Items filtered by date: April 2012 - onoffice magazine

With a simple philosophy – if you can’t make it locally, don’t make it at all – the Belgian designer’s latest venture is a “next-generation” brand that he hopes will make manufacturers do business in different ways 

“The centre of design is defined by the factories, certainly not by designers,” says Alain Berteau, a Belgian whose quietly quirky furniture and objects belie a certain kind of pragmatism. “I’m the kind of guy who is not really indulgent with people who believe that design is a means of expression, or an entertainment channel. I know it sounds sad but that’s what I think,” he says matter-of-factly.

It’s an amusing statement when you consider Berteau’s portfolio, which stretches back to 2002 when he launched his eponymous design studio.

Sure, since then he’s done functional desking systems and breakout furniture, but he’s also created a lamp that looks like a stick insect, a quilted stool that needs to be blown up manually with a pump, clothes hangers made of sapling trunk and modular seating that fits together like pieces of cake. His new venture, Objekten, has recently launched a desk by Mathieu Lehanneur that resembles an accordion ready to be flattened and slid under a bed. So, even though these items are functional and really quite thoughtful, there is something faintly comical about them. Berteau acknowledges that some Belgian design has this tension though he’s suspicious of national generalisations:

“By definition Belgian design is a mix. That’s what is good about it,” he says. “It is a strange and messy melange of Nordic influences and latent spontaneity. It was always like that. There is a sense of ‘no nonsense’ about it, but that doesn’t mean boring. It’s very often full of humour even though it’s not a big show.”

We’re sitting in the basement of a design gallery in Brussels, the city where Berteau grew up and where his studio is based.

A corner of the space is dedicated to the first collection of Objekten, which has been billed as a “next-generation” design brand, launched late last year. As creative director, Berteau has designed many of the pieces, which stand out for their simplicity and use of tactile materials, but the company is really a collaboration between like-minded designers including Lehanneur and Sylvain Willenz.

Their idea is to produce simple, relatively affordable pieces (sold online and through selected retailers) using local skills and resources. All products are based on the strengths of a few manufacturing partners in Belgium, France, Holland and Germany.

Berteau has designed furniture for various European brands and has picked up quite a bit of steam with products such as his Tab chair for Bulo and Inside desking system for Lensvelt.

But he’d become increasingly unimpressed with the manufacturing process. The way he sees it, it’s all backwards. Typically, a company gives a brief, followed by the designer’s concept, and then the challenge is on to find a factory to produce it. If the stars aren’t aligned it will be too expensive or beyond the capabilities of the factories in question.

That presents two eventual scenarios: the product is cheaply made in the Far East, or it’s back to the drawing board. Objekten aims to reinvent this process by keeping things simple and local.

“It’s absurd to go to China to produce a stool. If the stool is well designed, you should be able to produce it anywhere”

“Instead of selling disposable furniture made in China with very bad quality materials, we do the exact opposite,” says Berteau. “We spend a lot of time designing a super-smart solution with good quality materials, but the design and the production process is so well adjusted and optimised, that it is fast and quite affordable.”

He feels very strongly that this is the future and that a change is long overdue. “I’ve had the feeling for a while now that the furniture industry is a little bit like the music industry was ten years ago. It cannot work like it did before. There are too many people between the idea and the final product– way too many people. It’s absurd to go to China to produce a stool. If the stool is well designed, you should be able to produce it anywhere. This is 2012. We have to think like this – because it’s important, and it can be more efficient and flexible, not because we’re pretending to be eco-friendly. I don’t think it’s acceptable to go to China or Taiwan just to get a better price.”

On that token Berteau seems to feel a kind of moral responsibility to help revive manufacturing in Europe amid the economic meltdown.

“We have to. Europe can’t be a service economy anymore. We have a good opportunity to reinvent ourselves, to rethink the way we produce things, and, of course, rethink the way we buy things too. But as designers we have to tell the story, to remind the client of that story. You’re not just selling a shape, you’re selling the worker behind it,” he says.

A trained architect, Berteau’s route to furniture and product design is a familiar tale in that architecture work was thin on the ground.

