Items filtered by date: February 2012
Wednesday, 15 February 2012 11:45

In the ascent

Local identity is never harder to find than inside an international airport, but emphasis is shifting away from the generic towards something more distinctive. Which could apparently see Gatwick reworked as a giant pub…

There was a time when air travel promised adventure. Jet-age optimism was crystalised in Eero Saarinen’s swooping TWA terminal at JFK International, completed in 1962. Although no one knew it at the time, it was to prove a high-water mark. Catching a flight in the 21st century is banality incarnate, a foul soup of queues, excess baggage fees and endless retail. In the air, free drinks and nibbles have morphed into a nerve-steadying brandy poured from a sachet.

As the flight experience has plummeted, however, airport architecture has taken off. The incremental sheds of the 1970s and 80s have given way to superstructures of glass and steel that hark back to grand Victorian rail stations. Still the UK’s most significant project is Rogers Stirk Harbour’s Heathrow Terminal 5, completed in 2008 (onoffice 17). But however impressive it is there is nothing about it that says “London” or “England”. Like airports the world over, it remains weirdly detached from the culture and quirks of the country it serves.

But things are changing. In line with other areas of design, most comparably hotels, architects designing the new wave of airports are searching for a local identity in a globalised world. Economics dictate that most of these projects are happening either in the Middle East or China, and the former in particular is embroiled in an expensive game of one-upmanship to design bigger and more sophisticated airports. Major players Doha, Kuwait, Abu Dhabi and Dubai are bidding to attract the most transfer passengers, because, despite their vast wealth and the array of iconic architecture this has spawned, these are still countries that people stop in on their way to somewhere else.

Late last year Foster + Partners released images of its design for Kuwait airport, a kind of futuristic Frisbee comprising three symmetrical wings of departure gates with a 25-metre-high central space at its heart. The initial plan is capable of handling 13m passengers a year and further expansions will increase capacity to 25m. Meanwhile KPF is building a gargantuan cross-shaped structure in Abu Dhabi intended to transform the desert into the “Garden of the Gulf”.

“Abu Dhabi and Dubai are about an hour apart so the competition is intense to try and take business away from each other,” says Mustafa Chehabeddine, KPF’s design principal working on the new passenger terminal. Accordingly the giant cross will house a hotel, offices, a gallery/museum and a central plaza underneath a soaring 50-metre-high arch that will ensure the enormous civic space is virtually column free. “It is so high the feeling of having a roof on top of you almost disappears,” says Chehabeddine. “You feel like you are under the sky.”

KPF has drawn on classical Arabic patterns and colours to create a sense of familiarity throughout the interior. Kiosks, check-in desks, even planters all had to be recognisable as the same family of objects. “It was a way to break down the scale and capture the local spirit, but not in a kitsch way. It gives a flavour of what the city itself would be like,” says Chehabeddine. The same goes for the museum: “If there was an exhibition visiting the Abu Dhabi Louvre then you would get an annex of it in the airport. Passengers travelling through might be tempted to visit the real thing.”

The movement to create a sense of place is perhaps a reaction to globalism and the resulting hegemony, or maybe a realisation that good design is necessary to stay competitive. Either way, every new airport is desperate to establish its local identity. New Zealand architects Studio Pacific pulled off this manoeuvre in unique style with The Rock, a 1,000sq m extension to Wellington airport. Taking cues from the island’s rugged coast, the practice worked with fellow architects Warren and Mahoney to build a craggy, copper-finished edifice that falls halfway between geological specimen and a sheep’s turd.

Eschewing the standard architectural language of flight (transparency, lots of glass, ceilings that soar up to the gods), Studio Pacific experimented with ramps and split-level lounges, creating a nuggety space that invites exploration. “The concept is of a haven, a sheltering form anchored to the land is a direct contrast to the typical open glassy light airport,” explains Studio Pacific’s director Nick Barratt-Boyes. “A lot of that is about creating a sense of place and uniqueness and using the natural landscape of the airport and the terrain around it, which is pretty wild.” (Anyone who has visited Wellington will agree – when the wind blows, even the seagulls walk.)With that in mind the architects sought a calming interior by using local timber, low-slung soft modular seating and warm natural light that penetrates the crusty exterior through fissures carved from the ceilings. A single staircase chisels its way up to a mezzanine floor and a window overlooking the runway. “It has a real presence – loungey, but not groovy loungey,” says Barratt-Boyes. Most of the retail was housed in the original brutalist structure, which is stitched to the Rock by a glazed link. This allowed Studio Pacific to keep the new building shop-free, satiating the commercial appetites with a cafe instead, although sightlines back to the retail units were carefully crafted.

