While Western firms move into Asia, Adam Mundy introduces M Moser to the U.S.
Craig Kellogg -- Interior Design, 5/1/2009 12:00:00 AM
Following seven years in Asia with regional powerhouse M Moser Associates, Adam Mundy arrived in New York to join the firm's first stateside office. The nattily dressed international design director and 16 of his colleagues now work out of a light-filled loft that was formerly home to a lingerie manufacturer. They're among the 500 employees of this rapidly expanding firm. To leverage its global reach, Mundy's marketing efforts target repeat business from U.S.-based multinationals that already have M Moser—designed offices in Asia and beyond.
You felt confident expanding during a period of economic uncertainty.
After seven years with a small marketing office in New York, we emerged as a design entity. A recession is a great time for us to be here, because we can hire people who would otherwise be gainfully employed by other firms.
What exactly does an international design director do?
I spend 60 percent of my time in New York, but I have projects in six cities worldwide. Though I generally hold a lot of videoconferences, face-to-face meetings are invaluable. Next week, I'm leaving to spend a couple of days each in Hong Kong, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Indonesia, Stuttgart, Milan, and London. I try to take around-the-world trips, which reduce jet lag.
Would you say there's an M Moser signature style?
We've completed some of the most traditional interiors you could imagine, but people often describe our work as clean, simple, and contemporary, and our staff has residential, hospitality, and high-end resort experience.
A laminated-glass floor under-lit by fluorescents at financial company SWIFT in Dubayy, United Arab Emirates. Photo by Daren Bell.
Could you describe a lesson from abroad that's apropos in the U.S.?
Cubicles are a good example. Americans expect to have them—and still struggle with the height of them. There aren't any cubicles in Asia, where panel height is typically 3 feet, and we've done lots of those workplaces. If an American client is looking at going open-plan, we can explain the strategic advantages. For instance, you can pick up a team and move it without having to rebuild a space. And other amenities, such as break-out areas, can easily replace cubicles. Concentration is much less of a problem now that people just pop on their iPods.
How do your designs reflect regional differences?
For a financial company's Dubayy office, we did an under-lit glass floor to reflect the dynamic atmosphere of that rapidly changing region. For the same company in Zurich, we were more environmentally conscious—with locally available materials and finishes. We also mediate a lot between clients in the U.S. or U.K. and end-users in Asia, India, and the Middle East. Workers from those places will have different outlooks. For instance, since India is so alive with color, we've used pinks and oranges in the workplace. It's a youthful workforce, with an average age between 20 and 30, and spaces need to reflect that.
Do M Moser teams in different cities have distinct personalities?
Some cultures are more expressive, others more reserved. We speak 23 languages in this firm, and all our offices are multicultural.
Polished plaster on a wall at the banking office of Natixis in Hong Kong. Photo by Virgile Simon Bertrand.
Will the New York office outsource some tasks to Asia?
While interviewing with a potential client in New York, we did a presentation using an Internet connection and a telephone line to link in real time with our Hong Kong office. (Unfortunately for our team diligently waiting there, it was 3:00 AM.) We walked through a sample design, changing partitions from acoustic panels to glass and moving a couple of benches. To meet a tight deadline, what we discussed that day could have been turned around in Asia while we were sleeping.
How has technology changed the way you work?
Subtleties such as form and proportion can be lost in translation with CAD plans and elevations. So we're trying to move away from two-dimensional drawings to Scrapbook, a three-dimensional system that blends the programs of SketchUp and eBeam. Clients can mark up our 3-D drawings, because you don't have to be a specialist to make changes and notes. With a touch-screen laptop, clients can just draw on the screen.
How has the U.S. surprised you?
It's easier to introduce change in Asia, where office culture is much less ingrained. The downside there is that new information on design comes through reading magazines, not through physical interaction. Tonight, I'm meeting with the design director of a firm that would be considered a competitor. In Asia, that would hardly ever happen.
The U.S. accounting firm Ernst & Young's meeting area, with its chromed ceiling reflecting Hong Kong's Victoria Harbor. Photo by Vitus Lau.
Layout photos by Chris Goodney and Vitus Lau.