Born in Germany in 1970 to Belgian parents, he returned to Brussels as a child and spent the majority of his time obsessively drawing insects, cars, people and nature.

This eventually developed into a passion for architecture. But after graduation his dreams were derailed by what he calls the “vast corruption” and bureaucracy of the Belgian architecture world.

“It made me very depressed,” he says. “It’s extremely strange, especially in the French-speaking part of the country … It’s not a meritocracy and you can see that. People appoint their friends. It’s very slow – sometimes it takes years to secure a building permit.”

Here he pauses, to make his point. “It’s easier in Italy, you know what I mean? It’s more efficient in many African countries, for sure.” Apparently the only public building he ever did, a school, is still not built even though he finished the designs ten years ago.

Berteau was understandably discouraged and it was this that prompted a tactical move into design, now the core of Berteau’s work. “For me it is the same job but on a different scale,” he explains. “I decided to put my energy and taste for innovation into a field that is less clouded and that has a more direct relationship between me, my client and the result.”

He says his mission from now on is to marry good ideas with efficient manufacturing, both with his own work at Alain Berteau Designworks and with Objekten.

“A good idea is nice but it’s nothing if there is no relevance between it and the production capability. So that’s the way we work. We go together to the factory, we never do the name-dropping thing, I don’t care to have any kind of design coming from a superstar,” he says.

Although, truth be told, Mathieu Lanneheur might be considered a star in certain circles. “I’m not fashion. It’s solutions,” he firmly points out. “Daily life is full of annoying things, so you can always try to improve them. You can put yourself in that mode and appreciate or criticise what you use in the office, kitchen, bathroom. Life is a permanent source of inspiration because of that.”

“A good idea is nice but it’s nothing if there is no relevance between it and the production capability” 

It’s true that Berteau’s collection is full of simple, useful pieces with nicely integrated details. Objekten’s desk objects and iPad cases, for example.

The designer is set for more exposure during the Milan Furniture Fair, where he’ll participate in Tom Dixon’s hotly anticipated MOST exhibition at the National Museum of Science and Technology. Objekten will introduce a new carpet made of recycled polypropylene straps and an oak-panelled folding trestle table that can be assembled in less than 60 seconds.

The piece de resistance, however, is the slightly eccentric-sounding inflatable parasol that has been Berteau’s pet project for the last four years. His face positively lights up at the prospect of showing it off to the design community. “I don’t know what the reaction will be because, you know, it’s new.”

With new technology comes new working postures, many of them less than favourable. Add to that a certain loosening of health and safety policy when it comes to remote working, and ergonomics just got a whole lot more complicated...

The big problem with the way people talk about the term “ergonomic” is that they use it to describe the design of objects when really it’s about a relationship; that between a person and the things around them. It’s an abstract idea, so it’s dependent on a number of variables. And when those variables change, what we understand to be good ergonomics changes too.

“The principle of ergonomics as we now understand it first came to prominence in the wake of the growth in computer use,” says Lee Jones of ergonomic workplace advisers Wellworking. “That has left us encumbered with a fixed idea of what constitutes an ideal workstation and ideal posture based on an idea of desk-bound employees with a computer, whereas the pace of change in technology and working practices means that the relationship between people and place is changing all the time.

“Give people a laptop and a mobile phone and the way they work changes. Encourage them to use breakout space and it changes. Tell them it’s OK to work from wherever and it changes. Give them an iPad and it all changes again. The only consistent thing is the human at the centre of it all, and that should be the focus.”

Modern life relentlessly offers us new ways of harming ourselves. One of the most recently identified was named by researchers at the University of Basel as Laptop Thigh, caused by prolonged exposure of the skin to moderate heat. But as well as lightly toasted thighs, laptop users are also likely to be storing up less visible but more damaging conditions related to poor ergonomics. A survey from BT found that while 83% of businesses provide staff with mobile and wireless gadgets such as laptops and tablets to promote flexible working, only 62% back this up with formal “working from home” policies.

