Friday, 18 July 2008 13:10

Urban renewal

If you walk into the offices of the Urban Salon Architects on a Friday afternoon, you might sense a waft of something delicious in the air. Play your cards right and you could be given a place at their new kitchen table and invited to join in the feast.
Published in Projects
Friday, 18 July 2008 13:06

Full circle

The architect behind this elliptical masterpiece is surprisingly frank about the complexities of the project, particularly the construction phase. “It was a nightmare,” laughs Stefan Camenzind, partner and executive director at Camenzind Evolution, with refreshing candour.

Published in Projects
Monday, 23 June 2008 14:26

C10 Easy Chair - YELLOW DIVA

The C10 Easy Chair (right-hand side of image) is both comfortable and elegant. Revealing the natural evolutionary progression of the Yellow Diva’s C Series, C10 combines a laid-back demeanour with a dynamic profile. The S5 Upright Stool (left-hand side of image) is non-prescriptive in its application and blurs boundaries between furniture types. This stool/chair hybrid is tactile and curvaceous and embodies Yellow Diva’s design philosophy.

Published in Seating
Tuesday, 17 June 2008 17:07

Jack Pringle

jasperThere’s no secret to maintaining a healthy balance between work and play, says Jack Pringle. You simply put down what you want to do in your diary at the start of the year and stick to it. In his case, around 50 sailing races per year, not forgetting the regular flights in the plane he co-owns.And that’s just for fun. The rest of the time, Pringle, 56, runs his highly successful workplace design firm Pringle Brandon as well as squeezing in a two-year stint as president of the RIBA and co-founding the disaster relief charity Architects for Aid, which he also chairs.Pringle shows no signs of strain from this impressive juggling act. Quite the contrary, after three decades in the business, he’s still firing on all cylinders.“Last week I was at No 10 talking to Gordon Brown’s advisers about the procurement of schools,” he said, clearly relishing the chance to influence government policy as well as meet the needs of his many blue-chip clients.He’s witnessed – and played his part in – the transformation of the typical office workplace from the traditional cellular set up into the diverse open plan and mobile technology-driven office landscape of today. And having predicted the impact of flat-screen technology on office design back in 1996 in his 20/20 Vision report, he’s enjoying something of an office guru status and is regularly asked what will be the “next big thing” to hit the workplace.Not bad at all for someone who struggled at school with what he now realises was undiagnosed dyslexia. He only got on with art and maths, and so ended up studying architecture at Bristol University, with no particular passion to actually be an architect. But he very soon found he loved architecture, and was particularly enthused by his year-out stint at Powell & Moya, the practice best known for designing the Skylon at the Festival of Britain, as well as admiring the hi-tech generation of architects led by Norman Foster and Richard Rogers.After finishing university he ended up working at Powell & Moya. Here, he gained experience of running projects from the early age of 23 before leaving in 1981 to set up on his own, and five years later formed Pringle Brandon with Melvin Starling and his university friend Chris Brandon.Those early days were pretty hard going. “When we started the practice, workplace design was a really dispiriting place to work in,” says Pringle. “Clients tended to think the chairman’s wife could help choose the colours and they had no idea how design could play a part in the office… It was a very different landscape.” Yet the practice started brightly, growing to 30 staff and working across the sectors, but like many it was hit hard by the recession in 1989, shrinking to less than ten staff. “It was terrible,” recalls Pringle. But from adversity came their big break. Pringle Brandon realised that with millions of square feet of empty offices in the early 1990s, no-one would be building new offices until the old ones were fitted out. So, they stuck their necks out and made a strategic decision to focus on fit out. The only work going was in the public sector, and on their ninth pitch they struck gold with a major fit out for Customs & Excise.The practice’s next project was the “only job in town” going – designing London Underground’s offices at Canary Wharf, moving them to open-plan working and coming in £2 million under budget. The icing on the cake was scooping the next big job on the market – three quarters of a million square feet of offices for BZW. This was, admits Pringle, a very unlikely win, especially as the practice was inexperienced and operating out of awful offices of its own. He’s convinced they won it by the high-risk strategy of inviting the client over to their offices for the presentation, giving all staff who’d be working on the project a red dot and inviting the client to walk around and ask any of them what role they would have if they won the job.They’ve never looked back. Fifteen years on they are one of the leading workplace designers, with a big name client list that currently boasts Rothschild (working with Rem Koolhaas’ OMA), KPMG Dublin, and private equity firm Permira and Fidessa, which supplies financial analysis tools for traders. Recent projects included bright, open-plan offices for Unilever at Blackfriars in central London, with lots of white furniture and transparency to transform its workplace culture. For British Land, they engineered another significant change, moving the property development company away from its grand but unsuitable Nash Terrace premises to open-plan offices at York House on the Edgware Road. Law firm Allen & Overy now enjoys 46,500sq m Pringle Brandon-designed offices at Bishops Square.At the moment, he reckons that the huge technology-led change in office organisation has plateaued in that flat screen and bench seating are pretty ubiquitous, along with small format PCs. He sees this as going hand in hand with the other great change – the democratisation of the workplace with businesses operating much flatter hierarchies.The result is what Pringle calls “the social office” – lots of different workplace settings in the one environment, a concept once alien but now firmly embedded to various degrees in all but the most conservative organisations. And although designers still need to make the case for it, he’s found increasing recognition of the workplace’s role in recruitment and retention and helping businesses achieve their objectives. “The office has been used and we are pushing for it to be used much more as an HR mechanism. In the end, the only thing about a firm is the quality of the people. A really dynamic, attractive, sociable, well-designed office plays to the self-image of bright, engaged young workers. That’s one of the key issues now. We’re in a highly competitive workplace.”But the next big change in workplace design, he reckons, will not be technological or organisational but motivated by climate change. Already many clients are keen on green specification and getting recycling protocols right, and Pringle expects far more emphasis on reducing the embedded energy of fit outs. He also expects far more use of video conferencing as international companies seek to reduce their air miles.“A really good video-conferencing set up is worth its weight in gold and there are two or three good packages out there. I wouldn’t be surprised if we’re putting them into every office soon.”But the big issue of building services and air-conditioning needs to be tackled at the base build stage – although Pringle reckons this will happen as more companies set out their sustainability strategies and green issues gain more currency in the boardroom. Pringle admits he’s always being told he’s highly competitive and this has obviously stood him in good stead. He’s open about his ambitions for the 80-strong practice to be the leading workplace designer, instead of one of a handful of top practices, and having done his time-consuming term as RIBA president – where he campaigned particularly on improving the quality of PFI procurement and climate change – he is now in more of a position to make it happen.

