The Sleep Event is coming up in November, with 150 international companies already booked in to exhibit including first timers Kaldewei UK, Lasvit and Thomas Interiors. Where the show comes alive is in the Sleep Hotel, an installation where each year a range of interior designers are asked to design a 5* luxury hotel room within the confines of a 23sqm space. This year’s rooms are designed by Bisset Adams together with 8build, Nous Design with Overbury, Scott Brownrigg with Willmott Dixon Interiors and Yasmin Mahmoudieh.
Alongside the show there is also the European Hotel Design Conference, with presentations, panel discussions and debates for the hotel design, development and investment industries. This year’s programme features speakers including interior designer Tara Bernerd, Richard Seymour, co-founder of Seymour Powell, Michael Gray, general manager/area director UK and Ireland at Hyatt, Gregori Chikaher, director, global hotels and leisure business leader at Arup.
This year also marks the 15th year of the European Hotel Design Awards, taking place on Tuesday 20 November.
Sleep is the only trade exhibition in Europe to focus entirely on hotel design, development and architecture, featuring suppliers in the bathroom, fabrics, furniture, flooring and lighting industries. It takes place at the Business Design Centre, Islington, London from 21-22 November.
onoffice readers can get special ticket packages by using the following codes:
One day conference pass plus dinner at the European Hotel Design Awards = £500 + VAT (£600) CODE: 1DEHDA
Two day conference pass plus dinner at the European Hotel Design Awards = £600 + VAT (£720) CODE: 2DEHDA
“We are calling it ‘organic engineering’,” says Jonathan Prestwich, gesturing to a prototype on a shelf above us. “All the office chairs we have worked on before were based on old-fashioned engineering, very Bauhaus. If you look at this there is none of that.” He is right. The chair we are examining is free from the normal levers, buttons and knobs. Although some way removed from a futuristic blob, there is nevertheless an agrestal feel to the trio of seat supports sprouting plant-like from an elegant stem.
Prestwich is an outdoorsy kind of man and has long been interested in the relationship between nature and technology, which he sees as the key to achieving a more fluid, intuitive design. “In nature, every surface has an influence, every material has an influence. The shell of the chair is like a second skin and as you move, it should adapt with your body. As you lean in to it, it creates its form, and either has less or more resistance. It’s intuitive and natural, and that makes it extremely hard to calculate.”
The designer is clearly itching to explain the internal workings, but for commercial reasons it will remain a secret until the chair’s launch at NeoCon next year. Not that Prestwich is in a rush. The project, for US manufacturer Davis, has been ticking along since the designer went into business for himself seven years ago. If patience is a virtue, then the laid-back Teessider is a saint.
Today, the studio is busy preparing for the London Design Festival where it will unveil four new products. The show may lie just around the corner, but the atmosphere here is studied rather than frantic. Two assistants work quietly at laptops, while tacked to the pristine white walls around us are renders and sketches of products. The office is divided into two halves, theoretical and practical, with test models and wooden mock-ups collected in an adjoining room.
Prestwich lives in Blackheath with his wife Anne and a wilful dachshund called Frankie. His studio is a short hike toward the Thames in Woolwich, a area yet to feel the sanitising hand of regeneration.
The three-strong team (two interns and the man himself) inhabit a small office and workshop annexed to OPM Furniture’s HQ.
The relationship is mutually beneficial – Prestwich designed the company’s successful meeting table, Engage, last spotted in property developer Lend Lease’s new offices (onoffice 66). With a client as his neighbour, Prestwich need never go far to find a guinea pig on which to test a new design, and anything that is not up to scratch receives short thrift from OPM’s factory floor.
In return, the company has instant access to its key designer.
With the Lend Lease project, Prestwich found himself in an enviable position, sitting in on meetings between the client, architect and OPM.
The fallout from these powwows led him to design the Exchange table, set to launch at LDF. “They [Lend Lease] loved Engage, but they needed something for the staff behind the scenes, which we didn’t have.”
The table is a smaller version of Exchange and features a hobbit-sized door built into its pedestal so that IT can easily get to the wiring. Concealing the cable management trough on the desktop is a cleverly designed magnetic panel, Face-to-Face, that flips open from either side.
