The area around Old Street roundabout in east London has become synonymous with the tech industries. Christened the Silicon Roundabout in wry homage to California’s Silicon Valley, the distinction is an important one: whereas San Francisco’s technology and software companies inhabit large purpose-built business parks south of the city, London’s tech boom occupies disused office blocks and light industrial buildings in the city centre. All this makes the decision of a decidedly old-school company, tie-maker Drake’s, to move here from Clerkenwell, slightly incongruous.
Drake’s sought to unite its various business arms – a tailors, warehouse depot, back office and shop front – into a curving 1930s light industrial block and adjoining rectangular 1950s extension on the corner of Haberdasher Street and East Way. Drake’s director Michael Hill struck up a professional relationship with architects Hawkins\Brown through a mutual friend in the art world and commissioned the practice to transform the six-storey office into a mixed-use building, including a floor of speculative offices and penthouse apartments. Reminiscent of an era when shopkeepers lived above their premises, Hill and two fellow directors have taken three of the nine flats.
The building had suffered a similar fate to many of its ilk in post-industrial Britain. Clumsy uPVC windows combined with layers of grime to disfigure an otherwise handsome brick exterior. Formerly home to courier firm Lewis Day, the building’soriginally generous proportions were adapted to suit its inhabitants’ working practices, in this case by the inclusion of suspended ceilings and an army of partition walls. Hawkins\Brown got rid of the plastic frames and replaced them with Crittall windows, a move prompted by a visit to Crittall’s factory in Essex. “They were fascinated with their manufacturing process,” says practice partner Nicola Rutt. The elegant profiling of the new frames reclaimed some of the building’s lost dignity along with a general cleaning up of the masonry. The architects also salvaged a vintage clock attached to East Way elevation, restoring it and placing it above the new showroom entrance on Haberdasher Street.
Having three separate entrances solved the challenge of navigation, with the apartments accessed from the East Way, and the spec office on the second floor serviced by an entrance on Bevenden Street. The Haberdasher Street entrance leads directly into Drake’s factory shop, where various ties and men’s accessories are housed in display cabinets sourced from the British Museum by way of salvage specialists Retrouvius.
Established in 1977, Drake’s is of pensionable age compared to the internet babies surrounding it, but nevertheless, the firm was keen to avoid traditional working practices. The onus was on transparency and flattening out the hierarchies, which saw Hawkins\Brown remove the partitions and install large windows (again Crittall) to connect the ground floor administration office with the distribution warehouse and factory shop. The suspended ceiling also faced the executioner’s axe, with the previously recessed lighting replaced by white pendant lights reminiscent of oversized ice-hockey pucks, intended to distract from the servicing. In order to increase the sense of space, the exposed ductwork bores through the concrete beams rather than moulding around them.
Elsewhere, the architects collaborated with Chris Tanner, operational director of Drake’s, on some monolithic black storage modules that, when coupled with the whitewashed concrete walls, create a monochrome aesthetic. “We felt that the colour should come from the fabrics that make the products,” says Rutt. A collection of Jean Prouvé tables and chairs populating the main meeting room continues the theme.
Architecturally, the most substantial intervention was the addition of a stair joining the ground and first floors. On the first floor, the architects have united the design and workroom facets of the business. Capitalising on the high levels of natural light, quality control is located at the far end of the office next to the windows, providing Hawkins\Brown with a natural starting point to arrange the rest of the floor. The production line begins by checking for imperfections in the material and continues in a linear fashion through trimming and sewing areas towards the design studio at the shop floor’s opposing end. A client meeting room for seducing potential buyers is nestled in the bullnose of the building.
Lining the Bevenden Street side of the office is a bright canteen kitted out with banquet-style tables to encourage staff to eat lunch together. Originally filled with random junk (mannequins and other oddities) the basement now serves as an extensive stock room.
With a tight budget, Hawkins\Brown has made a decent job of recapturing the building’s original spirit. These kind of refurbishments often necessitate a kind of architectural archaeology with the careful removal of layers of detritus to reveal the hidden gems. An excellent example is the original lift, which the architects managed to save from demolition. Most gratifying is that for once it is not a tech company occupying an old East End industrial building, but a manufacturer, joining the circle where it originally began.
