Items filtered by date: May 2012
Saturday, 19 May 2012 15:40

CDW: The Fringe

Clerkenwell Design Week is less than a week away and this year promises to be bigger and better than ever.  As well as all the brands getting involved and showcasing their work we are particularly looking forward to seeing the Fringe activities come alive. Building on the collaborative ethos of CDW, this year’s festival will see architectural practices, branding and advertising companies, engineers, creative studios and workshops all getting involved, widening the appeal of CDW while reflecting EC1’s history of imaginative and forward thinking.

FRINGE

Architects’ practices including AHMM, Chetwoods, Wilkinson Eyre, Aedas, Say, Coffey Architects, BDP, David Morley, Duggan Morris, Emulsion, along with key Clerkenwell players, such as Thornton Tomasetti engineers, Marta Nowicka & Co designer, Ideo design agency, Uffindell brand consultancy, Metro photographic studio, Chelsea Fringe Garden of Disorientation, Creative Clerkenwell at Lansons, Lezley Craze jewellery gallery and Craft Central designer-makers studios, are all opening their doors to give a rare view of their daily working lives with designer/architect led guided tours giving insights into past and current projects, hands-on workshops, installations, and a number of exhibitions ranging from architectural model displays, to photography collections and student furniture competition winners’ works of art.

MAKERS IN RESIDENCE WALKING TOURS

onoffice has also teamed up with Creative Clerkenwell on the Makers in Residence programme, which will be running throughout CDW. Makers in Residence will celebrate Clerkenwell's unique community of makers and designers to give a special insight into the skills and processes behind the finished product.

Creative Clerkenwell will also be putting on walking and drawing tours led by designer and historian Jane Young of London Kills Me who has an eye for materials and a head full of good stories. Join her on a walking and drawing tour of Clerkenwell's creative past and present, specially prepared for Clerkenwell Design Week 2012.
 
The tour begins at Pennybank Chambers on St Johns Square, once artisan dwellings and a pennybank that allowed craftspeople to save up for tools, now the home of Craft Central's designer-maker studios. Then you will explore the tangled streets of Clerkenwell, hear about the tavern that served the Knights Templar, pop into designers' studios, discover the secret of the area's hidden river, and find out how Kurt Geiger's modern headquarters got its fancy facade. Paper will be provided for those who fancy knocking up a sketch, or, in true 21st century spirit you can bring your own iPad. 

Click here to book now

TALKS AND FREE COFFEE!

On Wednesday 23 May at 11 am onoffice editor James McLachlan will host a panel debate at Desso showrooms headed, “Should health, wellness and wellbeing be key considerations in the design process?” The panel will include Clare Brass, Leader, Sustain Royal College of Art and SEED Foundation, Mr Koen Van Eig, owner and director, BMA Nomique and Ludwig Cammaert, design & technical development manager at Desso.

And finally, anyone who signed up to our registration offer will receive an e-voucher for a free coffee at the super cool TwentyTwo to TwentySix. Woo!

“Rather than a polite modernist extension, we needed something with a bit more chutzpah,” says Project Orange director Christopher Ash of the practice’s new office and bar development in Sheffield. The project certainly has that in spades. Clad in aluminium, its two new office floors reign confidently over the refurbished original building, creating a dynamic new roof form and an instantly recognisable landmark on Shoreham Street, part of Sheffield’s Cultural Industries Quarter. Commercially, this bold intervention has paid off by offering office accommodation with a distinctive contemporary visual identity – the client is in the process of finalising lets for all the office units. “We’ve demonstrated that reticence isn’t necessarily the most appropriate solution,” says Ash.

Shoreham Street is Project Orange’s third architectural project in Sheffield, all for retailer and property developer Neaversons, and follows on from its multiple-award-winning housing development on
Cemetery Road. The firm’s track record in the city certainly helped smooth the way with planners for such a radical reinvention here. Although not listed, the Victorian building – a dilapidated former bus repair garage – was considered locally significant, occupying a tight corner site on the junction of Shoreham Street and Mary Street. Urgently needing repairs, it had been due to be regenerated as part of a Section 106 agreement for adjacent student housing but this failed to materialise and the building was instead forced-sold.