Moreover, if it really becomes a pain the techies can whip it out altogether and fiddle to their hearts’ content. Prestwich is a something of a tinkerer himself, and delights in showing off the mechanism. Those who saw the designer’s fascinating Pecha Kucha on Victorian inventions at the inaugural Clerkenwell Design Week would instantly recognise the origins of this unassuming piece of problem solving.
“I love the idea of the eccentric Englishman in his shed knocking up something really creative,” he explains. “I always pottered in my dad’s workshop and the way to impress your friends was to make something better. Then, of course, you play it down.”
This modesty has carried into his adult life but fortunately, Prestwich is nowhere near as reserved as his design language. Easygoing and relaxed, he believes the UK still has tremendous creative energy, albeit of a discerning kind. “We try to use different materials and similar forms, and get to you in a deeper way, rather than make wild statement pieces that you want to put in another room after two weeks.”
Undeniably commercially astute, the designer is unwilling to churn out “me too” products just to make a few quid, and the studio is not as prolific as others are.
Of course, not every designer has the luxury of picking clients, but Prestwich has travelled a diverse path to arrive in this position.
He graduated in product design from the University of Teesside in the bleak recession-era Britain of the mid 1990s. Jobs were hard to come by so Prestwich high-tailed it to Boston, Massachusetts, landing a job at a design consultancy. There he remained for two years, rubbing shoulders with intelligentsia from MIT and Harvard, well, on public transport at least.
“It was my first taste of a metropolitan city. I remember people from MIT would get on the tube with computer screens on their glasses. People didn’t do that in Middlesbrough.” With his visa expiring and unsure what to do next, a friend introduced Prestwich to German designer Burkhard Vogtherr, who was based in France. The impressionable young man was completely blown away by the charismatic veteran and Prestwich moved to Alsace in 1997 to work for him.
“He came from an era when designers were gods and he was the coolest, craziest man I had ever met,” says Prestwich. “He used to play classical music very loud in the studio and use the notes to describe how he wanted a certain line on the chair. Basically, I wanted to be him.” Although Vogtherr was an eccentric boss, his skill was manifest.
The German was an expert at developing simple concepts into desirable furniture, had worked with giants like Arflex and Cappellini since the 1970s: “He wasn’t just ‘here’s a sketch and I’m off,’ he had really learned the craft.”
A master and apprentice relationship bloomed over the next six years, during which time Prestwich picked up the language (mainly to avoid being left out of the bar-room banter on a night out) and met his future wife.
Meanwhile, in the studio, Vogtherr’s non-hierarchical attitude encouraged the young pretender to suggest product ideas. Following a few false starts, mercilessly shot down by the German, he scored a bull’s-eye with Webb Lounge, developed for Davis. It was a turning point for Prestwich, not to mention a shrewd move by Vogtherr, who retained his charge for another two years (“It was always the plan to come back to England, but I always felt like I was progressing”).
Eventually he did return to the motherland and, following a brief and enjoyable stint at BarberOsgerby, Prestwich decided to go it alone.
That was not the end of the Vogtherr connection. The pair reunited to create Sketch for Arco in 2010 (“an absolute pleasure”) and continue to collaborate.
One suspects a large chunk of Prestwich’s success is his ability to build and maintain relationships. He rarely has a bad word to say about anyone and lends his talents to a small but respected collection of companies. The latest to come on board is Allermuir, for which Prestwich designed a sensual, curvaceous chair, Mayze. Supremely comfortable, Mayze’s generous proportions impressed the corpulent US market at this year’s NeoCon and also marked the end of the designer’s intense affair with mesh-back chairs. For a while Prestwich appeared mildly obsessed with the material, even applying it to a stacking chair for Arco, Cafe (“I think that’s only time it’s been done”). He scooped an iF award for Cafe, but sheepishly admits his passion for all things net-like was becoming a little embarrassing. “I realised it was time to move on,” he smiles.
Behind the success of Cafe and Mayze lies a fervent dedication to the process. The studio spent hundreds of man-hours constructing rigs to test the fabric tension and adjust the sharpness of the curves. “When you are a student you do sketches and make the model and that is your design. In reality, that is just the beginning.”
For Prestwich, the process is paramount to achieving an enticing, functional form. The designer explains that when the studio is on song this happens intuitively, but if not, the team breaks objects down into triangles: “We are always looking for those perfect logical geometries, but we are not specifically searching for that shape. It keeps cropping up. Maybe we allow it to happen, but we trust it.”
