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MA Architects Office: Integrating Natural Features in Workspace Design

MA Architects Office: Integrating Natural Features in Workspace Design

/ Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam /

/ Story: Kor Lordkam / English version: Bob Pitakwong /

/ Photographs: Paul Phan /

Overcrowding conditions in Ho Chi Minh City have given rise to both challenges and opportunities for the design team at MA Architects, a homegrown architectural practice in Vietnam. Back in the day, their office was on rental property with little to no room for flexibility. Albeit equipped with air conditioning and modern conveniences, the small workspace was lacking fresh air and ventilation, a far cry from the environment conducive to a relaxed atmosphere and creativity.

Coconut fiber coverings shield parts of the roof for best interior lighting and insulation.
The front façade in cool-toned gray stands sandwiched between a vacant lot and a tall building on the street corner.

Because of that, they decided to break out of the confined space into a home of their own. The new office stands sandwiched between two properties, a tall building on one side and a vacant lot on the other. Its front yard landscape is infused with green foliage.

Thoughtfully devised, the design atelier with an awesome cool gray façade is open to plenty of sunlight and fresh outdoor air plus trees and shrubbery. And the result of all this: a workplace ambience free from disturbance, one that’s good for staff’s ability to create and stay focused on their tasks.

The hallway holds a reception room that’s light and airy.

Bringing the outdoors inside, the office holds workspaces set on concrete slabs along one side and a strip of sand earth for in-ground gardening on the other.

The small, 100-square-meter office space is nestled in a peaceful city neighborhood. It occupies the full extent of a rectangular shaped lot measuring 5 by 20 meters.

The building has a narrow frontage to the street. Its external envelope is built of brick masonry plastered to form a smooth hard surface. In front of it, a small earthen terrace hemmed in by lush greenery provides a neat appearance.

An isometric drawing shows three principal dimensions of architectural features with elements of nature integrated in interior design. / Courtesy of MA Architects
An architectural drawing shows the positioning of natural elements in relation to upstairs and downstairs rooms. / Courtesy of MA Architects
In cross section, a side elevation drawing illustrates cross air flow patterns through the workspaces and under the roof. / Courtesy of MA Architects
Flashback: A photo collage shows stages of construction in chronological order. / Courtesy of MA Architects

Downstairs, a spacious workplace lies connected to a woodworking shop in the back of the building. The meeting room is upstairs that’s open to allow plenty of natural daylight and cool breezes into the interior.

Overhead, the trusses that support the roof are made entirely of timber covered by transparent corrugated roofing materials for best indoor lighting. Where appropriate, sections of the roof are protected by dry coconut fiber coverings for insulation from the sun’s harsh glare.

A woodworking shop occupies the back room, from which a staircase leads to the second-floor meeting room.
The woodworking shop lies on the earth floor with a kitchen and bathroom at the farthest end.

Because when it rains it pours in the Tropics, it makes perfect sense to plaster the entire building envelope. The hard and smooth surface goes to work protecting the building from extreme heat and wet weather all year round.

Although relatively small in size, the office interior crafted of wood is impressive thanks to an open-concept, well-ventilated layout. While dry coconut fiber coverings over the roof make the interior feel cool and dry, the uncovered part works like a skylight turning indoors into a well-lighted place.

Besides light and wind, the architect also integrated other elements of nature in the design, among them earthen floors that cover parts of the ground level. Only the workspace and kitchen floors are made of concrete slabs for ease of use and safety.

Nearby, earthen floors add a warm, natural feel to the interior with plenty of room for growing plants in-ground. As the architect puts it, being in the middle of the hustle and bustle of the city, anything that brings a touch of nature, however small, is priceless.

The second-floor meeting room is open to natural daylight and connects to the trees.

A building material of choice, earthen flooring makes it possible to fill the interior with healthy green foliage along the entire wall. Earth and sand absorb and release some moisture, which contributes to a relaxed indoor ambience.

At the same time, vegetation in the front yard and decorative indoor plants both in ground and in containers go to work in tandem keeping the new office building cool and cozy just like home.