“The health and safety issues involved are complex,” says Jones, “but all rely on the principle that workers have the same rights and needs wherever they are. Many of these obligations are laid out in the Health and Safety at Work Act and include the need to supply appropriate equipment, carry out risk assessments, training and generally provide a safe working environment. Related legislation such as Display Screen Equipment Regulations is equally applicable. However, we have an obligation to recognise that it is clearly not acceptable to work with a laptop or iPad on our knees for hours at a time. We wouldn’t do it in the office, so we shouldn’t do it at home.”

Even now, the problem of Laptop Thigh is generating fewer headlines than the comparatively new ailment of iPad Neck. Tablets present their own unique ergonomic challenges because users typically hold them low down, encouraging inherently poor posture. The problem was given its moniker by a research team at the Harvard School of Public Health.

The results showed that tablet computers that were held in the lap caused greater bending of the head and neck leading to neck and shoulder pains. The author of the study, Dr Jack Dennerlein, said that “compared to typical desktop computing scenarios, the use of tablet computers is associated with high head and neck flexion postures, and there may be more of a concern for the development of neck and shoulder discomfort.

“Only when the tablets were used in the table-movie configuration, where the devices were set at their steepest case angle setting and at the greatest horizontal and vertical position, did posture approach neutral. This suggests that tablet users should place the tablet higher, on a table rather than a lap, to avoid low gaze angles, and use a case that provides steeper viewing angles.”

We are likely to see a greater incidence of related issues as more and more of us work on tablet computers. Market research firm IDC claims that worldwide tablet sales are expected to jump from 16.1m in 2010 to 147.2m by 2015. It also believes that roughly 45m of these tablets will be purchased by companies for their employees.

“This will require a new approach to ergonomics,” says Jones. It will be based on providing people with the right equipment but also addressing the management issues that make the difference. In many ways, schools provide a perfect model of contemporary ergonomics. This is not based solely on an ‘ergonomic’ product but on an appreciation of the relationship between people, the way they work, the place they do it in and the stuff they surround themselves with. The kids are way ahead of us.”

Specific ergonomic solutions for tablet users have been appearing for some time. Some of these, such as the IDEO-designed Node, for Steelcase, are aimed at classrooms but might equally apply to workplaces. For desktop workers, many accessories follow a well-trodden path by using stands to create a workstation that mimics the postures associated with PC use. These include products such as Flo by Colebrook Bosson Saunders and the i360 stand by Intelligent Touch. Because the tablet is a much lighter item than a laptop, they also include much simpler products such as the Padfoot from Michiel Cornelissen.

Some products lend themselves to tablet users in social spaces. These include Claesson Koivisto Rune’s new Isola chair for Tacchini (onoffice 62), with its inbuilt worksurface, as well as established products such as Coffice from Bene which has power and data services built into the arm and Celeste from Herman Miller.

Ergonomics is an issue that relies on the entire workspace, not just an individual’s workstation. It is about knowledge, culture and variety. Not only do we need to train people to understand the importance of using technology in the most appropriate way, we need to encourage them to move when they are sitting, and to get up and wander whenever they can. But most important in this regard is a culture that understands the complexities of ergonomics.

In late 2010, accountancy firm KPMG moved its 4,000-strong staff into a new £340m European headquarters in London’s Canary Wharf. Previously the company sprawled over numerous smaller outposts dotted about the capital housing its multitudinous departments. The migration signalled KPMG’s eagerness for a new collaborative ethos, coupled with a more transparent identity – expressed, almost inevitably, by a glass box that allows passers-by (if there is such a thing in Canary Wharf) a glimpse at the goings-on inside.

Meanwhile, in the KPMG boardroom, the mood of consolidation still runs strong. In 2007, the company recruited Danish practice 3XN to perform a similar trick for its Copenhagen office. KPMG was mired in an old-fashioned cubicle layout, which did nothing for communication. “The old building was like sugar cubes. Each department had no idea what the other was doing,” says 3XN partner Bo Boje Larsen, who was to eventually lead the project. “They wanted to change their behaviour from an old-fashioned company to a new modern one, a new way to work.” Initially, the practice was brought on board to identify a suitable site for the new headquarters. Larsen whittled down 20 candidates to just one in Frederiksberg, a curious slice of the city that has remained an independent municipality despite its absorption by Copenhagen’s westward development. 3XN and KPMG snagged the last empty patch in what is a densely built-up area.