Offering a combination of practical and individual ergonomics, the Esencia task chair is able to adapt quickly to the demands of multiple users in flexible working conditions. The chair’s synchronous mechanics centre on a 3D pressure-point spring unit, identifying the weight of the user and relaying the intensity of pressure from seat to backrest. A self-adjusting tension mechanism, coupled with synchronised movement, ensures permanent contact between user and backrest, creating the optimum distribution of pressure in every possible position.
Designed by Monica Forster and produced by Officeline, Lei is an office chair designed specifically for women as research shows that there are striking differences in the way men and women sit. The Lei chair’s back and seat has been upholstered in a specially produced material made with warp-knitting technology, helping to distribute pressure and transport moisture away from the body. The fabric has been developed in cooperation with Innofa and is available in eight exclusively selected colours.
To quote that singular thespian of our times, Keanu Reeves, “Whoa!” Ordinarily, it’s skyscrapers that stupefy, at least in the workplace design world, but A-Lab’s monstrous Jenga-block building for oil giant Statoil is the equal of any glittering glass tower. There are few businesses with the financial muscle or indeed the will to construct such an office but the rangy theatrics of its deconstructed form are too disparate to be viewed purely as a vanity project. In this case, form has followed function with the pertinacity of a nodding donkey. That the building emulates the engineering of oil platforms only makes for a purer representation of the industry it serves.
The story began back in pre-economic-crisis 2008 when Statoil, seeking to unify its Norwegian offices in one building, held an open competition, which asked those taking part to propose not just a design but a site as well. Architects stampeded to land the €200m job. Forty-five practices applied in total and A-Lab triumphed in February the following year with its stacked horizontal ‘groundscrapers’. In truth, the Oslo-based firm had a number of things working in its favour. Firstly, the building forms part of an expansive plan (ongoing since 2001) to turn the Fornebu peninsula, former home to Norway’s main airport, into a IT and telecoms hub along with housing developments nearby. A-Lab was already heavily embroiled in the masterplan, recently completing the Portalbuilding (which features what looks like an oversized orange Dustbuster) for developer IT Fornebu. The architects found themselves in an unusually strong position, having access to a prime location, a good relationship with the developer and a well-thought-out office design. “We couldn’t lose,” says A-Lab director Odd Klev.
On first impressions, the sheer scale is problematic (there is nothing quite like walking underneath a 30m cantilever to make one aware of one’s own fragility). Though the building shares its origins with the same computer programs and matrixes that spawned swooping parametric curves, this is the antithesis of form-making architecture. Moreover, it has more in common with the structuralist approach of Herman Hertzberger – the user experience, if you can call it that, is paramount.
Neither has A-Lab attempted to camouflage the building’s presence through some clever landscaping. It does, however, make significant concessions to the green space it inhabits. Previously, the site was occupied by the airport car park, swiftly flattened and replaced with a three-storey underground version. Similarly, the five 140m-by-23m modules, each one three storeys high, are hoisted skyward to greatly reduce the building’s footprint on what is now a landscaped park. Here, A-Lab was called on to create harmony between Statoil’s vaguely paranoid relationship with the outside world and an architect’s duty to ensure they were addressing the wider needs of the site. “That was the starting point. By stacking and cantilevering the masses we could give generous space back to the municipality.” At the centre is a huge central atrium. Somewhat surprisingly, given the extreme reluctance of Statoil to even discuss their new home, the general public can wander right up to the office. “They started out wanting a 30m perimeter around the building, but it should be more transparent. There should not be this big wall,” says Klev. “The security should be in the facade. Of course, it can handle all kinds of blasts and bullets.”