Initially, the plan had been to subdivide the main workshop space into office units and build new residential accommodation on top. But with current government planning policy against residential development in flood areas, it was decided to retain the double-height ground floor space for a bar and mezzanine restaurant area, and locate duplex office units in two new floors above, with all the necessary servicing to allow conversion into residential if desired in the future. The bar – which will be fitted out by the operator – retains a strong flavour of the industrial character of the original workshop, with equipment such as the ceiling-mounted crane still visible.

Project Orange felt the relatively diminutive, pitched-roof building could easily take a substantial upward extension in response to the scale of the surrounding area. “It felt quite sad and abandoned and lost,” says Ash. Taking inspiration from the pitched-roof artisan workshops throughout the city, as well as the industrial language of large retail sheds, he drew scores of designs of the new office extension before striking the balance he wanted between the original Victorian building and its “parasitic” extension. “The two have completely equal billing and each would be completely diminished without the other,” says Ash.

Clad in sinusoidal, powder-coated profiled aluminium, the extension creates a bold, sharp contrast with the host building. Instead of taking a regular form, the new is set back from the structure below and animated with a carefully choreographed balance of cut-backs and voids. This creates both external terraces for tenants to eat lunch or have a smoke break, and internally, a space with a dynamic character. On both main elevations the new “bites down” into the old to knit them together while retaining the distinctive character of the original elevation, which has been restored. “It’s very deliberate to have a little bite into the brick so that it engages, but it’s set back to give a respectful shadow line,” says Ash.

The office units measure 121.5sq m, 123.7sq m and 189sq m gross and each has its own WC, kitchenette and terrace as well as featuring very tall windows to maximise views over the city. Although designed as duplexes, there is lift access to the top level so that the units could be further sub-divided if desired. Each also has feature sculptural stairs of birch ply, with the ply used for the balustrades and soffits as well as for the main office flooring (birch ply suited the need to create instantly marketable accommodation that could age gracefully without constant repainting, but could easily take change from future tenants). A removable flooring panel around the perimeter allows for cables and servicing to be neatly hidden and easily accessed.

Native Sheffielder Ash says the development, with its generous ceiling heights, city views, external roof space and distinctive appearance, is designed to appeal to small creative businesses that might otherwise have relocated out of the city. “We’re creating a new dynamic working environment within Sheffield … If you want to retain graduates you need spaces that chime with people.”

The highly economical development was completed for £1.2m. A new, lightweight steel structure was introduced to brace the front of the building, but very little was removed from site – timber decking from the workshop was utilised as boarding to line the inside of the walls in the bar area on either side of the brick piers.

Project Orange is perhaps better known for its leisure and residential work (“we’re not afraid of specifying curtains”) but has more recently turned its hand to workplace design, with the design of its own studio last year and currently the Oxford premises for 60-strong investment company Oxford Asset Management. The practice regard their lack of commercial office track record as a positive, says Ash: “We’re well-placed to conceive of an office environment as something other than desking and lux-levels.”

Certainly the Shoreham Street development offers an alternative to run-of-the-mill office accommodation. As a new landmark on the inner ring road, it helps signal the regeneration of the city away from its traditional associations with the manufacturing industry. Not only is it a symbolic reference to the past, says Ash, but it is a pointer to the future aspirations of the city too.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012 12:28

The industrious Emmanuel Gallina

French designer Emmanuel Gallina adopted Italy as his second home 15 years ago; opportunity and acclaim followed, along with a portfolio of work that nods to the past, but is fit for the future

“Flying is a kind of dream and the plane is a strong industrial object. I think it would be very exciting,” says Emmanuel Gallina when asked what his fantasy design commission might entail. “Concorde was my favourite machine.”

Gallina’s enthusiasm for this virtual project leaves you with the unyielding impression that aviation is the Holy Grail for industrial designers. Inspired by the romance of flight, but more importantly the need to understand the technology underpinning it, his choice is very revealing about the nature of his field. “For me, it has to be something practical; art on its own is not my way.”

But we are racing ahead of ourselves. Compared to the industry’s elder statesman, the Milan-based French designer is a relative newbie, only setting up in business for himself five years ago.