The site had excellent links to transport, being opposite the metro station and a cycle path, but was also surrounded by apartments. Understandably, the locals were not overly thrilled to see a 32,500sq m mammoth appear on their doorstep. Concerned with being a “good neighbour”, Larsen and his team came up with a cloverleaf-shaped design that folded neatly into the site rather than crashed landing on it. Each facade was kept a similar length to those of the neighbouring buildings before angling to form a new elevation. This architectural sleight of hand means the building never reveals its true mass, something that helped enormously when it came to winning planning permission.

Continuing this harmonious spirit, the architects also created a landscaped green space that hugs the eastern elevations. Tacking through the contours is a public footpath that bridges the metro to join the cycle route. Though not part of the brief this gracious move was, as Larsen puts it, “the natural thing to do.”

Copenhagen has remained pretty resistant to the corporate architecture of glass and steel, and the city’s stringent environmental targets for new buildings have surely played a part in this. Accordingly, 3XN clad the building in a warming yellow Jura Gelb stone to match the brickwork of the neighbouring buildings. To protect from the sun’s rays the architect angled the cladding to create a natural shade for the large windows. The practice describes the building as possessing “a subtle strength,” which sounds a little like something you would hear on a Gillette advert. Undoubtedly, it has the gravitas of a large-scale civic project or halls of justice rather than a bean-counter’s domicile.

The main entrance slots between the two western-most cloverleafs. Inside the building softens: stone and glass disappears replaced by a warm oak floor, bathed in natural light that pours in from the huge atria at the centre of each cloverleaf. KPMG’s staff crunch the numbers on four floors of offices arranged around
the atria’s perimeter, capitalising on the daylight.

Above, footbridges and stairways criss-cross the void, connecting the various departments in a way that was impossible in the old office. “It creates faster movement through the building,” says Larsen. “There are also a lot of open-plan areas, and if you take the bridges you can bypass the workstations, so you don’t disturb anyone.”

Spreading across the ground floor is a mysterious geometric structure that mimics the outdoor landscaping. “We took a lot of inspiration from nature,” Larsen says. “The triangular shapes we took as a kind of internal landscape. It turned out to be kind of like an iceberg.” Triangles are a recognizable 3XN motif, appearing in many of the practice’s office buildings such as Saxo Bank and Middlefart Savings Bank, but in this project they perform an acoustic role, reducing the number of large flat surfaces for sound to bounce off. The “iceberg” houses 16 client meeting rooms and a 450-seat auditorium that can be split in two by a movable wall. The structure brings to life what could have been dead space and also breaks the scale of the interior into digestible chunks. The art throughout the building is by seven artists commissioned by 3XN: Austrian arist Eva Schlegel’s work, depicting flying and undersea figures, is imprinted on the meeting room walls to obscure the people within.

A pair of blue neon light installations by Danish artist Jeppe Hein hang in the main entrance staircase, and 3XN created space for 700 bicycles on the roof and electric car chargers in the basement car park. Further green measures include recycling rainwater for the park, lighting that reacts to movement and daylight and automated façade curtains.

KPMG currently occupies the two west “leaves” and is renting out the third, with plans to expand into the whole building at some point. Reaction from staff has been overwhelmingly positive according to Larsen, who puts some of the success down to the fact that he was dealing with two KPMG directors rather than a myriad of decision makers. “It’s been fantastic. Husbands and wives are taking their family out to see where they work. It is the first time I really felt like a hero.”

Crumbling whitewashed walls and vine-covered exteriors might be the first things that spring to mind when conjuring up a French farming business, but it couldn’t be further from the reality of agricultural firm Groupe Larrère & Fils’ new office. The building’s Mondrian-like wooden skeleton frames large rectangles of glass, creating vertical stripes of timber resembling the nearby pine forests.

Based in Liposthey in the Landes region of southern France, the family-run farm had previously only used a small office situated in the manager’s on-site home. But the business had blossomed considerably over the last few years and new administrative and management roles required a larger building to house its 12-and-counting employees.