In Prestwich’s early work, such as the Envelop chair for DecodeLondon, triangles were everywhere.
The Oe chair marked a shift toward less angular shapes, while Sketch steered the studio into more organic waters. If one looks closely, however, Pythagoras still wields a subtle influence, for example on the legs of Connect – a beautifully proportioned meeting table for long-time client Modus that converts easily into bench desking thanks to adjustable beams underneath. Connect is one of two pieces for Modus launching at LDF. The other is Hold, a ghostly white canteen chair supported by reed-thin legs and with a snug, gently curving plywood back that tapers to create elbow rests so you can type.
“It is not just a formal exercise like a lot of plywood chairs, where you are trying to do a Fritz Hansen Series 7. We wanted to give it a lot of function,” says Prestwich.
Certainly, there are not many formal exercises in Prestwich’s portfolio, but one wonders if his work might benefit from more variety or the odd whimsical moment. On cue, the designer hands me an elongated sock, which turns out to be a cable management system inspired by guerilla knitting. “It’s a very simple thing. You put the sock on a table leg and pull the plug up through it. It tidies up all the gubbins.” Developed for Arco, it’s proof that practical things can still be fun.
Prestwich is keenly aware of how design can influence behaviour and the responsibility that brings with it. “A lot of people say, ‘Why do we need another chair?’ But the way we behave, work and act can be very different to, say, ten years ago. So you have to look at how design supports that behaviour,” he says. “There are a million opportunities to create something new for the market because you could not have made the right chair for today, yesterday. This is what designers should be doing.”
Back in 2008, recession hit the historic city of Dijon right where it hurts – its mustard industry. A factory for two major brands (Amora and Maille), originally set up on the same site in 1911, was closed by owners Unilever in order to consolidate production elsewhere in France, leaving a hole in the province’s proud heritage. The building, a fairly generic industrial white block completed in 2004, was left empty and in need of a new life, if anything to detract from the shell that stood as a gravestone to its lost identity.
Just over 100 years since it was first built upon, the site has now become home to a new kind of factory – a call centre. But not just any call centre. Noticing that the majority of its employees are young people in career transition, French company TeleTech bought the building with the intention of creating a part-office-part-open-studio that would cater for both sides of their staff’s personalities.
“The owner wanted to encourage staff to stay there between shifts and use the space creatively to study or start their own businesses,” explains Jan Knikker, head of business development for MVRDV, the architects tasked with the building’s regeneration. “So the interior couldn’t have too much identity, as it had to host a range of uses and act as a canvas for future activities.”
TeleTech found the architects through instigating a competition between French cities to provide a location for their new project, and MVRDV pitched for the city’s tender. By working with the architect of the original 2004 building, the team was able to give the most precise plans and the most cost-effective quote. Given the city’s involvement, money was a deciding factor in MVRDV winning the project. “We got commissioned for a public fee, ie hardly any money! So we couldn’t do any major work,” says Knikker. “But we wanted to do it because it’s very simple to transform a beautiful old building with lots of money, but it’s a different thing altogether to transform an extremely ugly building with a low budget. Basically it’s a big experiment. We wanted to show what we could do.”
The bulk of the project’s costs went towards extending the existing facade, installing a huge window to bring in more natural light, and turning the parking garage into more office space. After that, there was little left in the pot for the fit out, and it meant that the architects had to get extra creative with the money they did have. Outside the dull facade was jazzed up with a decoration of QR codes, which, when scanned, led to TeleTech’s website. “This was also to show the city that something new was happening,” says Knikker. Inside, a large pre-fab wooden platform, complete with mezzanine floor, staircase and private meeting room, breaks up the expanse of white space without the need for expensive internal architectural work. In the canteen, the practice took a no-holds-barred approach to colour. Well, one colour: orange. “We love working with colour, but in a work environment it can be distracting,” says Knikker. “Here, it is a cheap way to camouflage an ugly room. Plus, it’s uplifting and provides a change of mood to the other more tranquil surroundings.”