Gallina has fine pedigree though, serving a seven-year “apprenticeship” under the measured eye of Antonio Citterio. During this time he became a true believer in what he refers to as the Italian’s 360-degree vision. “I learned everything from Citterio: how to communicate the product, how to understand the market and the identity of your client. A good product with bad communication will fail,” he says, as if reciting a mantra.

Gallina inhabits a small office just off lively Corso Garibaldi.

It’s an unfussy white space, devoid of clutter, with an extensive library encompassing one wall.

As we speak he thumbs though his sketchbook, which reveals inky traces of tables and lamps. The designer confesses that many of these designs never made it past the doodling stage, falling foul of his own strict standards.

“If I am not completely convinced by something I will not do it,” he says. Still, Gallina’s portfolio, while not bursting at the seams, is nevertheless long and varied, proof that he is not in a state of permanent scepticism. In fact, he is willing to have a stab at pretty much anything. Kitchens, the workplace, outdoor furniture and even carpets figure in Gallina’s milieu.

At Milan this year, the designer has turned his attention to the home office, launching a collection called Tapparelle for Colé, a very young Italian firm.

According to Gallina, it was the company’s interest in high-quality craftsmanship that led to the collaboration. Tapparelle is the Italian word for a rolling shutter, and as the name would suggest the collection takes its cues from classic English bureaus.

“I wanted to do an intimate product with historical references,” he says. “When I was doing the sketches I was thinking of a writer, alone in his office; you need a warm atmosphere to be very relaxed in order to work.”

Made from oak, the beautifully balanced desk has a nostalgic air about it, despite it being compatible with 21st-century electronics. Tapparelle seems apposite for a moment in time when many are seeking reassurance and familiarity. Gallina agrees: “No one wants cold futurist designs; they want things that make them feel good.” As if to hammer home the point, company and designer are negotiating with time-honoured English institution Farrow & Ball for a special painted edition.

“In France we have really good designers – Starck, Matali Crasset, the Bouroullecs – but we don’t have companies on the same level”

Originally from Bordeaux, Gallina has lived in Milan for 15 years. Well turned-out with a neatly clipped goatee, he could pass for a native but for the strong French accent that colours his fluent Italian.

Like many budding designers, Gallina was seduced by the city’s charms on a visit to the annual furniture fair when he was a student and eventually returned to study at Politecnico di Milano (where he now teaches) under the tuition of Alberto Meda. It marked something of a homecoming for the then-24 year old.

His family originates from near Venice, but his grandfather fled to France during Mussolini’s rise to power and, eager to assimilate with his adopted country, rarely spoke Italian. Though the connection to Italy was severed for a generation, Gallina has clearly enjoyed resurrecting family ties.

The designer’s relaxed manner is a good fit for a city that likes to appear more refined than its hectic southern cousins, and since arriving the Frenchman has carved out an enviable niche.

His office and apartment are within spitting distance of each another on the outskirts of the city’s Brera district, home to a myriad of furniture showrooms and potential clients.

“The Italian way of living is really very nice,” he says. “You really live outside, you can have an apertivo …but it is very hard to become a big-name designer here. The design picture in Italy is very strong, and they are the leaders.”

Regardless, Gallina says he has built up a large network of contacts in the industry. Right on cue he pauses to take a call from the Politecnico di Milano’s president. “They like to use me as the link between companies and the students,” he explains.

Although Gallina divides his time equally between France and Italy, he is undoubtedly better known in his adopted country. The designer laughs as he recounts passing through the French design exhibition at this year’s Milan fair as if clad in an invisibility cloak.

In Italy, his reputation is firmly established thanks to an award-winning table, Concorde (2009), for super-brand Poliform (the name, if anything, is a bit more proof that he’s in to aeronautics).

Falling back on the lessons learned under Citterio, Gallina pitched a simple idea to company head Aldo Spinelli: “I thought Poliform had lost the richness of artisan woodworking. You have to respect the materials you are working with. I explained my vision to Mr Spinelli and we worked on a collection where the wood pieces have real sensibility. It was a good intuition at a good moment.”

Concorde has two incarnations, a writing desk and a marble-topped dining table. Gallina says he likes to use marble in surprising ways, and this table has a razor-thin contour to make the material appear lighter than it is.