A-Lab began by stacking four volumes on a rigid grid, with the fifth running parallel to the two ground-level structures making the top floor. By twisting the easternmost block to open up the grid and orienting the top floor north-south, the architects sought to give as many workers as possible a view of the park and fjord. “This formation will allow the most light to penetrate the building and everyone will have sightlines out from the atrium,” says Klev. The elongated cantilevers are undoubtedly impressive, but the span across the central void proved more challenging owing to the flexibility of the interior programme. Even accounting for Statoil’s 15-year lease there was no guarantee the company would need all the space further down the track, so it made good sense to design the building so it could be sub-let. By virtue of a specially designed ceiling, the office floors can be divided into tiny 3m-by-3m boxes, which had to be fully powered, heated and cooled. While this allows for a tremendously adaptable workspace, having so many pipes running through the concrete inevitably weaken it. The strain is taken by the steel superstructure and four concrete cores rammed through each corner of the building that deliver the technical infrastructure and fire stairs. “They are very similar to the drilling shafts on oil platforms of the 1970s and 80s; they stabilise the cantilevers and have to withstand a lot of vertical forces,” says Klev.
The aluminium facade is painted white – aeroplane coloured, to chime with the site’s former function as an airport, something Oslo’s politicians were keen on, apparently – but is also intended to lighten the building’s presence. To shade from the sun only 30% of the facade has windows, which are recessed 220mm. Despite the apparently random pattern, reminiscent of an old music roll, the openings allow staff to cop an eyeful of the view whether sitting or standing. When the sun is at its most potent, solar screening inside the building closes up: “All of the volumes will be white so from a distance it will look like abstract white blocks.” At each gable end, 180 automated vertical laminated glass lamellas react to the movement and strength of the sun. The effect is a seemingly impenetrable black visor. Uniting all five elements is a curving glass roof covering the central atrium, which either provides a pleasing contrast to all the straight lines or dilutes the purity of the geometry, depending on your disposition. What is undeniable is the rigorous engineering (by Arup, of course) that enables it to withstand a 3m blanket of wet snow.
Dominating the central atrium like some Lovecraftian beast is the ‘communication tower’. Connecting bridges and walkways sprout from a central stem to all corners of the office. Also hidden within the shiny steel casing are six lifts that are reportedly gathering dust, such is the popularity of the stairs. “We didn’t think it would be so popular, so actually the stairs are a little too narrow,” says Klev. Every staff member must first pass through a slightly humbler reception before they reach the communications tower, which decants them into their part of the office. “Statoil really wanted to bring communication to the centre of the building. They might lose a little bit of time but they will meet people in the company they have never met before.” It’s the defining architectural moment of the interior, transforming what might have been a dead plaza into a buzzy, social hub.
In terms of materials A-Lab stayed true to its Scandinavian roots, laying down warm oak floors that play off against the cool white aesthetic. The workspaces are a mixture of open plan, breakout spaces and private meeting rooms populated by jellybean-soft furniture and more formal office set pieces. The majority of the desking is arranged around the perimeter with private spaces toward the centre of the floorplate. It is, from what we can see, a salubrious place of employment.
However tempting it might be to view the Statoil building as an exercise in engineering as much as it is architecture, examining the method of construction should stay the rush to judgment. For a profession that is at times reduced to the role of consultant, it is most heartening that the architects here were firmly at the centre of the web of developers, engineers, contractors and money. Using four-dimensional BIM systems, A-Lab plotted out the development of the building with tremendous accuracy. Indeed, the facade comprises 1,600 prefabricated elements: integrated windows, insulation and solar shading with minimal joints, which ensured a high-degree of air tightness. When the alternative is building on site in -20˚C, this proved invaluable both in terms of efficiency and speed of construction: the whole project took just 20 months. “This building could not have been made 10 years ago,” says Klev. “The technology was not ready because all these forces coming onto the lamellas, the glass roof turning in different directions, it was very complicated. We took the responsibility for all the pieces and put them together in our model in the office. We needed a great deal of computer power and it was not easy, but we, the architects, were back in the lead.”
Klev may see this experience as a way of wresting power back from the developers but the building makes a wider point that cuts to the heart of 21st-century architecture. The complex algorithms that produce so many iconic but impractical forms have here been directed towards making a building that improves the everyday lives of the people in it and engages in a positive manner with the wider community. As recent experience has shown with the farcical 20 Fenchurch Street or ‘Walkie Scorchie’ – a building that demonstrates the dubious skill of melting car bodywork and setting fire to shop carpets – this is not always a given.