At the moment, tranquil seems like something of an understatement – sparse is more fitting – but apparently this is because the project is still getting started. At full capacity the office/studio will accommodate 600 staff, all part time, with desk space and breakout areas for any employee to spontaneously inhabit. They can sit down and log in from any point, be it picnic bench, beanbag or good old desk chair, and this in itself is a design breakthrough, according to Knikker. “It might not be our most outspoken project, but for this type of business and this location it is quite radical. In France, they don’t really have open plan spaces, they have more cubicles.” TeleTech’s director, who was fascinated to find out his daughter and her friends preferred to work sitting on a bed or sofa with a laptop, had the idea to use the beanbags. Much of the other furniture, again due to budget constraints, was sourced at garage sales.
Straying from the norm, in this case swapping a standard-issue desk cubicle for more comfortable and casual work areas, has gone a step towards tailoring this environment to a younger workforce. It also fits the changeable nature of the work. During busy periods – usually short bursts in the morning, afternoon and early evening – the call centre workforce will be at full throttle. In between shifts, the office needs to become a different landscape, open to multiple uses. There is an education centre, a gallery and a so-called projects incubator – all open spaces ready and waiting to be personalised. “What they didn’t want was the Google offices; it had to be fairly neutral,” says Knikker. “The work is creative and active, and the employees have to improvise and take on different characters. This space is like that. It looks austere at the moment, but it will be interesting to see what it will become in four years’ time.”
Knikker refers to the Dutch pavilions the 2010 and 2012 Architecture Biennale in Venice, whose ongoing theme of bringing new life to desolate structures fits with this project. With so many empty buildings in Europe, it shows how some could be rejuvenated in a tough economic era. Through careful consideration of what can be reused, rejigged and spruced up, MVRDV has revived this space and shown what can be done when a practice thinks laterally with a stringent budget.
The more offices that Google unveils, the more layers it seems to want to add to its boundless brand identity, but one thing’s for sure – the overarching theme is unconventionality. It all started with slides, fireman’s poles and igloo meeting pods in its San Francisco office, a message to the world that this young forward-thinking company makes working fun. In its London Victoria office (onoffice 50) a rather more corporate slick white space, bedecked with a brand-heavy primary colour scheme, acted as a 3D representation of the website. Then came its engineering HQ, a nod to NASA complete with space-age aesthetics and a feeling that this was the epicentre of 21st-century communication.
So what is it this time? Well, there’s allotments, quilted walls and glittery Union Jacks, adding up to a wacky but somehow practical cocktail that Lee Penson, founder of the practice that designed the project, says had to be a departure from previous iterations. “Google wanted to be seen as a more mature company, so the new HQ had to be less gimmicky and less branded,” says Penson. “They also wanted it to be very homely, comfortable and British. For us, it had to follow our ethos that offices should be distinctly non-office. Its about the human being, what they need and want from their workplace.”
In order to find out what the Googlers wanted from their new home, Penson architects held user-group discussions and then set up a ballot system at the Victoria office for staff to vote on their desired features. With so many ideas to include, and Penson’s keenness to stay away from just one visual theme, the result is a highly diverse interior with workplace strategy at its core. Impressively, there are 1,250 individual desks and 1,250 seats across the meeting and collaboration spaces. “The project is great fun and all that, but it’s more about the commercial side and how it works for Google as a business,” says Penson. “There are hundreds of nooks and crannies and every square inch is used for something. It is functional and usable; it just works well.”
With breakout space for every employee at any one time, staff can take their pick. There’s Google Green, where eclectic groups of furniture and grass-like carpet create an ad hoc, multifunctional space with a relaxed indoor/outdoor atmosphere. This leads out to Google Park, a large outside space complete with picnic tables, grass areas and stunning views over London. It also features the Secret Gardens – small meeting pods sectioned off by hedges – and the allotments, which employees can sign up for and use to grow whatever they like. Apparently this is so popular there is already a waiting list, not to mention several tomato plants. For Penson, this links back to the human aspect, breaking the boundaries of what can be done at work. “It’s such a simple idea but it underlines how good it is to have something so human at work. You hear all day long about people doing fantastic breakout spaces, but there’s so much more that can be done.”
Back inside, there’s a cafe and the office’s central restaurant, Market Square, plus the Town Hall, a 200-capacity venue for video presentations. There’s also the Lala Library, a much cleaner, more contemporary environment with desk spaces and an enormous circular sofa, framed by fringed curtains and adorned with countless cushions, aiming for a living-room feel. But it’s downstairs in the Grannies Flat that the domestic theme goes far and beyond. Tasselled lampshades hang in mismatching clusters, flower patterns clash on the floors and walls, and the furniture ranges from Race Rockers and traditional armchairs to inexplicable quantities of hat stands. Meeting rooms are lined with Chesterfied-style buttoned upholstery walls and seating, one in bottle-green velvet. It’s as far from convention as possible, but packed with familiar aesthetics to induce nostalgia and comfort. “It’s endearing,” says Penson. “It’s the most popular floor, I think because people can relate to it.”