Architect: MA Architects (

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Bao Long Office: An Old Shophouse Beautifully Renovated

Bao Long Office: An Old Shophouse Beautifully Renovated

Bao Long Office: An Old Shophouse Beautifully Renovated

/ Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam /

/ Story: Monosoda, Kor Lordkam / English version: Bob Pitakwong /

/ Photographs: Quang Dam /

Major renovations have given a drafty old shophouse a new lease on life. Thanks to great remodeling ideas, the tired-looking two-unit shophouse on Su Van Hanh Street, Ho Chi Minh City, transformed into a beautiful place that struck the right balance between a business and a private residence. Designed by the architecture firm H.a + NQN, the completely refurbished premises are home to a private enterprise named Bao Long Office.

Bao Long Office

As is often the case with shophouses in Vietnam, each of the two units has a frontage of 3 meters. It’s in the shape of an elongated rectangle with a whopping 20-meter length sandwiched between adjacent units.

To create ample, well-ventilated interior space, the wall separating the two units was torn down and replaced with a newer, more modern version.

Bao Long Office’s plan was redesigned to accommodate new business concepts as well as residential and lifestyle needs. To protect the building’s structural integrity, the internal framework remained intact.

The same applied to the ground floor that housed a business selling stainless steel products. For a neat appearance, the entire front façade was glazed in, giving it charms and good looks that set it apart from others in the neighborhood. By night the face of the building is aglow under the lights.

Bao Long Office
Second-floor workspace and private living quarters are clearly separated from each other.

Bao Long Office

Decorated with healthy green foliage, the second-floor balcony provides a relaxed outdoor room and protects the home from the hustle and bustle of the big city.

Located in a commercial zone, the store at ground level is understandably busy and the crowded street bustling with activity.

Climb a flight of stairs to the second floor, and you come to an impressive office space. The area on this level of Bao Long Office is divided into two parts. There’s a warm and welcoming workspace at the office on one side that’s clearly separated from private living quarters on the other.

Both parts are conveniently accessible via the balcony connected to the front façade. The second-floor outdoor platform is decorated with an oasis of calm that’s very pleasant to look at.

Ground Floor Plan Courtesy of H.a
First Floor Plan Courtesy of H.a
Second Floor Plan Courtesy of H.a


Bao Long Office
Double-height ceiling design offers open and pleasing tranquility to a long and narrow living room.

Bao Long Office

Section Drawing Courtesy of H.a

The office consists of a workroom and meeting room with simple interior décor. The walls are painted white symbolizing a new beginning and the floors covered in terrazzo.

There’s a custom work table with drafting stools that runs parallel to the wall and stretches the entire length of the room.

The atmosphere is strikingly different from the calming space of nearby private living quarters. To create a homely atmosphere, the living room has a small beverage bar with pantries customized to the homeowner’s hosting style.

At the farthest end lies a peaceful sitting area decorated with deep colors that match the dark surfaces of terrazzo floors, concrete walls, and rustic walnut furniture.

Softened by the dim light, it’s a relaxation technique to create warmth and reduce stress in the home.

Bao Long Office
The homeowner’s sitting room on the third floor is quiet and secluded.

At the same time, a section of the upper floor was taken out to make room for an entrance hall with double-height ceiling design. Not far away, a set of stairs was installed to connect to the homeowner’s secluded living quarters on the top floor.

The private residential zone comes complete with a bedroom with en suite bath, sitting room, and dressing room.

Bao Long Office

A staircase painted orange creates an unexpected playful contrast with the calmness of a small interior space.

Painted a shade of orange color, the steel staircase leads from the ground level, where the retail store is located, all the way to the private residential zone on the top floor of Bao Long Office. Its playful design is intended to express pleasure and joy in everyday life.

You got that right! It’s part of a home improvement project designed to make life more fun. It serves the primary purpose of getting house occupants from one floor to the next, and it’s done in a unique, stylish way.

Architect: H.a ( + NQN. (

The article is an excerpt from “Home Office / Home Studio,” a book that compiles ideas on integrating “home” with “workspace” to create a comfortable and suitable environment for small companies, startups, and creative individuals.

You can find it at leading bookstores throughout Thailand or order it through various online channels.