In keeping with its family-run ethos, Groupe Larrère & Fils appointed architect and relative Vanessa Larrère of VL Office to design the new building. Tasked with the project while still a student, Larrère was given an enticingly open brief, asked only to translate the farm’s aims of organic, healthy and environmentally friendly agriculture into the design. Inspired by the surrounding landscape, Larrère set out to create an exposed external shell for the building that would have the same sort of rhythm as the experience of passing under the shadows of trees when driving through the French countryside. She says: “The repetition of wooden posts produces variations in light and shadow, which are accentuated when you view it in motion from the road. This was inspired by the countryside around it – the forests of the Landes with their repetitive sequences of pine trees.”

As well as housing the growing workforce, the new building was also intended to pull together a number of existing hangers and barns. “The building is actually an extension of the agricultural buildings, which are laid out in an anarchic way because of the successive extensions,” Larrère explains. “In order to give a sense of cohesion to this messy layout, it was necessary to place a foundation element at the heart of it, simplifying everything and making it more ordered.”

The new extension stretches the entire length of these existing agricultural buildings, giving the site a more consistent feel from the roadside. Larrère also commissioned the same carpenter that created the existing buildings to work with her on the project, mimicking the original construction system apart from opting for a wooden internal skeleton rather than the steel ribs that lined the hangers.

Just as the likeness to the nearby forests was integral to the outside aesthetic of the new office, wood plays a huge role in the building’s interior, dominating the internal spaces with structural and decorative use. The double-height reception area is panelled with intricate lattices of pine, and wood also lines the stairways and balcony as well as protruding externally from the full-length windows like the ridges of a spine.

Larrère says: “I wanted to work with wood for its ecological qualities and negative carbon footprint, both of which align themselves nicely with the client’s work – moving towards agriculture that is respectful of the environment. But it was also an aesthetic choice. What interests me is to choose a material and employ it in different forms throughout the building, in order to reach a kind of unity through different iterations.”

The reception area, like most of the spaces in the building, has been kept clean and minimal. A cubic desk, painted with the same sandstone hue of the walls, hides paperwork and computers behind its high sides and is coupled with budget-friendly contemporary furniture from Ikea.

“I wanted an atmosphere that was calming and light all the way through the building, says Larrère. “Warmth is brought in by the wood, but also by the light sand colour of the walls. White is only used to delineate the fronts of the internal cupboards, and also for some of the furniture.”

The full-height windows mean that light and views of the surrounding countryside flood into the office. However, so as not to break their impressive line, they cannot be opened, leading Larrère to devise a separate ventilation system of opaque panels.

On the ground floor the reception is joined by three small offices and a bathroom, each furnished with a combination of mass-produced Ikea staples alongside a few designer pieces from the likes of Bo Concept. The offices have 1.2 metre-wide full-height swing doors, which stay open most of the time to allow people to move around easily.

Larrère has created a lighting system that is entirely integrated into the intricate panelling of the ceiling, choosing Spanish manufacturer Faro for the sleek, unobtrusive fittings. In the reception, different sizes of globular paper lanterns hang sculpturally from the double-height ceiling, to create a centrepoint to this otherwise minimal space.

Both upstairs and below, the floorplan has been designed to optimise space, with storage and even fire extinguishers built in to the walls so as not to break the clean silhouette. Cupboards line the whole length and height of where the extension meets the existing building towards the rear of the building, freeing up space in the office and also creating a wall that insulates the noise from the machines just behind.

A large meeting room, complete with lounge and bar, makes up the majority of the first floor, using the same white furniture, subdued paints and grey tile flooring as on the ground level. Here, as with the rest of the building, internal adornment has been kept to a minimum to fully frame the vista of the surrounding countryside. Larrère adds: “The alternation of solidity and empty space at the front allows each office to have a lot of light regardless of where it is. The vertical form of the windows brings the outside in.”

When it comes to experimental, innovative or just plain unusual workplaces, media companies lead the way. While the majority of us are holed up in bland uninspiring offices where the main concerns don’t stretch further than the heating working or whether there is an ample supply of printer paper, media types are more demanding. Perhaps it’s the industry’s youthful demographic or the fact that people enjoy their jobs rather than endure them; whatever the reason, if there’s a fussball table or slide in the building you can lay money on it not being a trust-fund HQ.