"We’d like to pull clear of the pack. We need to be differentiated,” he says, keen to attract the very best designer. Another plan is to design hotels and mass housing.

But Pringle still has time for other matters. Aside from his ongoing RIBA activities, he is busy with Architects for Aid, which has completed dozens of projects in just three years. Another long-held ambition is to recreate the Skylon on the South Bank, and Pringle launches a scheme to do this at the Festival of Architecture in July, where a life-sized image of the iconic tower will be projected on the Shell Centre.He clearly loves what he’s doing: “The great thing about running an architectural practice is that you’re working with young people and they don’t let you get old. It keeps you in touch and interested.”Just don’t mention the R word. Retirement is absolutely nowhere on the radar and, as he says, architecture’s an old man’s game anyway. But with a flight route book never far from his pocket and a diary full of sailing dates, if he did ever decide to step back from the office design world, he’d have no problem at all adjusting his work- play balance.

Published in Profiles
Tuesday, 17 June 2008 17:05


Even on a distinctly damp evening in Islington, the passion that CuldeSac displays for its home country and how it informs the studio’s design philosophy is undiminished. I’m walking around the Viva La Office! exhibition (as detailed in news, page 19) with CuldeSac’s Sophia von Schönburg, Alberto Martinez and Lucia del Portillo, and it’s as if they’ve brought a little bit of the Mediterranean to this part of north London. “We are inspired by the light and the sounds there, which we try and find a link with in our designs,” says von Schönburg. That must go some way to explaining the presence of thousands of oranges and the refrain of Spanish guitars then. The last time I met von Schönburg, along with founding members Martinez and Pepe García, we had rather better luck weather-wise, as we took time out from the madness of the Milan furniture fair for a quick chat on the sunloungers outside the Superstudio Più. Inside, CuldeSac’s Sofa Lamp, designed in conjunction with fellow Spanish designer Hector Serrano, was suspended as part of Moooi’s stand. This was, they explained, designed as a reinterpretation of the recognisable buttoned structure of the Chester sofa, and it fitted in perfectly among the Dutch firm’s plethora of designs featuring a skewed classical aesthetic.Since its inception six years ago, CuldeSac – which literally translates as “bottom of the bag” – has maintained a loose organisational structure meaning that designers from different fields and nationalities work alongside the permanent members, who are based in Valencia in southern Spain. Little wonder then that their expertise stretches so far. They have been involved with product design such as the Whisper chair for US manufacturer Bernhardt Design, the La Siesta water jug (another Serrano collaboration) and the La Santa light, which combines 16 traditional lampshades joined together by the humble bulldog clip. Then there’s exhibition design for porcelain manufacturer Lladró, branding and communication such as for the Timeless collection of clocks and advertising agency AGR!, and the intriguingly named “How to cook a chair?” workshop in collaboration with the Vitra Design Museum and the Pompidou Centre.

As CuldeSac’s photo attests, theirs is a workplace full of movement, ideas, energy and innovation.

