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Movable pods are the new workspace trend |

Modern Living

Movable pods are the new workspace trend

Tanya T. Lara - The Philippine Star
Movable pods are the new workspace trend

Clestra’s Irys Bridge (left) and Pod (right) bring people and ideas together in an open-space office environment.

MANILA, Philippines - Luxury car distributor Wellington C. Soong once got locked inside a P20-million sports car in his showroom. No, he wasn’t going for a joy ride, he just went inside to make a private phone call.  

“The car went on automatic lock and I was calling Milen (Batungbacal) for the key and she wasn’t answering her phone.  Fortunately, they found me,” he says.

Milen Batungbacal is president and COO of Ultra Modular Concepts Inc. (UMCI), a company that Wellington Soong chairs and founded in the 1970s, distributing office partitions and furnishings. This was even before he started his luxury auto dealership Autostrada, which distributes Ferrari, Maserati and Aston Martin.

It wasn’t the first time he had used a car as a phone booth but it’s probably going to be the last, because UMCI partner Clestra Hauserman, a 100-year-old French company that specializes in acoustic partitions, just launched the Irys modular system last week. Wellington has finally found the solution to his privacy issues in a product called Fizz Box.

Clestra managing director for Southeast Asia Gilles Marino says, “Irys is the extreme of prefabrication. It’s like a box, a pod that you put in an open space. We can install it in less than two days. It’s a workplace solution that includes the ceiling, lighting and doors — it’s not just a partition.”

What is the rational for putting pods when the trend in the last decade has been open spaces? Why not just step outside the office to make a phone call? There lies the matter of office security that Irys’ Fizz Box, a phone booth built with double-glazed glass and to a high acoustic specification, answers.

“One bank came to see us in our office to look at the Fizz Box because their staff is not allowed anymore to use their mobile phones on the training floor; they can only use it in the phone booth to make a call. They don’t want employees using their smart phones equipped with cameras around sensitive information.”

Milen F. Batungbacal adds, “A lot of the BPOs here also don’t allow their employees to bring their phones to the floor (they’re kept in a locker) because the work is confidential. Like if they’re dealing with credit cards or they want to protect their client list. Before, it was fine because phones didn’t have cameras, but now every phone has one.” 

The Fizz Box comes in several sizes — to fit two to eight people — and can be customized in terms of what to put inside, such as a counter table, USB chargers, outlets, or a screen. One model looks like the vintage red London phone booth (no, they don’t provide the Superman costume for when you emerge).  

So important is the privacy issue in the office that ICT company Huwawei ordered a thousand Fizz Boxes in eight different sizes in one go.





Another product is called the Bridge. Milen says, “We’re not discounting the need for collaborative spaces, that’s why we have the Bridge, which has two walls and a ceiling.”

The inside and outside walls can be customized with white boards, shelves or an interactive screen. If you close the Bridge with glass walls, then it becomes a pod.  

“Open space is a great concept, but now comes research about  focus time. You need space for that, thus the pods. I’m old school, it’s hard for me to concentrate when there’s a lot of noise and people walking around,” says Milen. “And I probably need just one hour to write my report, so I go in the pod to do it and when I finish, it’s free to be used by others.”

UMCI’s clients include top multi-national companies in the country and Irys pods can be used as temporary offices for visiting directors and CEOs who stay only for several weeks. “It doesn’t make sense to construct a whole new office, so this is a perfect solution. A lot of offices don’t have just one site in Manila, so they just need to invest one time and you have the pod.”

UMCI also distributes Steelcase office furniture, which complements Red Dot Design Award-winner Irys. And it’s not just for offices, Clestra has installed Irys in schools, airports and hospitals.

Wellington Soong, who designed his own office, got interested in space design in 1976. “I couldn’t take the chaos of a bullpen-like office space. I thought there must be a solution,” he says. “I always thought there was a third dimension in space that you put between the vertical and horizontal. That was the start of my ‘journey into space.’ At the time, it was very difficult to introduce partitions because land was cheap and spaces were big, everybody had a private office. That’s gone today. Irys has come at the perfect time.”

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Visit the author’s travel blog at Follow the author on Twitter and Instagram @iamtanyalara.

For more information on Clestra and Irys, call UMCI at 893-6877, 893-8698 or visit

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