In conversation with | Aino Kavantera

“At PMDL we really believe in and live by the culture of learning.”

Aino is the Studio Leader for PMDL at the Hong Kong studio. Originally from Finland, she completed her Bachelor of Design (Interior Design) in the UK, where she continued to live and work for several years. Aino briefly worked in the Netherlands before moving to Hong Kong in 2012. Aino works in a number sectors including: retail, hospitality and workplace.

What is good workplace design to you?
Employees spend more time in office than at home, so it is important that our workplace gives back in equal measures. In the end, our workplace should be practical, comfortable as well as inspiring to make sure we can be the best version of ourselves at work and achieve the best results possible.

At PMDL, we have 3 studios and each of them provide a fantastic work environment. The Sydney studio has incredible views of Sydney harbour, and Melbourne overlooks a park, so the view is very green. Our Hong Kong studio is on a top floor of building on Hollywood Rd with 360 degree views over Sheung Wan.

 In all of studios, we can see the day evolve and weather change around us, and we all get plenty of daylight which is so important to our circadian rhythm. Quality of light is just one of many aspects of workplace wellness. Workplace wellness has been getting some traction in recent years, and for a good reason.

Apart from wellness considerations simply just making a lot of sense, research shows that there is a clear linkage between employee wellness and productivity, so investing into a workplace and wellness really is a win-win situation for all!

Benefits for the users of space seem to be at the core of your design ambitions, What else factors into your design process?
At PMDL we put a great emphasis on brief development in the beginning of each project, and we will work through the requirements of operations and as well as aesthetics and work closely with the client to make sure we can really define the brief to deliver the best possible design outcome.

Who/What has been the biggest influence on your career?
I can’t pinpoint one particular person or project. I believe the experiences throughout your career shape you into the professional you are today. I have had wonderful employers early on whom I have learnt a lot from. My first employer, Antarchitecture, taught me the basics of architecture and how you run a project from start to finish! After, I worked at Marcel Wanders Studio, where I learnt to dream big, think bold and challenge the given!

You are a pioneer for the important of a nurturing space for early industry work experience, why is this so important to you?
At PMDL we really believe and live by the culture of learning. One of the ways PMDL encourages learning is through our internship program. I believe internships are a wonderful way to provide people the opportunity to put into practice what they’ve learnt. It is something that can be very eye opening and it’s something that we want to encourage and provide as an employer. It is also a wonderful opportunity for someone to see how this industry works and be able to grasp an understanding of the profession and see if it’s a good fit for them.

What has PMDL learnt most in the last year?
No matter how impossible something seems, we can figure it out together.

What are they key factors in leading workplace design?
I believe that we need systems that support adaptability so that organisations can scale their operations according to their workflow. In our Hong Kong office, we have recently been testing some components of agile working, such as desk sharing, which has been great as it has allowed us to expand and contract collaboration areas depending on the size of our team.

Do Your MBA in Construction and Real Estate is a real example of how PMDLer’s are continual learners. Please tell us a little bit about it.
I went back to studying after working for 15 years in the industry. I took a while to get back into studying mode and it was much harder than I had anticipated! I am very grateful for having an understanding employer though; this made a big difference as I was working throughout my studies.

The MBA programme I did is industry-specific, when means it merges standard MBA components with industry-specific modules. There is a great focus on developing leadership skills as well as strategic and critical thinking, which I believe to be important no matter what level you operate at.

I did my final research project on agile working in Hong Kong, which is a relatively new but emerging workplace strategy in Hong Kong.  My research project led to ongoing workplace research with an academic research team at UCEM, and several publications, including a chapter in a forthcoming workplace book. The whole process has been a fascinating journey!

What is the biggest challenge ahead?
I am a big believer that we should always learn from mistakes. Perhaps the pandemic was a sign for us all to slow down and take a break. It would be a shame if we took nothing away from this obviously dreadful experience, and we resumed operations exactly as they were before the pandemic. As we resume post-covid operations, the biggest challenge, both at personal as well as organisational levels, will lie in the decision-making between nice-to-have’s and need-to-have’s.

What is the best advice you have received?
Work hard and be nice to people!

You are co-chair of Women in Built Environment Committee with the Australian Chamber of Construction, Property and Infrastructure, congratulations. Why did you step into this role?
The Australian Chamber of Construction, Property and Infrastructure is a very vibrant chamber that connects various stakeholders in the real estate and construction industry.  Members of the organisation recognised the important to champion gender diversity. Because, in the end, a gender diverse workforce is an asset to any company. The chamber is currently conducting some research to map out gender diversity and see where we are in HK. This research will be used to highlight key areas of issues and will be brought forward to a panel of key prominent and emerging figures in the industry for discussion and steps for progression.

Where and what is your favourite restaurant and dish?
Probably because I haven’t been able to travel for so long and I really miss the Scandinavian cool breezy summer evenings, so right now it would have to be anywhere with an outdoor alfresco dinning area and any dish with fish, and maybe some chips.