This kind of radical design is impossible without a visionary client. In this case it was the airport’s then-CEO Steve Fitzgerald who urged the architects to be bolder. The result is a true original that locals and architecture juries are still grappling to get to grips with. “It’s a struggle, but it’s a good struggle,” says Barratt-Boyes. “I saw a survey that placed it at number four or something in the best airports in the world. They were still trying to work out if it was the best or the worst airport.”

The Rock is anomaly, occupying a pocket of space between the runway and the original terminal, with no scope for further development, which leaves a question about whether a building like this would be possible on a grander scale. It’s a question that Studio Pacific may soon be called upon to answer, since it is in the running for the next phase of Wellington’s development, a project Barratt-Boyes says is five times the size of The Rock. “I think a lot of those airports extrude their form as they need to expand, but having done what we have done, what do you do next?” What indeed?

The problem facing more established airports in the US and Europe is how to improve on structures that have expanded piecemeal to meet demand. In the 1970s and 80s, Schiphol in Amsterdam was regarded as one of the best airports in the world. Today, this crown has been usurped by Hong Kong, with Schiphol slipping to a still-respectable sixth place (Heathrow was 99th). Keen to re-establish itself as a world leader, the airport has undergone two separate revamps carried out by Dutch design studios Maurice Mentjens Design and Tjep.

Around half of airport revenue comes from shopping. Unfortunately, retail contributes to the sense of non-place that blights the airport environment. To counter this Tjep was called in to redesign three shops in Schiphol’s third terminal, which sold traditional Dutch fare: cheese, bread and, of course, tulips. “The challenge was to be recognisably Dutch, but still be surprising and still have a sense of sophistication,” says Tjep’s Frank Tjepkema. “So we tried to use the kitsch elements to our advantage.” Most conspicuous is the House of Tulips, modelled on traditional Dutch canal houses, whose entire structure is hoisted up to the rafters when the shop is open. The gesture might seem extravagant, but for Tjepkema it was the easiest way of maintaining sightlines through the terminal. “They [the architects] wanted to leave out as much as possible so you can see the planes wherever you are in the airport.” The project’s success has won Tjep the commission to design a further 2,000sq m of retail space. Tjepkema says the plan is to make it feel more like a village, but concedes that for it to be flexible it must also be more generic.

Maurice Mentjens Design has a deserved reputation for inventive projects, often on a shoestring budget. In 2008, it was commissioned to overhaul a small waiting area in a forgotten part of Schiphol. Under the direction of the airport’s concept developer Maryan Brouwer, the studio designed a park-themed lounge complete with fake trees, simulated lawns and fluttering digital butterflies. “The idea was to get some feeling of nature into the building,” says Mentjens, who has mixed feelings about the results. “It was interesting at the start, but the ceilings are very low. In a normal airport with six- or seven-metre ceilings it would have been better.”

Mentjens’ problems were compounded by various bodies with vested interests in the design. The retailers proved to be the most demanding. Despite a customer survey that showed the majority of passengers were against shops being included in the lounge, commercial pressures trumped the desire for peace and quiet. “People wanted to be left alone, but what do you have in there? Three retail booths!” he chuckles. Still, Mentjens’ creative flair is in evidence. Improving on the blandly efficient benches favoured by most airports, he designed inviting soft seating that sweeps through one corner of the lounge. The space has the air of a corporate office trying to funk up its breakout space, but despite Mentjens’ misgivings the airport park looks a more relaxing space than most.

Mentjens’ experience highlights the difficulties of dealing with so many different stakeholders. International practice HOK is currently picking its way through this minefield as it overhauls Gatwick. Despite speculation surrounding “Boris Island”, the almost-mythical plan for a new airport in the Thames estuary, this £1bn revamp of the world’s busiest single runway airport is the UK’s biggest “live” project. Much of the work will focus on heaving Gatwick’s creaking South Terminal from the 1950s into the 21st century. The North Terminal will also to be extended to handle an extra 10m passengers a year.