Back at the top, level nine is also home to the main reception area, where a modestly sized light-up Google sign welcomes visitors. Reclaimed timber floorboards line the halls, and Union Jacks – obligatory for a British-themed interior – coat the walls. Both features are great examples of the project’s strong eco focus, a must when working with Google – the company has its “Red List” of toxic materials that can’t be used. “It’s great but it does make things difficult,” says Penson. “We wanted the walls to have pizzazz, so we decided to create glittery Union Jacks but, because of the Red List, the materials had to be water-based. It was tough, but the technique we worked out is dirt-cheap and looks fantastic. And I’m never telling anybody how its done!” The practice usually uses a lot of lacquer in its projects and spent weeks researching a water-based lacquer that was effective enough, but Penson feels it was a worthwhile slog. “When you walk in it smells fresh; you don’t have the usual chemical smell we’ve gotten used to in new offices. It’s so much nicer, and I’m sure it’s healthier.”
Central St Giles, the Renzo Piano-designed building in which Google resides, already has a BREEAM rating of Excellent and now, as a result of much research, this project is only few points short of a LEED Platinum rating, which has encouraged Penson to employ Google’s rules from now on. “We’ve learnt so much and it’s not any more expensive to do. We’ll definitely stick to the list in all future projects. Knowing what we know can be done, I think it would be naughty not to.”
Urban redevelopment is all-too-often associated with promise rather than result, but a recently completed project in central Dandenong, one of Melbourne’s outer suburbs, proves that urban renewal, when approached with sensitivity and a thoughtful masterplan, can bring an area back to life.
Dandenong Government Services Office (GSO) brings to mind Frank Lloyd Wright’s observation: “Maybe we can show government how to operate better as a result of better architecture”. Developed and built by Grocon and designed by Hassell, the brief was to create a quality workplace as well as a high standard of urban design, assisting in the rebirth of Central Dandenong as a major mixed-use area. Previously a prosperous region, Dandenong had fallen victim to poor urban and transport planning alongside economic downturn, resulting in isolation, high unemployment and minimal economic growth. As part of the AUD$290m Revitalising Central Dandenong (RCD) initiative, the state’s urban renewal authority, Places Victoria, purchased seven hectares of land to redefine the area through key projects including the GSO.
Four previously disparate government departments are now under one roof. The Department of Justice and Department of Human Services, which occupy the majority of the building, have significant interaction with the community through open foyers and meeting spaces on the lower floors. The top floors are occupied by the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, and the Department of Planning and Community Development.
“The building is a significant departure from the previous offices,” says Robin Deutschmann, senior associate at Hassell and project architect for the GSO. “It has been embraced by staff, who love the open-plan, light-filled workspaces, and particularly the large roof terrace and atrium spaces, which provide far greater amenity than previous offices.”
The eight-storey building is connected to its surroundings via three ground-floor foyers – one each for the two main departments occupying the GSO, and a common entrance – each with a separate street address. To encourage a greater sense of community, the ground floor is open to the public, and includes retail space and food and drink outlets, plus space to rent for fledgling businesses and social enterprises.
A major feature of the architecture and interiors is the use of fritted glazing and reclaimed timber, also designed to be a friendly and attractive space and “the opposite of a cold, corporate office tower,” says Deutschmann. The frit pattern on the glass, developed by Hassell in collaboration with signage consultant Buro North, incorporates European, African and Asian cultural patterns, reflecting the diverse cultural groups in the local community. It also helps on the sustainability side of things, providing sun shading and privacy without compromising transparency.
Additional shading comes from the timber canopies, and the northern and eastern facades are shaded by levels 5, 6, and 7, which cantilever five metres over the street. In a particularly poignant touch, a large proportion of the timber used throughout was salvaged by Grocon from areas in Victoria devastated by the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires: “This gives the building real meaning in its community, and a soft, warm character,” says Deutschmann.