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Premier Office: A Nature-Inspired Brick Office Design Giving off Good Vibes

Premier Office: A Nature-Inspired Brick Office Design Giving off Good Vibes

/ Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam /

/ Story: Wuthikorn Sut / English version: Bob Pitakwong /

/ Photographs: Triệu Chiến /

Though we cannot count on the weather to be calm and delightful at all times, it is quite possible to bring physical ease, well-being and relaxation into the workplace, even without air conditioning. And this brick office named “Premier Office” has proved to be the case, thanks to clever passive cooling techniques and greenery giving off friendly vibes.

brick office

Handsomely nestled within a calm Ho Chi Minh City neighborhood, the building offering rental office spaces boasts the timeless beauty of brickwork in masonry construction.

Not only do bricks blend nicely into the surrounding landscape, but they also provide interior thermal comfort by absorbing moisture to some degree.

When wet, they dry out by evaporation thereby keeping the ambient temperature pleasant during the daytime.

brick office

The seven-story building with a parking garage below ground level offers vacant office spaces for lease that let tenants do their own setup and decorating.

Unlike the usual design offering the same old same old typical of everyday commercial real estate, the rental business spaces at Premier Office are available in a variety of shapes, sizes and configurations, each of which is unique in its own special way.

brick office

brick office

brick office

As the architect intended, the new office block centers around the concept of climate-responsive design whereby forms, functions and nature blend together into one perfectly coordinated business property.

There is a courtyard-like open area at the center that affords an airy and bright atmosphere on every floor. It’s an architectural feature that goes together well with building facades made of ventilation blocks.

By design, the breathable envelope doubles as a passive cooling system that draws fresh outdoor air into this brick office and dissipates excess heat into the sky by rooftop ventilation.

brick office

brick office

Façade and Ventilation Conceptual Diagram Courtesy of Tropical Space
First Floor Plan Courtesy of Tropical Space
Second Floor Plan Courtesy of Tropical Space
Third Floor Plan Courtesy of Tropical Space
Fourth Floor Plan Courtesy of Tropical Space
Fifth Floor Plan Courtesy of Tropical Space
Sixth Floor Plan Courtesy of Tropical Space
Seventh Floor Plan Courtesy of Tropical Space

For the health benefits of natural light, the building envelope is constructed with spaces in between bricks. These little openings in the wall work in tandem with the skylight over the courtyard-like area at the center.

Together they create interior thermal comfort by admitting a defused light to illuminate the room, meantime protecting it from the sun’s harsh glare.

It’s a clever hack to promote well-being, by which only the indirect light filtered by brick walls and surrounding trees is allowed.

brick office

The architect believed that by integrating physical comfort in the design of this brick office, it would double as second home for many tenants working here.

To avoid invading people’s privacy, the business space for each and every tenant is easily identifiable and clearly defined by a brick masonry wall.

Even with that, all the rental spaces appear bright and airy, no doubt, a nature-inspired place in which to conduct business.

Owner: Nguyen Thi Thuy Linh
Architect: Tropical Space (

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A Renovation in Sync with the Times: Beautiful Mixed-Use Home Office in Petaling Jaya

A Renovation in Sync with the Times: Beautiful Mixed-Use Home Office in Petaling Jaya

/ Petaling Jaya, Malaysia /

/ Story: Samutcha Viraporn / English version: Bob Pitakwong /

/ Photographs: Soopakorn Srisakul /

Working from home has become one of the various alternative methods of doing business in the aftermath of a Coronavirus pandemic that took the world by surprise in 2019. Adapting to change, the architecture firm Essential Design Integrated (EDI) interestingly transformed its office in Petaling Jaya into a multi-use space that blended with its downtown business communities. The updated package put a home office and living quarters on the upper floors, while the floor at ground level was rented out to a business selling soy milk pudding.

Home Office in Petaling Jaya

A Renovation Improves Light and Ventilation

Facing the New Normal, the property owner thought it was time to renovate to serve a new purpose. To begin with, there were two main problems in the original design that had to be resolved – light and ventilation.

The single-unit home plan was an elongated rectangle set along the east-west axis. It was 21 meters long with the usual narrow frontage to the street. As to be expected, the interior living spaces were dimly lit during daylight hours and ventilation was poor.

So, to create a bright and airy open-concept house plan, most of the room dividers had to be torn down. In no time, a restoration of the shop house that was part of a 40-year-old traditional building block was completed in a way that fitted beautifully into the bustling commercial neighborhood.