Barry Hughes is HOK’s vice-president. A charismatic Texan, he believes Gatwick, like Abu Dhabi, needs to find its local identity. “We wanted to introduce this idea
of the richness of the countryside that Gatwick sits in and the idea of the English pub and combine that with something aerodynamic and very forward.” The mix of nostalgia with the futuristic is a curious one. It is difficult to think of anything less aerodynamic that an English boozer. It’s the amalgamation of two separate concepts (the client liked both the pub and aerodynamic ideas) and constitutes a kit of parts that can be added as different areas are renovated. Shop fronts, kiosks and seating will be redesigned and the ticket hall and waiting area ceilings replaced. “We are trying to maintain a grand space, but at the same time break down the scale so it feels a little bit more intimate and relaxing.”

Outside of the business-class lounge, it is virtually impossible to find somewhere to plug in a laptop. It’s heartening to hear Hughes extol the virtues of more soft seating and casual workspaces. “I’ve been there, using the cleaners’ outlet leaning against the wall,” says Hughes. “Airports need to make sure that customers feel comfortable using the space without being obligated to buy a business-class ticket … but it does cost valuable space.” And here lies the crux. The pressure to commercialise every square metre of an airport is intense. Consequently, shops and blandly efficient beam seating win out most times. For his part, Hughes seems genuinely interested in recapturing air travel’s lost glamour, or at least making it less mind-deadening. “A step in the wrong direction would be to build airports as just pragmatic buildings, and not build grand spaces. At that point it becomes even more depressing. I still think that communal space represents a civic aspect of society.”

Wednesday, 15 February 2012 11:40

Reinhard Dienes: the art of the simple

Creator of friendly, expressive furniture and lighting, the Columbian-born, German-based designer explains why making things look simple is actually the hardest thing to do

“I don’t know if it comes across in my work, but I’m very emotional.” No, Reinhard Dienes doesn’t mean that he goes weak at the knees every time he sees another excessively cute kitten on YouTube. It’s more that he invests a lot of himself in his work, and aims to create things that have more than a bit of personality.

The idea of expressive, personality-infused products is a fashionable mantra among designers, but Dienes delivers on the promise.

He’s due to launch new lighting the following day, at Maison & Objet in Paris, which illustrates the point: La Grande, for German firm Anthologie Quartett, is a range of table and pendant lights with long, adjustable conical shades. As a table lamp, its movements are curiously avian, like an ostrich lifting its head out of the sand; and as suspended lighting with multiple shades (called La Grande Enorme), more like a mechanical caterpillar, each cone a dangling leg.

“It looks different pointing in every direction – happy or sad, or excited – and it changes the whole light,” says Dienes. “I like my products to look like they have feelings.”

Anthologie Quartett is one of several ongoing relationships Dienes has with manufacturers; others include Singapore’s Foundry Collection, for whom he has recently designed a desk, Capa, and German firm Ames.

His Tonic furniture for Ames began as a modular shelving system, and expanded to include a new collection of tables, launched at IMM Cologne in January. It’s all fixed together without screws, the legs slotting directly into the body, a feature that is symptomatic of Dienes’ desire for “design that is very simple, very functional. I look for those perfect solutions, so that when people use those products it makes things a little bit easier for them. But making something simple actually takes a really long time to do.”

He also thinks hard about longevity, building in modularity and flexibility to ensure that whoever buys his furniture will keep hold of it.

The Tonic bookcase, for example, switches from horizontal to vertical just by decoupling the (screw-free) legs, flipping it upright and reattaching them. His Le Belge shelving is a system of oak rods and planks, held together with sea-green butterfly screws, that “can make one small table, or shelving ten metres long and two metres high. And you can always adapt, buy more, make it bigger, make it smaller. I think this system explains exactly what I’m trying to do.”

Born and raised in Colombia, 30-year-old Dienes has been settled in Frankfurt since he came to Germany in 2003 to study design at the Academy of Arts and Design at nearby Offenbach am Main.

He is half German, which explains his choice of destination for his studies, but he speaks with a seductive Colombian lilt (and apologises for “only” being able to speak three languages). Frankfurt suits his working needs, he says – “The scene isn’t as big as somewhere like Berlin, but everyone knows each other, and there’s more industry here so it’s easier to get certain things done, like making prototypes.”