Balancing the cantilevered northern facade, the southern face is stepped back to allow sunlight to filter down to a new retail street that is part of the RCD masterplan. A roof terrace, or loggia, is clad in a timber batten screen that filters an intriguing pattern of light and shadow onto the street below. The loggia is conceived as a series of “outdoor rooms”, and provides a space for staff where casual outdoor meetings, small and large gatherings, and individual contemplation can occur. It connects to a conference centre inside, which has operable walls to make the space more flexible.
Communal spaces such as the loggia are key to the planning of the GSO, encouraging interaction between the various departments and a high degree of public engagement. The social heart of the workplace, says Deutschmann, can be found in the pocket atria, which are strategically located to connect the major departments vertically via open staircases. Located at the corners of the building to maximise natural light and outlook, and with automatic windows to assist with cooling, they function as social breakout spaces adjacent to meeting areas.
Due to the nature of meetings undertaken by visitors to the Human Services and Justice departments, the atria have been designed at a human scale, two to three levels in height, and are comfortable to occupy. “Careful thought ensured that the spaces are humane and inviting,” says Deutschmann. “They are clad in reclaimed timber and lined with planted walls to soften the experience for guests.” The greenery has the added benefit of improving interior air quality, and contributes to the building’s sustainability aims.
Green Star, the environmental ratings system in Australia, awarded the project its highest rating, 6 Star (considered world’s best practice), although the brief only called for a 5 Star rating. As with the rest of the design, this success was achieved by a sensitive and integrated approach. Alongside the shading strategies and atria, key sustainable measures include materials low in VOCs and high in post-consumer recycled content, ventilation designed for a high air-change rate, and a 40,000 litre rainwater tank. The GSO has also been designed to connect to a cogeneration energy network, currently being delivered by Places Victoria as part of the RCD initiative.
At its best, architecture is a tool for positive social and cultural change – which is exactly what the GSO aims to do for Central Dandenong. The project has not only already boosted the local economy by an estimated AUD$85m, but raises the bar for future developments in the area. Along with the planned transformation of the city’s main street, Lonsdale Street, into a pedestrian-friendly boulevard, a large civic square (which will include council chambers and a new public library) opposite the GSO is commencing construction. The GSO is the first step in transforming Central Dandenong into a truly vital area.
When Karmarama approached Bluu to kit out its new Clerkenwell HQ, its shopping list was far from straightforward. Yes, they needed the features that should now come as standard for any top advertising agency: “town hall” presentation area, cafe, collaboration spaces galore, visual editing suites and photography studios – check. Throw in a corner shop, an arcade gaming area and a ping-pong room and the project gets all the more complicated.
“It’s not your standard office project,” admits Neil Brookhouse, project manager for Bluu. “The company founder is a bit of a free spirit, and was specific in how he wanted its particular brand values to be represented. It had to be a mixture of hard working and fun.”
This message is communicated from the word go, with a truly dramatic entrance that aimed to set the tone for the rest of the project. For Dave Buonaguidi – the aforementioned free-spirited founder – it was vital the entrance totally averted the expected. “There’s a tradition with advertising agencies to have a big marble entrance with all the awards on the wall; that’s your temple where you show off. I hate that kind of stuff.” At the top of an escalator, the first thing you see is a neon sign saying “good karma this way”, pointing into a futuristic colour-changing LED light tunnel (made and programmed by Applelec) which leads to the main office space. Besides creating a sense of intrigue and excitement for visitors (this one included), it aims to affect staff mentality: “When you go through airport departures, there is a sense that you are committing to something when you walk through the tunnel, and it feels different on the other side,’ says Buonaguidi.
To the right of the tunnel is the reception area, with a huge illuminated sign reclaimed from the side of a bus, emblazoned with changing brand-related messages such as “a small giant” and “keine wixer bitte” (“no wankers please”: a German translation of one of their company policies), or can be personalised with a welcome message for clients. The cafe was placed opposite the entrance so it was completely separate from the working area – plus, it wafted smells of coffee and baking towards reception. “When you arrive, it’s not all awards and anodyne,” says Buonaguidi, “it’s welcoming.”
On the other side of the tunnel of light, past a giant red Buddha and a life-size plastic llama, lies the town hall presentation area, a large circular space with a wall of screens, vividly colourful carpet and lighting which, like the tunnel, can be customised with the brand colours of visiting clients. Beyond here is the main boardroom. According to Brookhouse, this whole area was about leading clients through a stimulating and seamless experience, “which helps keep the interest and the focus”, he says.