Published in Profiles
Tuesday, 17 June 2008 16:57

Eye to eye

barberosIf you were to create a bespoke duo as a symbol for contemporary British design, you’d come up with something like BarberOsgerby: two handsome designers who meet at the Royal College of Art, found their own studio, get discovered by Cappellini in their first year at Milan and are then associated with the glamour of Established & Sons editions and the detail of craft work in Italy – yet still with the same charm and humour that made them so approachable when they first started out in a tiny room in Chiswick. Perfect!As a workplace design magazine, you watch these guys, eagerly waiting for them to launch their first office furniture project – you see side tables, soft seating chairs, candelabra, and then there it is, finally, a bold commission from the then-president of the Royal Institute of British Architects, Jack Pringle of Pringle Brandon (see profile on page 77). BarberOsgerby has designed the new reception desk at the Institute. The project took over two years due to the restrictions of the premises: “It’s a listed building,” Edward Barber explains, and English Heritage was concerned about the existing desk. “Not that it was the original desk but it was listed and they believed it was a permanent fixture,” Jay Osgerby adds. “We got so frustrated that we kicked it… and it moved instantly, so two weeks later we got the letter that we could go ahead.”Despite their boyish charm, BarberOsgerby’s designs have a high level of maturity, particularly on the detail level. Their forms are less dramatic explosion and more considered elegance. To choose them for the RIBA reception desk, however, was a curious commission considering how traditional the institute is seen to be. The design is very sculptural and at first seems as if it will contrast with its environment, but when you see it in-situ you realise how it mirrors the surrounding interior, tying the historic building in with the modern desk. “We needed to use a durable material that will last for 30 years, so we went for stainless steel,” says Barber. “We also needed to focus on aspects like security and public facing.” The desk clearly functions as a signature piece for the RIBA, and in the end BarberOsgerby was quite surprised by the feedback. “We were ready for bad press and antagonistic responses, but it’s been 99 per cent positive – I guess it’s a sign of forward-thinking at the RIBA.” They actually seem a little disappointed that no one was shocked or threw a fit. But Osgerby says they argued their case all the way through. “The shape at the front of the desk, for instance, that recess, may seem sculptural but it’s actually an access point for wheelchair users.”Fortunately, BarberOsgerby was also able to incorporate into the desk its Tab lamp for Flos – a bespoke, double-headed version that Flos made specifically for this project. “It’s all about integrating technology, the screens, cables etc, elements that are invisible but essential for a good reception desk,” Osgerby says. So, it looks like the duo is venturing into the sphere of workplace design. Keep an eye out for the upcoming launch of Tab this summer, which translates from a desk lamp for the office into a wall or floor lamp. BarberOsgerby became famous about ten years ago when Cappellini decided to produce the pair’s Loop table. They’ve since become a household name in furniture design, even though originally they had planned to focus on architecture. In 2001 they also founded a separate architectural company, Universal Design Studio, which has fitted out high-profile retail stores such as Stella McCartney’s flagship stores in London and New York. Now the studio is keen to venture into workplace design, with an office fit out for advertising agency Fallon coming up soon. “We didn’t start out to be furniture designers, it was always more of a side line,” says Osgerby. “The 90s were a very different place. Up until then design had always been a niche. It was people like Jasper Morrison and Ross Lovegrove who brought design to the forefront and started to define a path.” Barber and Osgerby found themselves on that path within a year of working together.Today, they’re jetting from photo shoots for Men’s Vogue in New York to exhibiting at MoMA. “I guess we were lucky to follow that generation of big British designers,” says Barber. “They were the first to create a general awareness. For us, it’s rewarding to work with companies like Established & Sons that have finally brought back British manufacturing. I don’t mean manufacturing in Britain, but creating a home for British design.” They both believe in the success of British design education – the RCA has been exporting talent for years now. Everywhere they go in the world there’s a British designer on the design board. At the same time, it’s impossible to pinpoint Britishness, and Barber and Osgerby are bored of people forcing the label of Britishness onto their designs. Their most recent launches in Milan, for instance, seem more of a historical