“I look for those perfect solutions, so that when people use these products it makes things easier”

He now teaches at the academy in Offenbach, giving him a cushion of stability in a world where income can be erratic, and allowing him some freedom to experiment with his own projects.

He’s recently been back to Colombia to try to develop some household products that will offer a contemporary reworking of the country’s small terracotta industry.

Dienes likes to create a tension between materials that are hand-made and machine-made – his Friday light is made from mouth-blown glass and pressed aluminium, for example – and he’s looking to do something similar here, although this has a feeling of being more personal, because of the Colombian connection.

“I love that kind of work,” he says. “You don’t have briefings, so no one’s telling you what to do. You’re just doing it because you love the project. It’s a luxury.”

Dienes implicitly differentiates between the products that he develops on his own, and then finds a manufacturer for, and those that come directly from a manufacturer, with a complex brief to consider before he’s even lifted a pencil.

The former suits his working methods better because he likes to experiment with a material first, and then see what forms it suggests to him.

For his Wyzer wall clock, it was a case of finding the right materials for a problem that had been nagging him: “I wanted to make a clock with really big hands, but one that was light enough to work with batteries, not mains electricity, so you could put it anywhere. I got inspired by PET plastic water bottles – they’re thin but strong – which meant I could have these big, big hands that were very light.” Wyzer is in fact all hands and nothing else, “so you can mount it on the wall and make the biggest clock in the world.” Dutch firm LEFF Amsterdam snapped it up within 30 minutes of Dienes unveiling it at Frankfurt trade show Ambiente.

Other projects have not been so straightforward, like the Capa desk. With its asymmetrical form and multiple finishes (Capa means “layers” in Spanish, and was initially imagined as a series of stacked boxes) it has all the friendliness and personality Dienes strives for, but it was hard going. “I think I made 13 different presentations about it in the end, it was always changing, changing, changing. It’s taken something like two years to finish, but now the colours, the proportions, everything is perfect.”

Although designed for the home, there’s no reason why it shouldn’t translate to the workplace, and its folded metal privacy screens show that Foundry Collection is probably hedging its bets as to its end consumer.

Despite Capa’s drawn-out development, Dienes has still created something that reflects his passions – it is customisable, for example, so you can add or subtract different types of shelving, or have the screen on the left, right, or double up and have both; and it shows a sensitivity for balancing materials and finishes. Capa is also the physical manifestation of the thing that Dienes tries to impart to his students – pushing through problems to achieve success: “You have to learn how to keep on working to develop an idea, and never give up,” he says. “Things don’t come immediately; things come from hard work.”

His second bit of advice is equally pointed: “I always explain that you don’t have to change the world with one design; it’s about making something simple that can help people every day.”

Wednesday, 15 February 2012 11:35

Red Bull returns

As a client, Red Bull certainly has form when it comes to setting the pace in workplace design. In the UK alone, its work with Jump Studios set a benchmark for the playful workplace in the mid-noughties which was all ping-pong tables and slides, while a few years down the line, they surprised us all with a more pared-down, austerity-chic look courtesy of MoreySmith.

At its new headquarters in Amsterdam, Red Bull has continued to push the design boundaries, this time courtesy of Sid Lee Architecture, which fought off competition from two other firms to win the commission. The practice began work on the office, which can be found in the Noord district of the Dutch capital, in the spring of 2009, and completed it just shy of two years later. This part of town is redeveloping significantly, attracting arts organisations and media companies such as MTV Europe.

Sid Lee Architecture thought long and hard about the idea of “work” and “play” in this office. As project design architect and senior partner Jean Pelland explains: “One of our main goals was to separate those two things, and we did that through the architecture of the building.” This is a significant move forward from the idea that every inch of the office is for playing while you work, inevitably a reflection of the economic times we live in. But a welcome one, too, in some ways. Like teenagers, don’t all office workers function a little better with some boundaries?

That’s not to say Pelland’s rhetoric is entirely without hyperbole, as he continues: “When we designed the inner space, we aimed at retrieving Red Bull’s philosophy, dividing spaces according to their use and spirit, with two opposed and complementary hemispheres: reason versus intuition; arts versus the industrial city; black versus white; the rise of the angel versus the mention of the beast.”

