Menu Close

Designing for an Inclusive Workplace – Milan, Italy: 2023 @Arper

Veronica Nardelotto (WOD and Bene) was joined at Arper’s Milan showroom by a number of experts from various backgrounds.

Following introductions, Federica Sanchez (Architect & Neuroscience Researcher) kicked things off with a presentation focussing on the space as an experience through cognitive science before sharing her approach to applying her knowledge gained through research into real life projects.

Rosa Garofalo (Director of the National Association of the Visually Impaired, and a consultant on inclusion) provided some context as the scale of the issues surrounding disabilities, stating; “I’m not an architect or designer, I’m someone who is an expert in the world of disability. In Italy we have 13 million people who have disabilities, an enormous number.  3 million of who are in a very grave situation.”

She continued by diving deep into the various disabilities faced by many, and how they are perceived by the rest of society, summarising by saying, “Is an accessible environment really inclusive? For me it lies in the word culture. The culture of respect. Respect is key. All of us are born with a very precious asset- dignity. We must all defend it, we must make sure that everyone respects it but we must also respect it in others, we are all bearers of this precious asset, even a person with a very serious disability. And it is only by doing culture, training, learning and studying that we can truly begin and continue the process of inclusions which is not an end, it is a process, a substantial process.”

The final stretch of the discussion saw Andrea Andreotti (Head of Workplace Strategy at JLL Italy) and Jagvinder (Pinny) Mann (Corporate Real Estate Manager, formerly of Microsoft – joining via video link from India) share the story of a project on which they collaborated. The project in question involved the design of a workplace specifically for people with autism.

Andrea began, “I was the design manager for a French company in India who participated in a pitch to design new offices for Microsoft, the new Microsoft HQ in India. And Pinny was the project manager in Microsoft, and said that they need an office for people with autism. Now I had never approached the theme of autism, and I have now discovered it is one of the fastest growing trends in recent years.”

He continued, “When I started the project I realised that the theme was not design a functional space, but it was what happens outside the office. I don’t know if any of you have been to India, but I think I suffered a trauma because when I landed in New Delhi I was overwhelmed by smells, traffic, people and I had a situation of inner disability that made me realize what a person who effectively has a disability might feel.”

After discussing the project’s design process at length, how staff were included in the process and reasoning behind the design choices made, one insightful example being, “When a person with autism sees a 90 degree angle or corner of a corridor and doesn’t know what is happening on the other side, they experience a sense of restlessness, and if they find out what is happening on the other side of the corner and it doesn’t satisfy them they enter a state of dynamic suffering. It is for this reason that this space was designed in a way that the corridors and hallways gradually show what is happening beyond them to help with special perception.”

Andrea concluded, “In my opinion it is the most beautiful project that I have done because the leadership involved in this project was a visionary leadership and therefore the need to implement diversity and inclusion can not just be written on paper, but must come from within the will of today’s company leaders.”

Pinny added, “Andrea the project was fascinating and I know we did put a lot of hurdles for you when you were designing it but it is a masterpiece.”

WOD’s Veronica Nardelotto summed up prior to taking on questions from those in attendance by saying, “When inclusion is considered as one of the fundamental points of a project everyone benefits from it.”

To cap off the evening, guests enjoyed networking drinks. A huge thank you to Simona Colombo (Chief Marketing Officer at Arper) and the Arper team for helping to deliver such a fantastic event!