Photography by (from top) : 1: Luis Fonseca; 2: Trond Joelson / Byggeindustrien; 3, 4, 5, 6: Ivan Brodey; 7: A: Lab; 8: Luis Fonseca
Michael Laird Architects' revamp of W. L. Gore & Associates' Edinburgh office was named Best of the Best workplace at the annual BCO national awards. The overhaul of the 30-year-old building, which also won Best Refurbished/Recycled Workplace, saw the space transformed with a new open-plan layout and major improvements of the building's environmental performance.
This topped a list of seven category awards given to workplaces around the UK. Wilkinson Eyre's design for The Crystal (onoffice 72) won the Innovation category; Cannon Place by Foggo Associates won Best Commercial Workplace; Best Corporate Workplace went to Associated Architects' Birmingham City Council HQ; Astellas European HQ by Pringle Brandon Perkins+Will won Best Fit-Out; Best Project up to 2,000sq m went to the Nestlé Product Technology Centre by DLA Architecture; and the Test of Time Award went to the Memphis Building by Shuttleworth Picknett Associates.
Richard Rogers scooped the BCO president's award for his contribution to office design.
The looming angles and metallic sheen of the US Army Corps of Engineers’ building in Seattle couldn’t be more at odds with the wilderness-lodge aesthetic going on inside, but each element, in its own way, tells a story about this landmark federal building.
Once predominantly asphalt and chain-link fences, this largely industrial downtown site has been home to the Corps, known as USACE, for decades. A workforce including architects, biologists and civil engineers previously resided in an inefficient 1932 Albert Kahn-designed Ford assembly plant – a tired setting for a federal agency whose manifesto states “environmental sustainability as a guiding principle”. Yet it also sits on the banks of the Duwamish waterway, a picturesque river with saltwater fisheries and a busy route for trade barges, making it a highly relevant spot for USACE, which is responsible for developing similar waterways across the States.
ZGF Architects won the design-build commission after an intense eight-week design competition process. It aimed both to exploit the landscape’s potential and reflect the industrial history, while giving USACE a workplace befitting of its mission statement. Around the building – snappily named Federal Center South Building 1202 – nearly two hectares of brownfield land have been turned into immaculate lawns and gardens, with a sophisticated water drainage system, and the awesome new structure at its centre is expected to perform in the top 1% most energy efficient office buildings in the US.
Inspired by an oxbow river formation, the building is essentially a large horseshoe with most of the middle filled in – a shape that Allyn Stellmacher, design partner at ZGF’s Seattle branch, likens to a salmon steak. The top of the horseshoe faces east towards the road and forms the main entrance (left), an imposing and more typically military facade coated in glass and glistening stainless steel shingles. This is the design’s puffed-out chest, complete with stars and stripes fluttering in the breeze, representing the Corps’ hi-tech work and its motto, “Building Strong”. But a wooden canopy over the entrance doors gives a sneak preview to the building’s softer core.
In their previous HQ next door, the USACE employees occupied a warren of 1.8m-high cubicles around the former car factory. “They had a very closed idea about the boundaries of their space,” says Stellmacher. “It was a strong departmental organisation and a lot of their work was done within those worlds.”
In the new HQ, the outer curve of the building is lined with three storeys of open-plan workspace with purposely low divides, giving all 700 staff panoramic views of the landscape and plenty of daylight. According to Stellmacher, this openness also allows the colonel to “walk the floor and see his people”. Everyone still has their own desks and the departments are still defined, but in a looser format, so those groups can grow and shrink when needed.
Via balcony walkways, this loop of workspace overlooks a triple-height atrium featuring a serene indoor garden. Small breakout spaces are dotted amid landscaped sections of pebbles and slate, meant to emulate meandering riverbeds, with rows of plants, driftwood and water features made of scattered boulders. These border a woodland cabin-like stack of shared resources – meeting rooms, kitchenettes and a library – clad in reclaimed Douglas fir, also used on adjoining bridges and stairs, and etched with geographic data. Whereas in the old building meeting rooms were distributed throughout the departments, here they have been pulled out and grouped together in the middle, creating a central meeting hub to connect staff together.