The headquarters is an old shipbuilding factory and faces a crane and a disused Russian submarine. Picture-postcard windmills and tulip fields it ain’t. It’s no surprise, then, that the scheme has a rugged, industrial feel. The building has three bays, each of which has a dedicated function, in this case, public space and the managers’ offices together with the workstations.

This project has some striking internal architecture, all based on the geometry of a triangle, which can be seen on everything from the walls to the industrial trusses across the bays to the modular furniture to the metallic suspended lighting. Elsewhere, the light comes from a series of skylights that run across the full span of the building. No excuse for Seasonal Affective Disorder given the amount of illumination here, that’s for sure.

In the public space – also known as “The Beast” – the structure helps create a dichotomy between what is open and what is closed. A closed-off recording studio sits next to a more open “playground”, which features video screens and a bar, while elsewhere nooks and crannies created by the various levels and angles means private work can take place alongside more collaborative spaces. “It works very well and is very popular,” says Pelland. “People find it very easy to find their own personal space there.”

Similarly, the workstation area – or “the arena” – contrasts functionality with what has been dubbed “the stratos”, a foreign object contained within it. Located in the middle of the space, the stratos is a perforated black metal box behind which is a glass-enclosed meeting room. The architects liken it to “a meteorite that has fallen through the atmosphere and absorbed the spirit of the place where it landed.” It is also a tribute to Red Bull-sponsored 120,000-foot jump by Austrian base jumper Felix Baumgartner – a slightly more tangible inspiration.

Such features show the company’s keenness to associate itself not just with the sticky gold liquid it sells, but also with the street and extreme sports it sponsors. Leading on from this there is a theme of resourcefulness within the interior in homage to the BMX bandits who can build a ramp out of simple bits of wood, or the skate punks who view every piece of street furniture as an opportunity for a stunt. Hence, the main hall becomes “the landing” and the staff restaurant becomes “the dive”.

This also ties in with the idea of multifunctionality too, as users are encouraged to make the various areas into what they want them to be. The benches in the resting room double up as storage and the furniture in the common room can be transformed into a place to party when all piled up.

The internal structure’s materials are simple: plywood and raw metal plates. This is in contrast to the playful graphics that cover ceilings, walls, floors and even furniture within. These were developed by Sid Lee’s Amsterdam studio, which worked in conjunction with the practice’s main Montreal base. The graffiti again echoes Red Bull’s desire to be aligned with sports and street culture, which is why a karting track snakes down the walls and floor of the resting room, and a piece of trompe l’oeil depicts massive speakers in one of the supposedly quiet rooms. In the managers’ offices, meanwhile, BMX riders or skateboarders jump across the walls. If the results weren’t quite so irrepressibly cool, the effect might be the architectural equivalent of your dad dancing to the Black Eyed Peas at a wedding or a buttoned-up TV presenters asking viewers to “join in the debate on Twitter”.

A highlight has to be the “holy shit list” imagery in the toilet. If you can get over the puerile pun, behold the Renaissance fresco-style mosaic design depicting the craziest things these Red Bull types wish to do. At first sight, this office looks a little gimmicky. How can this jutting beast of a structure in an oh-so-fashionable district possibly be practical? But it is. Not only is it light, but there are plenty of places to meet and the desks are pretty normal (albeit clustered around a box that looks like it fell to Earth). Jean Pelland and his team are quite insistent that this was an office for working in, not navel gazing.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012 11:17

Macquarie's London HQ

The height of banker bashing might be over – replaced with unease over deep Government cuts and the fiscal insecurity of our European cousins – but financial institutions are still seen as secretive fortresses by a sceptical public. It was the desire to fight this impression and to promote openness and greater community within different business departments that led investment banking and financial services group Macquarie to rethink how it housed its 1,800 staff in the City of London.

The Australian company had grown organically within the capital, with different business divisions spread across numerous sites, hindering the cross-pollination of ideas and stilting a sense of community within the wider business. With this very much front of mind, Macquarie enlisted US practice Clive Wilkinson Architects to work on the 20,200sq m, six-storey space in Ropemaker Place. Architect and client were not strangers, having worked together on Macquarie Group’s Sydney HQ, a benchmark project that brought the the actvity-based workplace to the stale, secluded world of investment banking.