Home Office in Petaling Jaya

Home Office in Petaling Jaya

Home Office in Petaling Jaya

An Open Glass Façade Decorated with Plants

Chan Mun Inn and Wong Pei San, the two architects who designed it, said that initially the renovation project was completed a few months prior to the outbreak of Covid-19. At the time the interior was decorated with the lush greenery of a vertical garden on every floor.

Suddenly the Coronavirus disease came and social distancing became the norm. Everyone was keeping to himself. Soon the gorgeous gardens withered away and died due to lack of care.

The job of remodeling the home had to be done again differently. In so doing, the green spaces were revived to create positive energy and relaxation. This is evident in beautiful balcony garden ideas both in front and at the rear, plus the redesigned open glass façade that takes in natural daylight, fresh outdoor air and views of the city landscape.

Home Office in Petaling Jaya

Urban balcony gardens serve multiple purposes. Besides taking in the view, they double as privacy screens, filter out the sun’s harsh glare, admit natural daylight into the home and control ventilation, to name but a few.

To capitalize on vertical space, climbers and hanging plants are grown alongside an array of foliage plants that thrive in containers. Not long ago herbs, including mint and basil, were added to the mix.

The path along the front staircase is marked with container gardens at intervals. There are openings in the wall to let natural daylight shine through. To create a positive atmosphere, the entrance hall is illuminated by a moon-shaped chandelier, which can be seen from the outside.

Home Office in Petaling Jaya

Home Office in Petaling Jaya

Serving a Dual Purpose as a Home and an Office

Mimicking an open-concept home plan, the third floor comprises a sitting room, eating room and kitchen arranged in a way that improves traffic flows. Its space within a space design allows each area to easily change to respond to altered circumstances.

Take for example, the sitting room can transform into a workspace with coffee readily available. The meeting room can change into an eating room when not in use.

Home Office in Petaling Jaya
Like home, the office on the third floor is simple but cozy and comfortable.
A living room-style kitchen island can easily change into a workspace if need be.

Across from the extra-long conference table there are storage shelves that double as stadium seating for fun team meeting ideas. There’s a floor-to-ceiling foldable partition that separates and protect the conference room from noises when a meeting is in progress.

The fully functional kitchen that lies at the farthest end can change into a venue for social gathering or a workspace if need be. The kitchen island is also good for work or spend time solo.

The third-floor meeting room becomes a dining room when not in use.

On the layout of the third floor, Chan Mun Inn said:

“The chief architect likes it here better than other places because it’s a flexible workspace. Come by and settle into a quiet corner, bring out a notebook and enjoy the peace and quiet.

“If there’s a meeting going on, simply escape to the nearby coffee shop. People can work at any place and from anywhere.”

Home Office in Petaling Jaya
The top floor is home to the perfect office space.

For the sake of convenience, there is another set of stairs at the rear that connects to lavatories on every floor. The second, third and fourth floors contain workspaces dedicated to teams of architects and interior designers, while the ground floor is rented out to a business selling soy milk pudding.

All things considered, it’s a renovation carefully planned to blend seamlessly into the surrounding downtown business landscape. The architecture firm that starts from the second floor is easily accessible via the front staircase.

Architect Wong Pei San wrapped it up nicely. He said that essentially the renovation package was about “bringing home to the office”.

It represented a complete rethink of the firm’s strategies to do what was right and appropriate under the present circumstances. The results were gratifying, which earned the architecture firm a Gold Medal award from the Malaysian Institute of Interior Designers in 2021. Congratulations on a job well done!

Architect: EDI (Essential Design Integrated) (

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Urban Farming Office: VTN Architects’ Office Gives Back Lush Greenery

Urban Farming Office: VTN Architects’ Office Gives Back Lush Greenery

/ Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam /

/ Story: Phattaraphon / English version: Bob Pitakwong /

/ Photographs: Hiroyuki Oki /

The design studio of VTN Architects (Vo Trong Nghia Architects) sits comfortably ensconced in a plant-covered six-story building in Ho Chi Minh City. The 1,300-square-meter office block is adorned with balconies containing lush green gardens that combine to create a vibrant building shell. It’s a design based on an understanding of the challenges facing big cities and the importance of environmental conservation.