“By gathering all these spaces into one large kitty, we created a town square, and wrapped the workspace around that,” explains Stellmacher. “This way, the space is a conductor. People of different disciplines are integrated, and there is a new mix of spaces for people to work. We wanted to give the place a heart, and the employees a sense of wellbeing as an entity.”
Material reuse featured prominently on the eco-focused brief from USACE, as the demolition of a large warehouse on the site freed up tons of wood with the potential to be reappropriated. According to Stellmacher, ZGF explored the idea of using the material on the exterior, but there wasn’t enough, which turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Instead, the practice has created a rich, warm heart to the office with an indoor/outdoor atmosphere, enhanced by a steel-grid glass ceiling that brings even more natural light into the building. This channels the greener, earthier side of USACE’s corporate personality.
In addition to the reclaimed wood (which was also used in the foundations and structural system), the maximisation of daylight, and the sustainable renovation of the surrounding landscaped site, the list of eco credentials goes on. The water features and loos use rainwater harvested from the roof stored in a 100,000-litre cistern. There is 100% outside air intake – another boost to the indoor/outdoor feeling – and a built-in hydronic radiant heating and cooling system, as well as vertical and horizontal sun shades adorning the high performance glass and steel envelope.
Facing west on to the Duwamish river, both ends of the U-shaped building form harshly angular slopes. Barge workers floating past will see a gleaming, new-build that fits well with the site’s industrial past, while behind the glass, employees are having a coffee or a meeting in their cosy, wood-clad space. “It’s a contrast, but it really is a classic form-follows-function design,” says Stellmacher. “How it sits in the landscape, but also how it’s earnest, honest and personable, not overly slick. A good reflection of USACE and its work.”
Nestling unexpectedly next to Munich’s main power plant is the office of design group Designliga and its sister company, digital agency Form & Code.
Although dwarfed by the towering München Sud power station, Halle A – one of several workshops on the plant’s surrounding industrial estate – is a hangar-like 650sq m space with a 10m-high ceiling.
“We never imagined that we would have so much room,” says Christina Koepf, head of interior architecture and design at Designliga. The building’s cavernous dimensions inspired the construction of a pair of two-storey house-like structures within it. “The space is so big that you don’t really understand that you’re inside a building, so we thought ‘why not build things within it?’” says Koepf.
The smaller Gold House is constructed from brass Dibond aluminium composite panels; inhabited by Form & Code, it features a lounge on the first floor furnished with cushions and a sofa. The Gold House doubles as a giant room divider, splitting the main space into Designliga and Form & Code.
Along with a further two-storey block housing the kitchen, bathroom and meeting rooms, the Gold House and the White House form what Designliga calls The Village Square. It even has its own park bench and street lamp, and is surrounded by outlying ‘streets’ of desks.
In the morning, staff ride their bicycles right into the office through the wide metal doors, tethering their bikes in the square. “Once, we let a client drive their Ford Mustang through the office – clients love this place,” says Koepf. The village square extends into an open-plan library space, while a long, low storage cabinet winds around the periphery of the office, embracing the desk areas. “When we asked the staff what they wanted, the top two things were a proper kitchen and good storage. They got that – the cupboards are so big that they’re still half-empty,” says Koepf.
Koepf is seated in her own office on the top floor of the White House (co-founders Saša Stanojčić and Andreas Döhring occupy the ground floor). She sits at her trestle-style desk, opposite a mid-century modern domestic sideboard and homely rug, the roof sloping over her head. “I was so excited to move up into my little office. It feels more like an apartment, and people often come up here to relax and have a break.” Speaking of breaks, it’s nearly lunchtime at Designliga. When Koepf gets up and walks to the external metal staircase, she will look out, factory-foreman-style, on a vista of desks where people are busy producing logos, websites and interior design schemes for fashion, luxury and lifestyle labels including Adidas and Marc O’Polo.
Lunch is an important time of day for Designliga. A spacious, domestic-style kitchen boasts “a proper oven”, in place of the standard, slightly depressing office microwave. “Generally we have someone sending an email round in the morning saying, ‘I am cooking a meal today, with six platefuls if anyone wants to join me’,” says Koepf. “And in summer, we eat our food at the big outdoor table in our garden, where we have just started to grow vegetables and herbs. It’s great.”