This tactic was also employed through the main office space, which needed to house 250 people and a lot of extra features, all on one floor. Square footage was luckily on their side – Karmarama says it has the largest single-floor open-plan office in the UK communications industry – so Bluu set about creating a range of different collaboration spaces around the office, from group tables and colour-coded meeting rooms to cosy booths and beach- and pool-themed cushioned areas. Having recently completed a merger, the priority for Buonaguidi was to make sure the different companies and people coming together would quickly become unified: “We had to have a structure that would allow collaboration to flow easily. We didn’t want people arriving, sitting at their desks and then going home. We wanted an anthill mentality.”
With a company policy of “work hard, be nice to people, play ping-pong” there was one room that could not be avoided. Cleverly, Bluu found a way to make the mandatory table tennis room multifunctional, so it can be blacked out and used as a photography studio. Adjacent to this space on the outskirts of the “anthill” are the video editing suites, sound recording studios and more private, secluded meeting spaces for clients who prefer to remain discreet about visiting the agency. All these spaces, like the majority of the office, are decidedly less visually loud than the town hall area. There are eclectic and often outlandish furnishings, including a throne and a campervan tent, but the backdrop is fairly, well, normal. This is an intentional facet, sprung from Buonaguidi’s desire to give it personality without pomp. “We want to inspire our staff to be creative as well as engage with our own brand, but also it has to feel loose and informal so our clients aren’t intimidated.” The overall feel is one of a college campus with a busy, fun atmosphere, helped by the dedicated games room with Nintendo Wii and eBay-sourced arcade games.
The project is also a constant work in progress. Staff have been encouraged to customise the pillars around their desks (Buonaguidi’s is the Yeti one, covered from top to bottom in white fake fur). One room – more a small alcove – has become a corner shop that Buonaguidi sometimes works in, selling sweets.
Another is soon to become an installation of sorts, dressed as a 1970s shipping office, complete with a jacket on the chair, shoes under the table and a cup of coffee on the desk. “Every week they phone and have more ideas, more things to add,” says Brookhouse. Not always a good thing for a project, but he looks pretty happy about it. Maybe he’s a ping-pong fan too.
500 Brook Drive had a shaky start in life. Part of Reading’s gleaming Green Park business park (users of the M4 will know it by its proprietary wind turbine, staked next to the hard shoulder), this BREEAM Excellent-rated building was ready to receive its first tenants, pharmaceutical company Wyeth, when Pfizer bought the business and promptly decided that it didn’t actually need the extra 11,000sq m of space. Jilted at the altar, the building sat empty for months until a new suitor could be found: step forward Quintiles, a multinational looking to consolidate its three offices in nearby Bracknell and create an environment that would both engage its staff and impress its clients.
Quintiles is the world’s biggest life-sciences services company, and is best known for pharmaceutical testing, counting all the top drug firms as its clients. The confidential, commercially sensitive nature of its work might have led to a similarly locked-down building, but Quintiles wanted to present a friendlier face. “They were determined to have a look and feel of openness,” says Ken Giannini, director of interiors at Scott Brownrigg, which undertook the fit out. “Security is there, but it’s quite subtle; they purposely didn’t put swipe barriers in reception for example, which I find really refreshing.” Colourful Allermuir lounge chairs, curvy, walnut-trimmed illuminated partitions and oversized floor lamps in reception certainly set out Quintiles’ stall as a company that is presenting itself as a little bit soft round the edges, but that’s not to say there’s a lack of grandeur. An atrium that rises the full height of the five-storey building largely sees to that, along with a vast, irregularly jutting Corian desk in the centre of the space.
Scott Brownrigg was the original architect for the building, so there was already a familiarity with the space, although the firm still had to win the fit out via competition. Giannini says this process was “probably the most extensive I’ve ever been involved in,” but it turned out that fine-tuning a lot of the detail before they’d even won the contract was a good thing, because Quintiles then slashed the available time on site down to just 17 weeks. Overbury came in as main contractors – “the project called for a really substantial contractor who could, frankly, call in some favours, otherwise the job just wasn’t going to get done,” says Giannini – and after a frenetic few months, the project was delivered on time.
