europe and Asia in the past two decades. In 2015, she launched design consultancy firm Nikau Design Group in Singapore.
With a stronger emphasis on sustainability and wellness now becoming standard criteria for the future work environment, Greenaway shared with Oasis some insights and observations about what the future holds for architecture and interior design. She also talked about how her Kiwi heritage has helped her in her career.
This interview has been edited and consolidated for clarity and brevity.
Oasis (OA): Considerations such as sustainability and wellness are becoming essential elements for buildings. How has that affected you in terms of your design mindset? What are your observations?
Nicola Greenaway (NG): We’ve always had that mindset for many years. Coming from New Zealand, where it is all about sustainability and being environmentally friendly, that aspect has always been there. It’s then about figuring out how to implement those ideas into the Asian landscape, as these ideas were seen as very expensive for implementation and accreditation. However, in recent years, everyone is trying to be sustainable.
There’s also been a lot said about the wellness of buildings, whether they’re existing buildings or projects to be built. Even educational campuses are now looking at these elements. Yet, right now, it’s all about COVID-19 and what that means for the office environment. The whole way in which we specify our homes, hotels, and office areas, where we need fewer touchpoints.
OS: What are some examples of how you’ve implemented fewer touchpoints?
NG: For instance, when somebody opens a door—we don’t want to do that. We want self-opening doors everywhere. We already see more technology in the office environment, such as in the main lobby of a reception area, where self-checking features are everywhere.
The fixtures, furniture, and equipment (FF&E’s) across all buildings will also change. From a hygiene perspective, in hospitals, a top priority is preventing infections in the environment. Thus, copper will make a resurgence in the market because of its ability to kill bacteria, compared to a material like stainless steel. We will see exciting developments over the next two years.
OA: How do you adapt designs to all these changes?
NG: If you look at the government in Singapore, look at what they’ve implemented in terms of social distancing and wearing a mask. We need to turn that into structures for hotels, workplaces, and hospitals by thinking about how we can socially distance ourselves in a physical space. How do we have fewer touchpoints? How do we make this an inviting environment? These are all areas that people have been implementing for several years, but it is becoming a big deal now.
OA: What will be some of the new standard features in buildings?
NG: One standard will be about the use of recyclable elements. Our sustainable model is based on five key drivers—design, intelligence, versatility, durability, and cost-effectiveness. We need to take a step back and start asking where the products are sourced from. How were they produced? Can we produce them locally? What’s the compliance? Another standard is about the shadowing of light for buildings’ facades and the access to natural air.
OA: How has your Kiwi heritage and background growing up in New Zealand helped you with Nikau Design in Singapore?
NG: I think it has made us more approachable, particularly in Singapore. New Zealand was one of the first countries to congratulate Singapore on its independence. That history and relationship have transpired to over 56 years. So, I think a lot of that trade effort between these two small countries has helped us in Singapore. If you look at our type of business, the highest investments in New Zealand are from Singapore, in real estate and design projects.
What I love about New Zealanders is our humbleness. The fact that we can fit within any environment. Growing up in New Zealand, one thing I learned from my parents is that everyone is equal. By understanding that, we feel that we can all achieve greatness, whatever that may be. Also, always remember to follow your passion.