With Birdy, a lighting series for Forestier launched at this year’s Maison et Objet, Gallina constructed the base from marble, using what he sees as the stone’s history (“humanity has used it since the beginning of time”) to counterbalance the ultra-modern LED technology. Birdy has four variations but the components are the same: a thin white metal tube and stone base.

It owes a little to Castiglioni’s space-age Arco lamp, a debt that Gallina embraces. “It is a modern light with this base, which is very heavy with the past.” Indeed, there is a familiar undercurrent to much of Gallina’s work, a simplicity that follows a lineage begun by Jean-Michel Frank and continued by Jean Prouvé.

“I learned everything from Citterio: how to communicate the product, how to understand the market” 

For Gallina, working in Milan carries with it certain kudos, affording him a great deal more leverage with French companies compared to Italian brands. This proved to be the case with Nouvelle Vague (2011), a workplace system designed for Clen, a French office furniture company based in the Loire Valley. Clen had a conservative outlook, which the designer shook up.

Gallina plotted out a modular office system from sheet steel, which can be as stripped down or as complex as required. For Clen it marked a radical departure. “I really like the [New Wave] film period,” Gallina grins. “When Godard and Truffaut were making movies in the 1950s it was a symbol of changing roles. It was the same with Clen, which was a historical company; when I arrived I really changed everything.”

Nouvelle Vague is inspired by craftsmen’s workbenches, with paper trays and printer shelves replacing vices and tool racks.

But, in keeping with Gallina’s ethos, the final goal was to create a sense of wellbeing in the workplace. “You don’t have any sharp details, everything is round. The screens are made with fabric and soft colours and we used wood on the tabletops. It is not aggressive.”

The designer also cooked up a series of eccentric-looking acoustic room dividers, Tamaris, which resemble overgrown leaves. “It is a fake forest but you can feel the energy of the tree, I think. It puts you in an organic universe.”

On this occasion Gallina was working with a company willing to step outside of its comfort zone, but this remains the exception rather than the rule.

He says that France’s design talent outstrips the quality of its brands: “The puzzle in France is that we have really good designers with strong visions – Starck, Matali Crasset, the Bouroullecs – but we don’t have companies on the same level,” he says. “In Italy there 
are thousands of companies and they are really aggressive at exporting themselves.”

Recently, however, there seems to have been a greater effort to look beyond France’s own borders. There was a major Gallic presence at 100% Design last year, which received a puzzled response.

In Milan this year, the French Chamber of Commerce staged an exhibition of homegrown talent in Zona Tortona.

While Gallina broadly welcomes his government’s willingness to inject cash into shows like these, there is a part of him that would like to see his compadres sell themselves harder. “Our companies are discovering what design and innovation can give to them, but it is a very slow process for them. I hope in the future they can do it by themselves.” 

You sense that Gallina is in a pretty good place at the moment, but change could be just around the corner, prompted by the birth of his son, Arturo. The designer is pondering moving his family back to his hometown, away from the pollution and noise of Italy’s second city. The horns of this dilemma are not uncomfortably sharp though. After all, when the choice facing you is between the home of vin rouge or the home of design you can be sure you are doing something right.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012 11:44

Inferno's masonic digs

Advertising agency Inferno’s offices sit opposite Freemasons’ Hall – the art deco HQ of the United Grand Lodge of England. Housing mysterious paraphernalia and rituals, this imposing structure makes a strange and sombre neighbour for noisy Covent Garden. The Freemasons are Inferno’s landlord, the agency being the first commercial tenant of another 1920s building, formerly the Royal Masonic Trust for Girls and Boys. These words are carved into the facade of a building whose largely Grade II-listed interior inspired architects Bluebottle and fit out company The Interiors Group.

Breaking away from the stereotype of the zany advertising agency, Inferno’s new home for its 120 staff has a restrained, grand look. Wood panelling, ornate ceilings, copper-leaded windows, reeded glass screens and stone staircases contrast with contemporary feature furniture including modern white desks and Eames DSR stacking chairs.