VTN Architects

Far and wide a lack of recreation areas and green spaces, coupled with rapidly worsening air pollution, is causing serious health problems for people in urban areas. It’s for this reason that living trees and shrubs are integrated into the ‘ building’s external envelope.

The result is a green office block that brings fresh air to the design. Here, easy-care trees cool the air, provide shade, and filter out dangerous, fine particulate matter. It transforms ideas into solutions as Vietnam, a developing country, joins a global network of advanced manufacturing hubs.

Precisely, it’s a design rooted in good environmental management practice that aims to minimize human impacts on surrounding ecosystems – a fact that’s easy to overlook when planning a building. Also known as the Urban Farming Office, it communicates a message that failure to do so will have unpredictable and often undesirable consequences.

VTN Architects

VTN Architects

VTN Architects

The Urban Farming Office isn’t just home to a design studio. It’s also a perfect example of innovative companies driven by a desire to go green in the workplace.

Plus, it gives back healthy lush foliage and a breath of fresh air to the city. That’s not all though. It draws attention to many possibilities of vertical gardening – techniques to grow more in less space.

From the outside looking in, the building façade looks like a botanical laboratory lined with decorative concrete containers where trees and plants grow. They are mostly easy-to-care-for native plants that thrive in local ecosystems. Where appropriate, seasonal vegetables, herbs and spices are grown organically to meet family needs. It’s a way to live a more sustainable lifestyle.

And it’s safe, eco-friendly, and even energy efficient.

VTN Architects

VTN Architects

VTN Architects

From a distance, thriving vegetation turns the bland building shell into a lushly planted living façade. Overall it’s a straightforward concrete construction with outdoor platforms attached to the side of the building.

These balconies are filled with modular concrete planters designed to be moved easily depending on the height and growth of trees. This ensures that each particular species gets sufficient amounts of sun to grow.

Combine biodiversity in the balcony and rooftop gardening with the surrounding landscape, and you get an expansive urban forest that amounts to 190 percent of the total project area. As the architect puts it, this translates into 1.1 tons of vegetation including native edible plants, vegetables, herbs and fruit trees carefully chosen as being the best and most suitable.

Also, it’s organic farming and the quality of being diverse that give the office building a cheerful and positive personality.

VTN Architects

VTN Architects

VTN Architects

Walk past the front façade, and you come before an inviting first impression. The window, doorframe and exterior wall are glazed entirely with glass to protect interior rooms from the elements.

On the outside, lush green vegetation doubles as a building envelope that filters out harsh sunlight while allowing plenty of fresh, outdoor air to pass into the interior workspaces. Plant watering is done using rainwater stored in catch basins strategically placed around the building.

The irrigation method that sprays water droplets overhead with sprinklers also keeps the ambient temperature cool, thereby saving money on air conditioning costs.

On every level, the open floor plan boasts clean lines that make the interior workspace look more spacious and well-ventilated all day long. All told, it’s the ingenious double wall design that makes living a whole lot easier and less stressful.

VTN Architects

VTN Architects

To give a brief summary, green architecture isn’t the only feature that makes this office building stand out from the rest. Rather, it’s also the image of organizational culture that speaks volumes for the determination of the architects who live and work here.

VTN Architects have demonstrated that humans and the environment can coexist symbiotically. This is achievable by letting nature permeate and be a crucial part of the city and any office design. It’s the way forward in creating a more equitable, sustainable future.

VTN Architects

Owner/Architect: VTN Architects (Vo Trong Nghia Architects)


Inside RedQ / AirAsia’s New Home

Inside RedQ / AirAsia’s New Home

Having a good personality is vital. That’s what AirAsia is made of. Its new headquarters building sheds light on its fun and vibrant personality – attractive, full of life and enthusiasm.

/// Malaysia ///

Story: LivingASEAN /// Photography: AirAsia



AirAsia’s new head office is located next to KLIA2, an acronym for the low-cost carrier terminal at Kuala Lumpur International Airport. The airport itself is in Sepang District, some 45 km south of Kuala Lumpur city. The brand new HQ building provides over 18,000 square meters of office and utility spaces. While the six-story building was under construction, AirAsia’s employees were invited to participate in a naming contest. And the winning name was “RedQ,” which stood for Red Quarters. The choice was obviously inspired by the airline’s vibrant corporate color.