mix. Their lamp table, Cupola, developed with Venini for the Meta collection – undoubtedly the most talked about debut during I Saloni – sparks memories of Memphis designs, while the new Birds on a Wire hooks have a more Scandinavian flavour. But the Britishness is not in the designs, it’s in the attitude and collection.Barber feels British design is more conceptual: “Design with a twist, like a Paul Smith gallery collection.” So whose work do you look at? “Well, when in New York we’ll go to Moss, but I prefer going to art galleries than trade shows. In Milan we only spend two hours at the fair. We also support the projects our friends are doing – not to say there’s a clique, but you do bump into the same people in different city bars throughout the design calendar and become friends, like for instance Michael Young or Konstantin Grcic.” “And Sam Hecht,” Osgerby adds (see cover story in onoffice issue 20). They tail off into a discussion about artist collectives, marked by their trademark irony. “It’s like Eames and Saarinen, or Picasso and Georges Braque…”The fact is, BarberOsgerby is part of a contemporary movement. It’s no coincidence that the studio was invited to participate in the first Meta project by Mallett of Bond Street – an ultra-traditional antiques house aiming to marry contemporary design with traditional craft – to update its stock of 18th-century pieces. “We had to attend a workshop were we learnt all about 17th- and 18th-century materials and how they were crafted. It was a steep learning curve, a highly educational project.”Osgerby admits that it was a bizarre project and that initially they were suspicious. “The premise was to reinvent archetypes and work with an enticing palette of old-fashioned materials, some of which aren’t even in use anymore. It turns out that glass is the single most difficult material to work with – it makes diecast aluminium look easy. Glass is not controllable because it’s always fluid, it’s constantly moving until it’s hard so you have to build in tolerance.” BarberOserby worked with Venini on the Cupola lamp table and enjoyed it so much that other projects are due to follow. Other designers included in Meta’s debut were Matali Crasset, Tord Boontje, Asymptote and Wales and Wales, but I felt the idea was stronger than the exhibition itself.The most striking design in the current BarberOsgerby portfolio has to be the Iris table for Established & Sons. This limited edition was first presented in May at the Established & Sons gallery on Duke Street St James, and when we came to shoot at the venue, CEO Alasdhair Willis informed us that two of the tables were being flown to Basel for the art fair. The scale of these collectors’ items doesn’t come across in the images – they need to be seen to be understood. By using strips of individually dyed and anodised aluminum, they echo the iris of the eye, especially when you step close and look into the middle of the table.“Normally when designing a product, you start with the form and function,” says Barber. “Colour gets decided last minute in conjunction with the manufacturer and you need to decide on three final colours, which is always so difficult to do. The big colour charts come out and you look through the palette. For this edition, we turned things around and took that late production stage as the starting point.” Each sequence of the colour spectra was chosen by what felt appropriate for the shape. The geometric forms of the five tables – each shaped like different baskets – play with colour in a unique way due the metal itself being anodised. The colour comes through the material rather than being painted or laquered on top. There are 12 editions of each table in total. It was a complicated process that could only be done in a limited edition, and Barber thinks that making editions that could easily be put into production is a waste. So are we talking design art, a phenomenon coined by similar collection pieces from Established & Sons? “The current trend in design art is conceptualisation,” Osgerby says. “We’d rather steer away from the term art, but our Zero-in table in marble could arguably be defined as such.”Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby have come far: the reception desk at RIBA, limited editions selling for £40,000, products with Cappellini, Magis and new ventures with Panasonic – for their tender ages of 38 (Barber) and 39 (Osgerby), that’s a pretty impressive portfolio. Our photographer, who also shot them at the start of their career, can’t believe how down to earth they’ve stayed. Undoubtedly they’ve remained grounded because of each other. On talking about their lifestyle and all the travelling, they tell a story of when they flew back from Switzerland to City airport in London, and the wind whisked the plane around and the doors flung open. “Everyone thought we were going to die!” They both laugh and it seems they’re still the same guys that met at university – who also happen to be leading Britain’s contemporary design scene from the front.