The Freemasons refurbished the building in 2009 in preparation for renting it out. They did a decent job, fitting it out with a heavy-duty glass elevator and deco-style light fittings that Bluebottle retained for Inferno’s scheme. Take the lift or ascend one flight of stone stairs and you enter Inferno’s first-floor reception through sturdy wooden doors. The dramatic reception desk is formed from a huge light box, creating a glowing contemporary counterpoint to the heavy, neoclassical mahogany screening that surrounds it. The partition screens are listed and could barely be interfered with, but Inferno did move one section to behind the reception desk, masking a storage area. A high ceiling features intricate plasterwork, which Bluebottle picked out in white against grey. Much of the flooring, meanwhile, is new: worn-out block wood has been replaced with a black-stained oak herringbone floor that sits well with the period of the building.

The reeded glass windows in the doors that lead to so many of the first and second floor spaces are emblazoned with copperplate lettering. “The wood screening and reeded glass reminded us of a 1940s New York police station, so we hand-painted names on the doors to reference that,” says David Bishop of Bluebottle. The advertising agency ran an internal competition to come up with a theme for the names. The winning concept named the rooms after queens, since the building is located on Great Queen Street. Not all of the chosen queens are of the traditional genre, however – one being Latifah, and another Elton John.

Victoria and Boudica are the two grandest rooms in the building, featuring large fireplaces and wood panelling. A large white table resides in each boardroom, lit by enormous hemispherical black and copper-coloured pendant lights. In the smaller of the two, a sculpture of an elephant head (owned previously by the agency but looking very at home here) presides over affairs, while stuffed owls and foxes stare glassily out from cabinets in the larger room.

Back through reception, the visitor swings right to enter the lounge area. Here the wooden architraving continues, punctuated by dark grey walls (grey is part of Inferno’s brand palette). “We used gold and silver light fittings and upholstery to add richness to the scheme without resorting to splashes of colour,” says Bishop. “This space could have ended up looking like a private members’ club, which we avoided by achieving subtle shifts in materiality and tone. If we had had any pattern on the upholstery it instantly would have started to take on an eclectic look, which was what we wanted to avoid.” Instead, slate-topped tables melt tonally with subtle grey-suede period armchairs and bespoke cuboid furniture. “The brief really helped us because they didn’t want anything too showy,” says Bishop. “The palette is yellow, black, grey and two buff colours, which meant that the wood wasn’t too much of a challenge.” The agency’s previous brand colours of pink and white would have been an ill fit for this interior.

Bright mustard yellow accents are dotted throughout, most strikingly in the baize of the agency’s obligatory pool table, in the bar area. According to Paul Weaver, contracts director at The Interiors Group, “This is one of the coolest bar areas that we have ever done.” Smoked-glass mirrors behind the slate counters add a sense of space and light to the bar area, which Inferno’s Sonia Torosyan-Compton says is “incredibly popular with both the staff and our clients.”

Overall Bishop is pleased with the results, but he regrets the lack of some proposed hand-crafted wall graphics, “rationalised” out due to budget constraints. “We wanted to do a series of dots and lines in a different texture – something like a book cover foil – which would have looked really nice and added a further craft element to the scheme.”

The building is split level, giving rise to a quirky wayfinding solution that brings to mind Being John Malkovich in the naming of mezzanine floors ‘“1½” and “2 ½”.The main levels are marked with large 3D black and yellow acrylic numerals, which lean casually against the stairwell walls. Rising through the functional white work spaces (“white acts as a blank canvas for the creative work”, explains Bishop), you emerge into a roof space housing the kitchen and dining area, with walls painted with blackboard paint for the chalk doodles of the agency’s creatives. There is even a terrace with panoramic views over central London – a rare treat for a West End office space. “There is a sense of pride in the new offices, which are just right for us at the moment,” says Torosyan-Compton. “We have grown up and found our stride and the office reflects that.” Inferno’s interior finds a balance between the serious and the fun. It is the result of a design concept sensitively inspired by the building’s striking period features, but never over-awed by them.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012 00:00

Florida ad agency's laid back HQ

On the face of it, the Florida HQ of cutting-edge ad agency BGT Partners, whose services include email and mobile marketing and social media campaigns, is in a duff location – a sort of limbo midway between Miami and Fort Lauderdale. A more usual habitat for an ad agency is “a downtown, urban setting”, as Eric Holland, of Miami-based architects practice ADD Inc, who designed BGT’s offices, points out. But there is a logic to its location. “It was a strategic decision to help recruit the most talented employees from both cities, and minimise their commuting times,” he explains.