Clive Wilkinson Architects brought in London-based architects Pringle Brandon to execute the design. “What Macquarie urgently needed was to bring the whole community under one roof, and preferably with their own front door,” says Pringle Brandon director Richard Jordan. That really drove the brief and the design. The space is dominated by the atrium, and it’s design directive was all about collaboration and communication – it was the driving force of the whole concept.”

At ground level, Wilkinson designed a “shop front” for the business, with a dedicated reception, drop-in meeting rooms and link into the lift. Wooden panelling, deep plum Tom Dixon Wingback sofas and a cream stone floor keep the atmosphere of the reception professional but contemporary, and the linear ceiling treatment introduces a pinstripe motif that is repeated elsewhere in the building’s architecture and wall graphics.

Emerging from the lift of the sixth floor, employees are greeted with views of the vast atrium which has been hollowed out of the building up to the 11th floor. A vivid scarlet staircase weaves its way irregularly from floor to floor with Escher-like complexity, connecting different corporate divisions according to need.

The dominating underlit staircase has also encouraged staff to travel the length of the building on foot, leading to a 75% reduction in lift use, and, Jordan attests, greater staff wellbeing. Glass-fronted, angular meeting rooms overhang the cavity, an idea also used in Macquarie’s Sydney building. Each overhanging room is faced with pinstriped glass to reveal their inhabitants without leaving them feeling too exposed.

Two different messages about the brand exist side-by-side within Macquarie’s new home. Public-facing spaces – the conference rooms, events spaces and private meeting rooms – have been kept aesthetically formal, with muted colours, dusky carpets and smart but comfortable seating. On the floors mainly occupied by Macquarie employees, spaces surrounding the atrium have been dedicated to informal meeting areas, dotted with asterisk-shaped tables, sunshine-coloured chairs, high-backed sofas and cerise and mustard pinstriped screens.

“While Macquarie wanted the space to be open and collaborative, they are an investment bank and they hold very sensitive meetings, so the ground floor and the 11th floor were very client-led,” says Jordan. “The materials suggest quality and are quite measured in their colour schemes, with warm shades and lots of wood. That defines the client journey from street level through to the conference room and dining room, and that’s juxtaposed against the more open, dynamic, and colourful office space.”

Carpeted meeting rooms include sculptural ceilings, at times featuring pinstripe accenting, and at others, angular polygons studded with spotlights. Rhombic wooden conference tables have been coupled with ribbed leather desk chairs in the client-led spaces, and seating matched to the bright scarlet of the staircase is used in the more informal spaces.

The design of the building showcases the industrial nature of the existing structural steel bays, which, when looking from the atrium, outline each floor with a ribbon of portholes. The design of the cafe and kitchen also follows this aesthetic, with strip lights, white enamelled pendant lights and muted furniture. Jordan says: “That design aesthetic runs through the building. Being honest with building while cutting the hole through forming the new atrium made that possible; it just flows together.” Round tables provide further opportunities for interdepartmental communication, alongside breakfast-bars and informal Chesterfield-style sofas, which are placed in the round to encourage more face-to-face communication.

The two lowest floors – devoted to trading rooms – feature innovative technology to cope with the unique challenges thrown up by this type of environment. Cooled desks, pumped full of circulating cold water, reduce the temperature of the equipment, as do chilled beams with integrated lighting. These systems decrease glare and drafts, and reduce energy costs. Like the kitchen, the look and feel of the trading room capitalises on the industrial rawness of the existing building.

“Trading floors typically have exaggerated ceiling height and we were able to achieve that by taking out ceilings and exposing a lot of the metal work, poles and beams,” explains Jordan. “It gave us the aesthetic look of an engine room – an industrial look – but also it enabled us to lift what would have been a very low ceiling into a much lighter space.”

Hollowing out the guts of the building has led to an altogether brighter space, where the energy of other workers is visible from any part of the building. This has led not only to better circulation between departments but has reinforced the company as an agile, collaborative and forward-thinking business, far from the vault-like seclusion of banks of yesteryear.

“Normally in workplaces, people are tucked away in back offices, stacked floors and corridors, whereas here they are put right up the front in the most visible part of the building so people can be seen,” says Jordan. “It encourages you to use the building and explore other floors in a way that another atrium wouldn’t do.”