True to form, these off-the-wall features pop up in Corus Entertainment’s new headquarters in Toronto. Corus is one of Canada’s largest media companies, encompassing around 50 radio, television and other brands, and until a few years ago, it sprawled over 11 locations mainly in the city’s hip Liberty Village district. The company board decided that more coherence was needed, drafting in fellow Torontonians Quadrangle Architects to unravel the complicated knot.

After some debate, Corus opted to move everyone to a new building rather than improve each existing outpost. The timing could not have been better. The new building, a speculative office by Diamond Schmitt Architects, was pencilled in to occupy a prime spot at the heart of the city’s new waterfront development, but it had yet to make the leap from drawing board to three-dimensional object. This presented an opportunity to customise the original design to suit Corus’s needs. “We worked with the base-build architect to make some pretty fundamental changes, particularly on the ground floor,” says Quadrangle’s Caroline Robbie. “One of the conditions of the lease was to enrich the public realm so we changed the back quarter of the building so that all the radio stations face a brand-new park. The public can stick their nose right up to the glass, and there are speakers that project out into the public space.” The willingness to engage with the city is a carry over from the old days when radio station The Edge’s street-level studios would close off Yonge Street and hold impromptu gigs. Quadrangle recreated this by including a ground-floor performance space so the kids can rock out happily without blocking traffic.

Diamond Schmitt’s building was H-shaped with a soaring central atrium flanked by office space. The move here brought natural light to a workforce accustomed to working in dark soundproofed boxes, but it resulted in a great deal of wasted space. To remedy this, Quadrangle built a three-storey block in the middle of the void and hoyed in a couple of TV stations. Deploying a variety of furniture, including oversized Luxo lamps and Vitra’s Alcove sofas, the practice transformed the structure’s roof into a media lounge where staff exchange ideason computer screens, talk privately or play foosball. Connecting this area to the canteen-type space below is a spiralling white slide, which provides a faster alternative to the rear staircase. Unlike its precedent at Red Bull’s London offices, which fell victim to ’elf and safety the day after its inauguration, Corus’s slide is still propelling gleeful staff. “It is one of the most popular features. They particularly like it because it was one of things that said ‘this is a fun company’ and Corus is about fun,” says Robbie.

Weaving around the slide is a white ribbon-like structure, which begins life as a steel bench at the TV block’s entrance, swoops through the reception and terminates in the communal space. Made from fabric stretched over an aluminium frame, its wavy form makes reference to the waterfront location. Glass is the dominant material throughout, so to soften things up a little Quadrangle clad the ground floor interior walls in wood reclaimed from a sunken 1910 ferry dock.

With so many companies under one roof, the main challenge facing Quadrangle was to ensure individual identities were not lost in the move to an open-plan layout. The practice picked 21 of Corus’s 50-plus companies and designed special glazed meeting rooms to represent each brand. This ranged from drawing out a strong colour in the logo to installing industrial lamps for the edgier music stations. In some cases this has produced pretty exuberant spaces. YTV’s refulgent collision of deep blue and dazzling yellow, for example, is almost overwhelming. Corus is clearly not a company that needs zen-like minimalism to concentrate.

At times the design went beyond colour codes, furnishings and light fixtures, as Robbie explains: “One room in particular for me was very important because the radio station was the one I had listened to all throughout my teens and twenties when there was a really great punk scene in Toronto. I had collected all of the posters from the late 70s and early 80s and so I put together a wallpaper of these posters, which they loved.”

Quadrangle exposed the ductwork and other mechanics throughout the workspaces, acknowledging the company’s beginnings in Liberty Village’s brick-and-beam buildings. The open-plan format is broken down by a myriad of meeting rooms (150, Robbie reckons) and staff were given a budget to kit out their workstations. The third and fourth floors house the children’s and women’s brands respectively, and are the most densely populated, while execs, human resources and bean counters reside on the sixth floor. On the eight floor is an auditorium for private screenings and an outdoor terrace. Quadrangle is currently fitting out the seventh floor. Despite the layering there are still areas where departments spill into each other Robbie says: “The idea was that people did see each other – people who may not have ever seen each other before now run into each other all the time.”