Two years ago, Designliga was forced out of its home, a 1950s industrial building where Munich’s telephone directories were once printed. The place was torn down to make way for a complex of luxury flats, answering the real estate demands of a rapidly growing city. Designliga could have gone to the creative quarter of Munich, “but we wanted something different,” says Koepf. Döhring was walking his dog along Munich’s river Isar when he saw the building and thought it might do for Designliga. The group were later shown around Halle A by a concierge “who couldn’t believe we thought we could make this space into an office, but we took one look at it and said ‘this is the place’,” says Koepf. The company is surrounded by metalworking and carpentry shops, which pleases Koepf. “We like being the only design company here; we like being unique, and also to get away from design sometimes.”
In September 2011, Designliga and Form & Code moved in, having thoroughly cleaned the filthy interior. The floor was so dirty that Koepf initially thought it was all concrete. It transpired that much of the floor was wood block, which softens and warms the space. Designliga retained many original features, including bare brick walls, exposed crane tracks and the wall clock. “We painted the steelwork in harmonious whites and greys to fit in with the surrounding buildings. Also, the building speaks for itself so painting the walls lime green would have been too much,” says Koepf.
Despite its appeal, this mid-century industrial structure is not old enough to be listed, and Koepf says she can feel Munich’s properties developers “waiting around the corner” once their contract expires in five years. Munich’s ongoing property boom looks set to continue. “This is a prime piece of real estate, right next to the river,” says Koepf. She adds, “It is becoming increasingly difficult for creative companies, which do not earn huge amounts, to stay in the city, which is why everyone is moving to Berlin. We will stay here as long as possible because it has such a great atmosphere – and cities need places like this.”
Camden council has granted AHMM planning permission for Google’s Kings Cross HQ. The plans, reported in our August issue, reveal the details of the £650 million project, which will include 67,400sq m of office space, accommodating 4,500 Google staff. Construction will start early next year on the project, which will include a rooftop swimming pool and running track.
BNP Paribas also have development plans for the King’s Cross Central Development site with 32,500sq m of offices, set to be completed by 2015.
Original story, published July 2013:
AHMM has unveiled designs for its £650m Google HQ in King’s Cross, which aims to achieve BREEAM Outstanding and LEED Platinum ratings. The 330m-high building will be made from steel columns, pre-cast concrete panels and low-iron glass to reference the area’s industrial architecture. The steel frame and cross-laminated timber panels used on the inside will be a first for a modern building of this scale. Its 67,400sq m of office space will house all London-based Google staff, with completion scheduled for 2017.
John McAslan’s regeneration plans for Smithfield Market have been called in for public inquiry by community secretary, Eric Pickles, following a recent petition submitted by Save Britain. The £160 million scheme, which was originally approved by the City of London in July, will involve the demolition of the 19th century covered market. Whilst developers Henderson Global Investors will retain the Victorian facades, of particular concern are the destruction of General and Fish Markets at the western end of this conservation site. The plan is to create 5,700 shops and a five-storey office block inside the market.
With 4,731 signatures and support from Islington Council and the Twentieth Century Society, Save Britain offers an alternative scheme backed by market entrepreneur from Urban Space Management, Eric Reynolds. Burrell Foley Fischer Architects intends to re-establish Smithfield’s existing use as retail markets, with food stalls and a fashion hub for the city.
Images courtesy Henderson Global Investors/John McAslan + Partners sourced from smithfieldquarter.com
The success of tech entrepreneurs like Mark Zuckerberg has triggered a nerd revolution. Formerly laden with negative connotations, the term ‘nerd’ - specifically of the web developer variety – now denotes smart young visionaries, reshaping how the world communicates, and making a lot of money doing it. So it’s no wonder the founders of gaming software developer The Giant Pixel Corporation are happy to place themselves in that pigeonhole.
