Words: Chitra Santhinathan Photography: Ariff Shah Sopian
Stepping into RedQ, AirAsia’s brand new global headquarters in Sepang, Malaysia, and the first real home of the pioneering low-cost airline, it is immediately apparent that a great deal of attention has gone into the building’s practical yet functional design. While RedQ, a portmanteau of the words ‘red’ (the airline’s corporate colour) and ‘headquarters’, has a modest exterior, with the airline’s signature branding in bold, red letters, on the inside, the 22,000 square metre workplace designed with Allstars (AirAsia employees) in mind is awe-inspiring.
It is, after all, AirAsia’s first real abode after a series of shifts, and a place Allstars can finally claim as their very own. Inspired by a raw, industrial aesthetic befitting a progressive company that has been at the forefront of low-cost air travel in Southeast Asia, encouraged wanderlust, and empowered millions in the region to fly, RedQ’s inspirational interior reflects the company’s ‘dare to be different’ credo, and prioritises its greatest asset – Allstars who have worked tirelessly to make the airline the success it is today.
Since RedQ opened its doors on November 7, 2016, feedback from Allstars and guests fortunate enough to tour the phenomenal building, has been amazing. Most are blown away by the expansive spaces designed to encourage creativity and spontaneity, as well as enhance the working environment.
BUILDING A HOME
For those unfamiliar with the company’s history, it may be hard to imagine that the airline began operations from several cramped rooms at an office complex in Subang, Malaysia, back in September 2001. At the time, AirAsia’s two aircraft were plying domestic routes, and flying from the country’s Sultan Abdul Aziz Shah Airport (Subang Airport). When the airline’s flight operations moved to Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA), its then 250 staff followed suit, working out of a temporary base situated at the apron level of the airport.
Those early years were tough times. Building an airline from scratch in the aftermath of 9/11, and navigating a global economic crisis while doing so proved immensely challenging. But in true AirAsia spirit, the airline’s visionary leaders forged ahead with their dream of revolutionising air travel, turning around a lossmaking and debt-ridden carrier procured for a token MYR1 (USD0.25) into an award-winning airline that is true to its tagline, ‘Now Everyone Can Fly’, and all that within a year!
As the years progressed, Malaysia became a hub for low-cost travel in the region, with AirAsia spearheading affordable aviation. In 2006, the Low-Cost Carrier Terminal (LCCT) was built in Sepang to accommodate AirAsia’s bourgeoning passenger traffic. And, when operations began at the new airport terminal, AirAsia moved once more and occupied the mezzanine level of the building. Dubbed Red Fort, this became the airline’s temporary lodging for a decade.
Through the many relocations, Allstars persevered and never lost sight of what was important – to deliver the best possible service to guests and to exceed guests’ expectations of low-cost travel. Over the years, Allstars made the best of every temporary base, always believing that one day, they’d have a place designed just for them. Today, Allstars walk into their new office with immense pride and gratitude as they finally have a real home.
A LONG JOURNEY
Even back when the airline was still in its infancy, pioneers AirAsia Group CEO Tan Sri Dr Tony Fernandes and AirAsia Berhad Executive Chairman Datuk Kamarudin Meranun – along with the airline’s other founding fathers – were insistent on two things: an office where Allstars could all be under one roof, and a workplace that was close to the airport.
With its expanding networks and increasing passenger load, AirAsia quickly outgrew LCCT’s 15mil passengers per annum capacity, which necessitated the building of a new airport to cope with the airline’s growing number of guests. In 2014, when LCCT ceased operations and was replaced by klia2, a new low-cost carrier terminal, it became even more apparent that the airline had to find a new base. A location was finally earmarked for the building of RedQ and in November 2014, AirAsia held its ground-breaking ceremony. For Allstars, myself included, the moment that Fernandes, Datuk Kamarudin, and AirAsia Berhad CEO Aireen Omar dug their shovels into the ground was a poignant one. After years of hard work, we knew that a home built specifically for Allstars was on the horizon.
As construction progressed and the building took shape, Allstars were given the opportunity to name the building. After sifting through thousands of entries, it was decided that RedQ, a short and simple moniker suggested by January Ann Baysa, an AirAsia X cabin crew from the Philippines, was the winning appellation.