In appearance, the building is full-on business-park vernacular: glass and steel in abundance, set in a manicured leafy environment. Its atrium runs from front to back, with a generous restaurant space at the rear – the proverbial “town hall” that can change its use if needed, since the furniture can be moved aside – leading through sliding doors on to an outdoor terrace. Upstairs, the workspaces wrap around the atrium, with each floor roughly U-shaped, joined by bridges across the atrium to make a full circle. The wide ribbon of space that runs round each floor is arranged with banks of open-plan desks nearest the windows (all the core desking and chairs are by Herman Miller), and cellular offices lining the inside track. The offices’ glass walls are etched with black and white microscopic images of plants – specifically, the plants that are used to make drugs, in reference to Quintiles’ work – a motif that is repeated all over the building to tie the spaces together.
Although a good proportion of the cellular offices are “hot”, ie not assigned to a specific member of staff, it still feels like Quintiles could have helped foster the more collaborative culture it desired by doing away with some of them. Giannini confirms that his client was a naturally conservative customer: “We discussed pushing the boundaries of workplace strategy, such as having a lot more flexible working arrangements, and less – or even no – offices. I think it’s too big a step for them right now, but they may well take it to the next level as they grow.” Giannini is a big advocate of breakout areas (“workplaces should be about those in-between spaces, not what happens at your desk”), lamenting that the bridges aren’t that bit wider so that they could accommodate some informal seating. As it stands, though, there is still lots of sociable space provided by the large kitchen/meeting areas that act as a gateway to each floor. Clad in orange on one side of the building and blue on the other to subtly aid orientation, it’s a nice touch that all staff need to walk through these, the most informal and cheery parts of the building, before arriving at their desks.
Scott Brownrigg’s major structural intervention in the fit out was also in these communal kitchen/meeting areas; five of them have been extended to cantilever out over the main atrium, their glass walls creating some vertiginous views. Clad in horizontal bands of walnut, these “sky boxes” also soften the appearance of the atrium. “The thing that struck me when we came to see the building when it was empty was that, although the atrium is spectacular, it was also pretty daunting,” says Giannini. “We wanted to change the scale, and give it a more dynamic feel; adding in a natural material also helps to bring out the warmth a bit.”
On the ground floor, one side of the building is dedicated to two large training rooms as well as support space, while the other side hosts a suite of client-facing rooms, from dedicated videoconferencing rooms to more general meeting rooms, with drop-down screens or projectors, and glossy walls that act as giant whiteboards for brainstorming. “Being able to provide world-class facilities for clients to come and visit was key,” says Giannini. “Before, Quintiles would have hosted meetings in hotels, but now they have something that makes clients feel special.”
There’s even a “telepresence” room, where advanced videoconferencing technology makes meeting attendees from opposite sides of the world feel like they’re in a convincing shared space.
Re-emerging into the atrium, it hits home that, with such a huge variety of spaces to fit out, that 17-week timescale was pretty heroic. It’s 11am, and a good few of the tables in the restaurant are occupied – by single members of staff, pairs and larger groups – and there’s a productive hum. Laptops are open; lattes are being sipped; people look exceedingly happy to be there. One can’t help but feel that if Pfizer ever stopped by for a client meeting, there might be more than a pang of jealousy for what could have been.
During London Design Festival, EDC London will host a talk by design commentator Stephen Bayley around the themes of his new book Ugly – the Aesthetics of Everything. The well-known author, critic and founding head of the Design Museum will tackle the topic of what is ugly and why, and - Bayley being Bayley – it is sure to feature its fair share of humour and controversy. The talk takes place on 19 September, 12.30-2.30pm and will be popular, so RSVP soon to Olivia Martin at [email protected]
Furniture brand EDC will also be hosting the Design Book Shwop from 17-22 September, where visitors are invited to bring their old design books to swap for alternative reads, and to browse new titles from publishers such as Goodman Fiell and daab. Visit edclondon.com for more details.
Naughtone has launched its latest product for 2012, the Bounce chair, named after the movement created by the natural flex in its cantilevered steel frame. The frame is constructed in the company’s Yorkshire workshops from just two pieces of bent steel tube, the least components possible on a tube CNC machine, which allows for its minimal form. Bounce is intended for casual meeting spaces, cafes and educational spaces, with a competitive price point. The frame comes in a range of colours, and the seat and back are available in bent plywood with various veneer options or in 100 per cent moulded felt.