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New MSC Cruises Tokyo Office

Recently I was in charge to design the new headquarters in Tokyo of the Italian MSC Cruises, a worldwide renowned shipping company founded in Naples (Napoli) by Gianluigi Aponte. Japan offers a market in rapid and robust expansion for the company, led by the Neapolitan president Oliviero Morelli, who has decided to move the activities to a larger location.

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My project - realized by the Japanese company Shukoh – draw inspiration from the flexibility of traditional Japanese architecture to create a modern space, designed to promote the wellbeing of employees, to promote the dialogue and improve productivity.

The project is centred on five guiding ideas, based on the statement that the quality of work environments favours higher and better productivity: Integration, between the Italian and Japanese cultures. The first being celebrated worldwide for the quality and beauty of its design, the second characterized in architecture by the concept of space Flexibility; Wellness, for the employees and the guests; Innovation, taking advantage of the latest cutting-edge technologies; Finally, Customization: adapting spaces and furnishings to specific needs. For each of these guiding ideas, specific design choices were made, together with a selection of furniture mainly made in Italy.

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Let’s analyze now more in detail how each concept has been applied in the new MSC Japan office.

The flexibility of the environment allows using the same space to host different functions, such as work, meetings, presentations and social interaction. The concept of Activity Based Working (ABW) - people perform various activities in different work settings - has been fully implemented in this project. The same space can be used to host different functions and events. This is achieved with two different systems. The first is the Paper Softwall, a movable lightweight partition made of honeycomb paper by the Canadian company Molo Design. The second is I-mesh, an innovative fibreglass mesh made in Italy, used to define functional areas. This solution is inspired by the traditional Japanese house, where the so-called Ranma (欄間) was adopted as an ideal separation between the different environments. The flexibility of the furniture is entrusted to the modularity of tables and chairs - produced by Italian brands such as Arper, Magis and Vitra - as well as the new modular soft seating system TESS by WO-P Design. Furthermore, to promote communication between employees, the office is furnished with several fixed and portable magnetic boards.

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The second keyword is Wellness, intended as a balance between work and private life. This is entrusted to the joint action of nature, art, colour and physical activity. The new office features a significant presence of greenery, with over 200 varieties of plants. The spaces are decorated with paintings inspired by the ancient Japanese calligraphy (shodo), made by the artist Yuri Fujiwara (藤原悠里). The colours of the furnishings and walls are selected to favour concentration and relaxation, with the prevalence of the blue identifying the MSC Cruises branding. Finally, a small space is dedicated to physical activity during office hours, furnished in a partnership with the Italian company Technogym.

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Designed by Yuri Fujiwara

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Innovation – the third guiding idea – is obtained thanks to cutting edge technologies and furniture adopted in the office, contributing to efficiency and functionality. The president's office is enclosed by a glass partition (RP by Unifor), coated with a smart film that can change its transparency electronically, guaranteeing privacy when needed. The new Scribit robot - conceived by Carlo Ratti Associati - offers the opportunity to convey information on the whiteboards during meetings. Finally, a selection of soft seating created by SixInch with advanced fabrication techniques, contribute to confer modernity to the environments.

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The Customization of spaces and furnishings is a crucial element in the design of contemporary work environments. In the MSC Cruises office, most of the furnishings have been customized to adapt them to specific needs or to convey corporate values. Custom furniture made by Shukoh adapts to the particular characteristics of the building. The floor, for example, includes printed carpet tiles with the five logos that represent the core values of the company. Furthermore, a bench inspired by MSC ships welcomes visitors near the entrance.

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The Integration between Italian and Japanese culture is indeed the spirit that guides the whole project. In addition to the choices mentioned above of space flexibility and "made in Italy" furniture, the design of the new office included symbolic elements of both cultures: the Japanese patterns inspired by the "shodo (書道)" calligraphy, but also the Italian ones designed by Gio Ponti for the Parco dei Principi hotel in Sorrento. A large olive tree placed in the new patio, suggests Mediterranean landscapes and at the same time a peaceful workplace.

This project is in line with the recent trends in workplace design, especially the attention to the worker's wellbeing and social interaction. Employees wellbeing is nowadays the key to enhance enthusiasm and productivity in the workplace. Smart and funny workplace design can boost creativity and reduce absenteeism. A flexible environment stimulates the employees to shape their workplace according to their specific needs and comfort requirements. By doing so, they also become more active and proactive.

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MSC operates more than 1,000 routes globally and is one of the fastest growing cruise companies in the world. It has an Italian background and a global vision. The project of the new Tokyo Headquarters aims to realize a genuinely glocal environment: inspired by the local identities and realized with a modern and universal language.