“They are self-professed nerds,” declares Denise Cherry, principal and director of design at Studio O+A, which has designed Giant Pixel’s offices in San Francisco (where else?). “They’re very proud of their nerd-dom.” What she goes on to explain, though, takes nerd-dom to a new level. In reception stands a perforated steel screen, which to the untrained eye looks like a pixelated motif. A play on the company name, perhaps? Guess again. “We worked with them to develop an app that turns text into binary code, which is arranged into a pattern on that screen,” she explains. “So if you can read binary code, that screen shows the opening lines of Star Wars.”
This feature exemplifies how Studio O+A tackled an unusual task for this young company’s first ever office. Giant Pixel actually approached the practice before it even had a name, let alone a corporate identity on which to base the design. “They were only really just learning about themselves as a company,” explains Cherry. “So it became about creating a space around the aesthetics of the building and the personalities of the founders.”
Working closely with the founders, the practice not only gleaned a universal love of Star Wars, but also two distinct visual preferences that were at direct odds with one another. One, a workshop feel with raw wood and industrial materials; the other, slick, retro-futuristic 1960s design. So the practice chose to marry the two.
The building is a freestanding, three-storey, early 20th century former printing press in an up-and-coming neighbourhood of the trendy South of Market district. When Giant Pixel acquired it, it was a shell with no internal walls, so the practice worked with existing features such as concrete walls and pillars and an exposed wooden beam ceiling to create a basis for the desired aesthetic mixture, adding more high-end finishes like white oak floors and high-spec furniture to balance it out. In reception, white leather chairs from Knoll and a white Dear Ingo chandelier from Moooi tell the contemporary side of the story, contrasting with the more industrial backdrop. Specially commissioned features such as the screen, which is made from waterjet-cut, cold-rolled blackened steel, juxtapose the sweeping sculptural form of the concrete reception desk – additions that bring individuality into the space. “They’re really interested in craft in the workplace,” says Cherry, “knowing how something was made, and that it was made specifically for them.”
Beyond reception is half of the core workspace, an open-plan area with desks for ten employees along one wall, which is coated with writable back-painted glass for doodling/brainstorming. Desk space isn’t huge (both here and in the other half of the workspace upstairs) but all 20 staff, both engineers and administrators, are encouraged to use the range of alternative work areas, so as not to stagnate.
On the same floor is a long, high table with high stools, used for meetings, as a standing desk – offering a change of posture – or a bigger surface for tasks that need more space. For a more secluded spot, upstairs there are two semi-enclosed cabanas for small groups to meet more privately or get away from the open workspace to conduct heads-down work. These were custom-made in wood and grey felt, a soft, warm but essentially clean-lined, industrial material that fits well with the scheme’s mix of aesthetics, and provides effective sound-absorption. For private formal meetings, there’s also a glass-box conference room on each floor.
Also on the top floor is the lounge, a much more relaxed collaboration space complete with wool rug and ultramodern stove from Fireorb. “You have different conversations in different types of spaces,” says Cherry. “This area is for ideation or a casual chat in somewhere more comfortable.” Workers can get away from the desk, settle into Jehs + Laub-designed Shrimp chairs (from Cor) or Herman Miller’s Nelson Coconut Lounge chair, talk and sketch out ideas on another of the back-painted glass walls.
One must-have request made by Giant Pixel was for a bar, and the basement seemed the ideal setting. With no natural light coming in, the floor couldn’t be used for workspace, Cherry explains, but the client loved the speakeasy-style idea of having a bar down here. The mix of materials continues with Emeco bar stools made in ash and aluminium, a concrete bar, brown leather banquette seating and Orb chandeliers from Sonneman diffusing the otherwise overwhelming amount of wood.
The bar is used for everything other than regular work: lunch, dinner, drinks, meetings, events, talks and, most importantly, socialising – something intrinsic to Giant Pixel’s culture. “For them, work and play are mixed, more than for most people,” says Cherry. On display is the founders’ collection of whisky and bourbon, arcade games, and there was even a foosball table included in the plans. Happy hours are frequent.
For a young company trying to establish itself in a busy market of start-ups, this space is invaluable when it comes to recruiting the best talent. In fact, according to Cherry, this was a major consideration for the whole project. “It’s a great way to sell their company and their culture without necessarily having to say it,” she says. “You can just walk in and see what it’s like to work here.”