RedQ now serves as global headquarters for both AirAsia and AirAsia X. The first three floors are reserved for car parks and storage facilities. The rest are offices manned by an energetic staff of more than 1,400.






The office space boasts an exuberant industrial look designed to evoke images of vibrant tech companies in the Silicon Valley. There is a common area with green patches and beanbag chairs for the staff to use during breaks. Each office level is assigned a different theme color to highlight a fun and energetic personality, while the meeting rooms feature distinct design. Some of them are designed to appear as if they were hovering in midair, resembling the air traffic control.

After photographs of the RedQ interior had gone viral on the Internet, compliments and good wishes came flooding in on social media. Many were sent in by those aspiring to be a part of the AirAsia workforce. That is understandable. Who doesn’t want to work with one of the hippest airlines in the ASEAN?


Reuse, Repair, Upcycle

Reuse, Repair, Upcycle

As a child he liked designs connecting old traditions with environmental awareness. This found expression in this straw-covered cubical building reminiscent of a farmer’s paddy hut.

/// Thailand ///

Story: Nutt /// Photography: Chaiyaphon Sodabanlu

Design: Ronachai  Khanbanya, Mae Khaning Creative Co., Ltd

A single large pane is expensive, so smaller ones are set into a metal frame, economical and also tasteful, reflecting the framework of the building.

Ronachai “Art” Khanbanya, architect from Mae Khaning Creative Co., Ltd, has redesigned a lot of old offices and developed a preference expressed in the slogan “reuse, repair, recycle.”

Reuse” is putting things that are still usable back to work again.

Repair” is fixing broken or abandoned things and making them useful once more.

Upcycle” is designing discarded materials for new use.

“Our old office near the city moat was small and inconvenient. We relocated here for the pleasant atmosphere. Having to rent, we designed a structure we could easily dismantle and reassemble. Budget was important in choosing building materials.”



The structure is tent-like: a frame of 6-meter-long box steel beams supports a high gabled structure. The entrance gable has glass panes set in a metal framework. Outside walls are thatched with cogon grass, effective heat insulation that helps save energy and is also excellent soundproofing. Sheet metal lines the inner walls.

An old door panel transformed into a sliding counter for a multipurpose table: adaptable to work desk, dining table, or for kitchen use.

“Easy-to-use materials like cogon grass are locally available, and give the building a distinctive look. I wanted to show that cheap materials could be not only effective, but also beautiful. We’ve had pretty good success without having to use expensive imports. The new generation of designers should get aware of what’s here already.”

Metal wall, second floor heat insulation, creating intra-wall space for good air circulation. /// Cogon grass roofing, effective use of local materials for good heat insulation and soundproofing.

Furniture and décor here is quite simple, as seen in the particleboard shelving and the use of an old door to create a sliding counter. Art was aiming for a universal space, with furniture adaptable for work, eating, or food preparation.

The tabletop is made from an old unused pane of glass attached to make a new table using shims and pegs.

“I’m thinking a completely new lifestyle, not like old office designs, more an arrangement of work tables in a relaxing environment, like working at home or chilling at a café. We find comfortable work environments work for other sides of life, too.”

A shelf is crafted of simple materials such as unpainted particleboard. /// A stepladder: When not in use, it can be used as shelving.

The garden outside is a comfortable space where you can drink coffee at a table made from a cable spool. Landscaping features fountain grass, which doesn’t require a lot of care and fits in with the “paddy hut” theme. The walkway curves around before shortcutting into the building, evoking the image of paddy dikes. “Everyone wants to live in the country. In Chiangmai these days you see only buildings, not many plants. The plants here make it fun to come to work.”

The outside area in front of the building is used as a living and relaxation space for drinking coffee. A cable spool is used for a table. Landscaping is fountain grass, easy to care for and evoking thoughts of a life in the fields.

This office is comfortable. It has complete functionality, and saves on materials, construction, and energy. Good for the environment, good for the folks working there. “The more you think, the more you save” should be the credo of a good designer. The evidence is here: as Art says, it’s a great place to work.