In November last year, and after almost two years of anticipation, some 2,000 Malaysia-based Allstars bade farewell to Red Fort, and moved into RedQ. Fernandes, Datuk Kamarudin, Aireen, and AirAsia X Berhad CEO Benyamin Ismail, as well as the airline group’s other founding fathers and board of directors, were there to welcome Allstars into their new home. In the spirit of inclusiveness, a blessing ceremony involving representatives from Malaysia’s major faiths was held, sanctifying this new home. Addressing the crowd of Allstars gathered for this momentous occasion, Fernandes said “This office brings together the strength of Malaysia. It’s great to see all the major races and religions working as one.”
Fernandes later went on to reminisce about the airline’s journey. “After 15 years, many shifts and even more struggles, we’ve finally built our own home, and I am immensely proud of all my dynamic and devoted Allstars who are the very pillars and foundations of RedQ. They believed the unbelievable, and here we are today. The spirit of unity and camaraderie fills the open spaces here and laughter echoes through the atrium, the heart and soul of RedQ. This is not just an office but a creative space where we can effect revolutionary change and continue to dream the impossible”.
Dreaming the impossible, of course, has been the airline’s mantra from day one, and it is this belief that is at the very foundation of AirAsia.
UNIQUE AIRASIA CULTURE
Home. Just the mere mention of the word evokes an array of emotions – happiness, contentment, pride, serenity, gratitude – among them. The project brief given to the architects – the award-winning VERITAS Design Group that is known for its innovative designs – was straightforward: construct an office that would feel like a second home, a building filled with open spaces that would encourage Allstars to meet and mingle, and foster creativity and innovation, as well as a sense of community, but most important of all, true to AirAsia’s culture – make it as fun a place to be as possible!
Reflecting on the building’s design, Datuk Kamarudin stressed the importance of open spaces and designing an office that would make working there a rich and rewarding experience.
Designed as a place where Allstars can gather, meet and mingle, as well as an event space, the enormous atrium is the heart and soul of RedQ.
“One of the first things we wanted was an atrium – that is really the heart of RedQ. People may wonder why we chose not to maximise office space and fill the place with workstations, but doing so would have gone against our work culture, and right from the beginning, we knew a space for Allstars to gather, mingle and share ideas was absolutely necessary.”
The dramatic atrium at the core of the building is the first thing that Allstars and guests encounter when they step into RedQ’s fourth floor lobby. During the day, the atrium is filled with natural light pouring in through clerestory windows tucked under either side of the building’s butterfly roof. The vast arena-like space is covered in artificial grass circles, and furnished with multi-coloured beanbags, modular seating, and repurposed tables made of cable drums salvaged from the construction site. At its centre is a large planter box, built to add greenery to the officespace, while on the periphery are two spherical timber-louvred discussion pods nicknamed ‘onions’.
Equally impressive and located on the upper floors are six cantilevered glass meeting pods that jut out over the atrium. The clever design of these transparent rooms is not merely an architectural feature. Visibility adds to the sense of openness, an important facet of AirAsia’s work culture. The ‘floating’ pods also enable the people in them to be a part of the goings-on at the lobby level. This open design concept carries through to the workstations as well. On every floor, workstations are arranged around the perimeter of the atrium, and clear glass balconies allow for greater visibility. Sleek bridges criss-cross the building, linking floors and offering vantage points from which Allstars can watch happenings in the atrium below.
“We’ve never believed in compartmentalising staff, and the culture of openness is very much one of our guiding principles. We also decided that there would only be one entry and exit point at RedQ, to enable chance encounters between Allstars from different departments,” explained Datuk Kamarudin who is also the Group CEO of AirAsia X, AirAsia’s long-haul affiliate.
As a pivotal figure in the airline’s development, Datuk Kamarudin knows the importance of investing in his work force. “We have grown from just two planes to over 200 aircraft. But we know that at the core of our business is the software – our Allstars – and we wanted to make sure that they were provided the infrastructure to continue dreaming big and achieving the unimaginable. “And you can see it in their faces when they walk through the doors – people are excited to be here, and thrilled to come to work”.