Holland adds that, to compensate for the location, BGT’s offices, on the first floor of a new mixed-use building (with shops and restaurants on the ground floor), would need to make a major splash design-wise, not least because “BGT wanted a space that would help retain current employees – and attract new talent.” He stresses that the firm wanted an office that was “especially unusual and cool”.

The interior, which was completed in July 2011, needed to reflect key aspects of BGT’s culture: that staff are encouraged to socialise and work very collaboratively; and that BGT doesn’t see itself as a conformist corporation but as informal and laid back. Another consideration is that the company anticipates growing considerably so the design of the spacious, 2,600sq m office needed to be flexible. When it moved to its new office, BGT had 120 employees yet the space can potentially accommodate 220.

Fortunately, says Holland, ADD Inc met with no resistance from BGT when it proposed an ultra-contemporary design. Not that ADD Inc did so autocratically: in fact, it prides itself on collaborating extensively with its clients, and conducted a huge amount of research into BGT’s needs. “I spent hours meeting all department heads to understand how their teams worked,” he says.

Moreover, BGT’s founder had studied architecture before going into advertising, which worked in ADD Inc’s favour. “It helped us speak the same language and facilitated useful dialogues about the most important points of discussion,” says Holland.

BGT was very clear about the aesthetic it was after, says Holland: “They wanted the feel of an old rustic, industrial loft.” In theory, this was inauspicious. With “rustic” and “industrial loft” being contradictory notions, a gruesome mishmash of styles might have ensued. However, the interiors’ style ended up skewed towards an urban aesthetic. The palette of materials used includes gleaming polished concrete floors and unapologetically informal, hoarding-sized plywood sheets used to clad walls and columns.

The interiors are less successful when they stray from this predominantly industrial palette though: a library with red chairs and a zebra-pattern rug – a stab at playful kitsch, perhaps, but a failed one if that’s the case – looks like a sterile, aspirational domestic interior. The office layout was crucial to conveying BGT’s ethos. To break up the monotony of the space’s “very large, long” floor plate, ADD Inc vetoed dully linear corridors and sharp right angles. “The lack of right angles underscores the firm’s creative spirit, its antipathy to corporate conformity,” explains Holland.

What’s more, the office has open-plan, shared workstations that help accord with BGT’s culture of collaboration and informality. To prepare for the expected growth of BGT’s staff, the workstations, arranged in long rows, are divided by small panels that can be moved slightly, making the work areas a bit smaller to allow for additional employees. And each station has its own small mobile storage unit (large ones are unnecessary since the office is virtually paperless). “Any technology and electrical equipment is built in for future staff, too. All they need do is plug in and go,” says Holland. “We also left ample room between each row of workstations to give plenty of breathing space and ensure that, even when filled to capacity, the place won’t feel like a call centre.”

The office also has some comparatively discreet rooms, however. In another area are some private offices and meeting rooms but these are fronted with glass, both to let in light and foster the sense of transparency and openness that BGT strongly promotes. “The meeting rooms have floor-to-ceiling whiteboards for brainstorming,” says Holland. “Because the rooms are glass-fronted, staff members can see what discussions are taking place there as they walk by.” This porosity is also designed to allow visitors to witness the creative hubbub at BGT at closer quarters.This sense of transparency appears to apply vertically, too. Look up at the ceiling and you see its industrial innards – an intricate web of ductwork and cabling – meaning that the office’s industrial-chic aesthetic is all-enveloping.

Given this abundance of industrial materials, the colours here are mostly neutral. According to Holland, there’s another reason for the muted scheme: “The staff create a lot of imaging in the office, so these materials serve as a useful, neutral backdrop for it.” But some hits of colour were used, including a blue that references BGT’s logo. Cheesy? Not really, since a variety of tones of blue have been used and none exactly match that of the logo. Some carpet tiles (installed for acoustic reasons) feature large blue and yellow squares, which, says Holland, “mimic large-scale pixels and deliberately play on BGT’s computer-orientated culture”. At the end of the workstations are Charles and Ray Eames rocking chairs in paintbox-bright shades; it’s hard to imagine a more laid-back-looking chair in an office context.