Robbie recounts how, shortly after they moved in, a black Moooi pig began popping up in unexpected locations. “There is kind of a competition to see who can put it in the weirdest place.” Corus, it seems, is embracing its colourful new home with quirky enthusiasm.

With its stone pillars, high ceilings, marble floors, wings and grand atrium, Vintners’ Place on Upper Thames Street gives the impression of being part of ye olde City of London. This classical-looking building adjacent to Southwark Bridge was in fact built in 1991, on the site of the Vintry, which burned down in the Great Fire of London. It now offers businesses high-spec office space, Thames-side frontage and impressive views of Tate Modern, Shakespeare’s Globe and The Shard in its final phases of construction.

Entering the main atrium, a panoramic cross-section of offices can be observed through glass doors, revealing a uniform approach of raised floorplates and suspended ceilings. However, as you stare up, the slatted orange ceiling of one office on the second floor stands out.

This view is of the breakout area of Thomson Reuters’ new office. It has been expanded and newly fitted out to consolidate some of the financial data provider’s London sites, and accommodate its recent acquisitions. Interior design group Scott Brownrigg was brought on board by the company to rip out the dark blue carpets and heavy corporate signage left behind by the prior tenant, and create a space that better exploited the natural light and river views on offer.

Thomson Reuters has offices across the world, and famously occupies Reuters Tower in Canary Wharf. “We took a look at these office spaces, in particular the London, Milan and San Francisco offices, but we were given flexible reign over the space, and creative freedom over how we instilled a corporate identity,” says Scott Brownrigg’s Beth Glenn, project designer.

The corporate colour for Thomson Reuters is orange, which proved a strong starting point for the project. In the midpoint of the breakout area, ceiling plates were removed, the services behind them were spray-painted black, and the bespoke orange slatted ceiling was put in place. Orange accents in the paintwork, and citrus-coloured Vitra Eames side chairs dotted around white round tables, give the space a clean, fresh and open feel. 

“This is an important space, as it bridges the divide between the existing offices and the newly occupied floor space,” says Glenn. “The directors didn’t want a gulf to form between employees from either side of the floor. Because people from different locations were also being brought under the same roof for the first time here, there was a lot of meeting and mixing of colleagues to accommodate.” Running through the breakout area is a custom-made Corian-clad island bench, which people can sit or gather at. “As it sits parallel to the Thames it is sloped slightly to suggest a wave,” Glenn explains. 

The pigeon holes as you enter the new office space are made of orange edge-lit Perspex, lending a flash of neon to the project. Commissioned from Acrylicize, specialists in acrylic art, they fit together like Tetris puzzle pieces. Beyond is a touchdown area for hot desking, where the floor then opens out into a mix of open plan and cellular office space. Meeting and project rooms, with a central core for printing facilities, run down the middle of the office, allowing as much natural light as possible to reach the desk areas.

A graphic of a string of orange dots – an offshoot of the company’s circular “kinesis” logo – is incorporated into meeting room screens as well as a bespoke panelled feature wall. Orange Kvadrat textiles with imprinted circles cover the chairs in the main meeting rooms, while round ceiling recesses above a row of black and white pendant lights are painted in a similar hue, carrying the brand through the space surely but subtly.

“Working with Thomson Reuters, we had access to Reuters’ full image library,” says Glenn. “We used this to pick out some atypical images of London, and printed these onto acoustic panels in the smaller meeting rooms.” They range from pictures of cavalry horses in a misty Hyde Park to urban shots of graffiti in London’s East End. In keeping with the city theme, the larger meeting areas are named after London bridges. “The office is automatically part of a larger portfolio of offices so we wanted to give this one a London stamp,” says Glenn.   

“Our priorities in the project were to preserve the vantage point of the river, to keep the density of desks down, allow plenty of natural light in, create space for interaction, embed good acoustics, and ensure that the fit out was environmentally sound,” says Glenn (the project received a silver SKA rating). “We also wanted to make sure that although the brand is never shouted out, it is there running through the project.” The result is a light, airy workspace, with a cool orange twist. 

newsletter 2015