WORK & PLAY
It’s no secret that organisations that encourage a workplace culture of creativity are likely to have happy, motivated employees who are more productive. Few understand this concept better than AirAsia, a company that has gone against the grain from the get go.
When it came to designing the interiors of RedQ, creating an environment that would stimulate creativity and encourage idea generation was top of the list. Meeting rooms equipped with state-of-the-art teleconferencing facilities are destination themed, a visual reminder of the airline’s wide network spanning the Asean region, North and South Asia, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and beyond.
An element of fun echoes throughout the designer rooms. The Manila meeting pod sports a mural of Philippines’ iconic jeepney (jeep-like mode of public transportation) and a fresh, tropical colour scheme; the centrepiece of Hong Kong is a floor to ceiling sketch of a street scene; Sydney comes replete with a view of the Harbour Bridge, as well as a surfboard-inspired table with a jagged edge that brings to mind a shark bite; and Jakarta has a feature wall covered in Indonesian batik.
Not to be outdone is the boardroom, the Millennium Falcon. Bestowed this playful name by Aireen, the futuristic looking room, inspired by the legendary starship from the Star Wars franchise, is the command centre of RedQ where strategies that determine the company’s direction are set. This mix of serious stewardship and an ability to lead with humour are very much a part of AirAsia’s DNA. Talking passionately about the inspiration behind the Millennium Falcon and the rest of RedQ, Aireen explained, “We wanted to create an environment of high energy, exuberance, fun and even whimsy!”
This was achieved through clever design choices. “It’s actually a simple and uncomplicated building that is easy to maintain. There are no marble floors here; we opted for a pared back industrial look with bare cement floors and exposed ceilings. RedQ emphasises community spirit, and facilitates the flow of communication. A strong sense of community improves the ability to work together. These elements, along with integrity, passion, safety consciousness and a hard work ethic, are key to the AirAsia culture and integral to our success.”
Cool features that have been incorporated into the building’s function include ergonomic workstations, writable pillars, and an innovation lab equipped with a Kinect for Xbox One console, video walls and VR sets.
RedQ is still very much a work in progress and will evolve as Allstars settle into their new space. The office will soon have its very own gym, clinic, grooming salon, and convenience store, as well as a 450m covered pedestrian walkway that links RedQ to klia2.
The building’s list of amenities include a cafeteria that affords views of aircraft taking off and landing, pantries on every floor, a nursing room for mothers, a photo studio, and comfy couches strategically placed around the building for casual chitchats or just to kick back and relax. The versatile public and private spaces embrace varied work styles, and Allstars are free to find their niche. A resource centre where Allstars can catch up on the latest news and trends, as well as a space dedicated to cancer awareness (AirAsia works closely in support of MAKNA – the National Cancer Council Malaysia) are in the process of being set up.
Slated for the evolving space over the next few months are exciting additions that include a gigantic slide, floating globe, as well as rooftop amenities such as a caged futsal court, badminton court and jogging track! Also in the pipeline is a clubhouse and a crèche for Allstar babies – facilities that Allstars will surely appreciate.
BRINGING IT HOME
As its string of awards and accolades attest, AirAsia has indeed blazed a trail in a challenging industry, and come a long way from its humble beginnings. Through its spectacular successes, AirAsia has never lost sight of its greatest asset – its work force – and RedQ is dedicated to the men and women who work tirelessly behind the scenes.
The journey here may have been arduous, and beset with challenges, but building a home to accommodate the AirAsia family, as well as to better facilitate growth and future plans, was well worth the effort. While AirAsia’s new global headquarters, RedQ, pushes the boundaries of the traditional workplace, emblazoned in large print on a sixth floor wall is the phrase ‘Work hard, stay humble’ – a reminder that keeps Allstars grounded even as they reach for the stars.
PRETTY SWEET PERKS
Allstars receive a daily food and beverage subsidy that can be used at the RedQ cafeteria, salad bar and the soon to come T&Co Café. Allstars are provided with healthy choices; meals served at these outlets contain no MSG, and are low in sodium and sugar. To encourage a healthy lifestyle, Allstars can also sign up for in-house activities such as boot camp, yoga and Zumba.