A large breakout area is even more conducive to relaxation. A kind of kidult kindergarten – or should that be a kidultgarten? – it’s equipped with a piano, drum kit, Lego bricks and plenty of comfy seating for those who just want to chat. “BGT is extremely staff-conscious and creates many activities for the staff from musical jam sessions to what it calls ‘ice-cream socials’,” says Holland. BGT’s ultimate aim with this interior appears to be to create the illusion that the staff aren’t actually at work. “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” could almost be its mission statement – save that it would surely consider that term unpleasantly corporate.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012 00:00

Gold star fit-out by Robert Majkut

The post-boom backlash against bankers means we are unlikely to see any financial institutes shouting about their chic new interior design scheme for some time yet. Which is why it can sometimes pay dividends to look to countries with less austere economic climates to find projects that offer up a bit more glitz. But even in an economy that is faring better than our own, striking the right measure between promoting prestige and demonstrating discretion is essential. Robert Majkut Design studio has just completed the interior fit out of the private banking arm of PKO Bank Polski, the biggest Polish high-street bank.

“The bank was in the process of refreshing its identity,” designer Robert Majkut explains. “It needed a high-quality interior, to show the new face of the bank to its VIP client base.” The new corporate identity included a modernised logo for everyday high-street branches, with a version for the private banking sector in black, white and gold. “This colour trio provided the starting point and the palette for the project,” says Majkut.

The scheme has been applied to full dramatic effect; while one of the meeting rooms is entirely black, in other meeting rooms walls are painted floor-to-ceiling gold. “It is radical to have a room totally black, and it was hard to explain [to the client] at the outset,” Majkut explains, “but it works well; it’s very elegant.

“After the black reception hall and corridor, the gold symbolises getting to the heart, or the essence, of the project. As well as balancing the strong graphic contrast between the black and the white, and adding some warmth, gold gives reference to values such as prestige, stability and prosperity.”

The branch of the bank is clearly divided into two functional areas – a customer-facing service area and a back office area. The customer space opens with a reception room, which connects with a customer lounge and waiting area. This leads to a conference room, and further along the corridor, to carefully furnished meeting rooms and the director’s office. The back office is opened out with the use of glass walls and light colours, and whereas the customer service area is dominated by black and gold, the office space is predominantly white.

“The selection of finishing materials was governed by the desire to create a visibly high-calibre interior,” says Majkut. “It was very satisfying to work with quality materials. The wallpapers and wall coverings are decorative and decadent, and there is real gold used in the project – but there’s also a balance to be struck for the client, between luxury and elegance and a high-quality finish, and judgement and reserve. Luxury with a big ‘L’ doesn’t work well in a bank.”

There was another element of the corporate identity, in addition to the colours in the logo that Majkut wanted to utilise for the interior; a grid-like graphic made of a succession of fine waves.

“We incorporated the graphic spatially, by projecting it onto the three-dimensional interior of the reception area, using special software,” Majkut explains. “We used the technique to create the illusion that the grid lines all converge in one abstract point.” The grid is repeated in a modified form on floors and on ceilings, and reoccurs on upholstery and in wall coverings. It’s also sandblasted subtly onto glass walls. A feature wall in the reception appears to have the motif impressed onto it, leaving a grid-like relief of gold diamonds.

“The effect of using this motif throughout is to create a balance between aesthetics and mathematical order,” says Majkut. “It is a kind of metaphorical code that presents the character of the institution and its services, being a mix of scientific analysis and the human element of experience, knowledge, and decision making. When you think about a bank, it is both a traditional institution and an innovative one.”

The project is the third that Robert Majkut Design has completed in the private banking sector; it has previously worked on the interiors for Expander, a network of financial advisors in Poland, and a private banking network, Noble Bank. It has also fitted out high street spaces for well-known brands such as Orange and ING, and has recently been creating interiors for the luxury goods sector, working with fashion and watch brands, which may have helped inform the exclusive feel behind the gold and black luxury of PKO Bank Polski’s private division. More tellingly, it also works for foreign clients in China and in Russia – markets that are equally unafraid of the Midas touch.