 

Wednesday, 15 February 2012 11:02

Open AD's paper themed project

Like most things in publishing, this project was driven by high ambition and tight deadlines. Occupying the fourth and fifth floors of a historic building in Riga’s old city, Latvian publishing house Rigas Vilni wanted a lightening-quick turnaround for its new headquarters. It gave design agency Open AD a mere two months – from initial meeting to working up designs, making any necessary structural changes, sourcing and ordering products and materials, and final fit out – before the firm’s editorial and administration staff moved in.

Open AD was unaccustomed to workplace fit outs until last year when it won the contract for advertising agency’s McCann Erickson’s Riga offices (onoffice 58). Since then, it has taken in its stride the addition of workplaces to its portfolio of private houses, hotels and clubs. Its latest client offers design and fashion-led titles, one of just two consumer publishing houses in the Latvian capital. “We came up with a concept of what we could offer for the space in a short time span and it was accepted by the client,” says designer Elina Tetere. “To keep on deadline we began rebuilding and repainting walls and working on the detailed plans in parallel.” In addition to the time limitations on this project, Elina and architect Zane Tetere had to think of possibilities that would work in rented premises, where the client was not motivated to invest big money in capital repairs.

“We wanted to avoid small, boring rooms and long, gloomy corridors,” Zane explains. “We decided to keep parts of the existing rooms’ partitioning, but to plaster the panels with a combination of wallpapers and fabrics, using clean black and white graphics as a base, and incorporating fuchsia pink and yellow accents to differentiate the floors.

“We focused on refreshing zones with a mix of fabrics and wallpaper, and then creating sub-zones, separated with coloured metal storehouse shelves, which are symbolic of production processes. On some of the ceiling plates we coloured in different zones, or squares, turning defect into effect.” On both floors, the flooring has been changed to carpet that resembles valjenke – traditional Russian felt boots – with oriental patterned rugs adding a little luxury to different work areas.

The washrooms have tiles that tie into each interior scheme: decadent patterned wallpaper, gilded mirrors and chandeliers on one floor, and more graphic black and white designs on the other. “Working in hotels and clubs, you learn never to forget or neglect toilets as simple white rooms, or exclude them from the themes of the interior,” Elina explains. “It’s important to keep them interesting, to go with the rest of the project.”

The copious amounts of wallpaper – from Cole and Son, Timorous Beasties, Morris & Co and Fornasetti – was sourced by Open AD from an interior design company in Latvia that imports mid-to-high-end products. The selected graphic designs range from two dimensional cityscapes to trompe l’oeil bookshelves, the latter highly apt for a publishing firm. Glass panels were installed in place of walls across some of the office spaces, creating a kaleidoscope of patterns when standing looking from one end to the other. “We were aware of the effects that could be achieved by seeing the graphics layer on layer, and we wanted to play with that and create interesting perspectives with the designs,” Elina explains.

Furniture is mixed and matched in the same way as the 2D graphics and tactile curtains, with new and contemporary light fittings, desks and task chairs specified alongside antique tables, ornate chairs and mid-century sideboards, sourced from antique fairs.

The eclectic selection of furniture ranges from bespoke oak furniture, to Flos’s Zeppelin pendant light, to a black and white contemporary desking system from a manufacturer in Poland, to Ligne Roset’s squashy Ruche sofa in egg-yolk yellow. Somehow, it hangs together seamlessly, and lends a timeless quality that will, the designers anticipate, outlast the lease.

The need for reflection and for creative contemplation has not been overlooked, and among the open-plan working areas are three larger meeting spaces topped with circles of curtain rail, with printed curtains that can be pulled around to create impromptu hubs. The chairman of the editorial board, Aija Simsone, was actively involved in the design process, and sourced and chose her own furniture for her office. With a low-slung beige leather lounger and settee, brass-legged side tables and stools, an oriental cream rug, modern sideboard and yellow patterned walls, it merges antique and boutique. Elina says that the scheme perfectly emulates Simsone’s personality and taste.

As for Open AD, this small but burgeoning design company now has its sights set beyond Latvia, with speculative meetings in Ukraine underway. “We are keen to take on projects across the border,” Elina explains, “but we will still be working in Latvia. Workplaces will always be part of what we do now.”