Published in Profiles
Tuesday, 17 June 2008 16:41

Nip/ tuck

nipOperating under the moniker OfficeLifting, architects at Berlin-based practice raumteam:92 are responding to that infamous “efficient” German stereotype in kind.Since the 1990s Germany’s capital city has undergone a structural renovation the likes of which no other European city has seen since the end of World War Two. Berlin’s buildings have received enviable architectural treatment at the hands of international talent (in 1999 Sir Norman Foster had converted the former Reichstag into the new German Parliament; it’s glass cupola has since been hailed the “hallmark” of the city) and via more indigenous means.Stephan Braunfels, Axel Schultes and Charlotte Frank, Von Gerkan Marg and Partners, Hans Kollhoff, Josef Paul Kleihues and now raumteam:92 – the subject of this story – have each left a mark on the “new look” Berlin and, arguably, as inhabitants of the city these architects have proved best placed to reshape their home. There is a reason for this: like Germans on the whole, Berliners are internationally renowned for their skills in engineering and design. But unlike their countrymen, Berlin’s avant-garde have had reason to safeguard their city’s identity more than most. In the wake of the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the city’s occupants began a salvage mission; they set about regaining a collective sense of identity. It’s had a profound affect on all Berliners’ ways of working, but raumteam:92 has perhaps epitomised the approach with its innovative form of interior architecture, OfficeLifting. Angelika Zwingel, a project leader at raumteam:92, says the firm coined the phrase to describe its bit-part approach to interior architecture (“you could call it interior design, but we think that’s too generic a term”), a self-styled “integrative design strategy which, with careful means, is aimed simultaneously at designing the spatial company identity and at structural improvements in the actual work environment”. The term was borrowed from the practice of plastic surgery, as recipients of such treatment receive a nip here and a tuck there – just enough to revive weary elements, but not a whole new face. But OfficeLifting is about much more than just semantics. A fundamental aspect of the approach is the use of design to harmonise the formulation of external company branding with internal authenticity – bearing great resemblance to the citywide effort to secure a new identity for Berliners without losing any more of the old one. “During my time in England and the States I encountered a much more developed awareness towards the intrinsic qualities of an intentionally formed space (as opposed to mere ‘hip design’),” says Zwingel, “and there was a greater openness there to provide a reasonable budget to achieve it. Berlin is a great place to watch all sorts of recycling, tuning and the recharching of spaces and objects on a highly individual level, but in the end it all comes down to money and Berlin, or perhaps Germany in general, has certainly not been a place where money was found on the streets and available to spend easily.” Thankfully, expense isn’t an issue when it comes to OfficeLifting. All improvements are bespoke and tailored to budget, and despite the outlay being joyfully inexpensive, it’s clear from raumteam:92’s past projects that the results clients can expect are quite outstanding. In the case of Schröder+Schömbs, a public relations company based in Berlin Mitte, utilising textile partitions enabled the firm flexibility in terms of spatial division. The makeshift walls play confidently with the building’s depth and lighting conditions too, offering a sense of identity to a design that had previously been defined by clutter. Likewise, at Zucker PR, also located in Berlin Mitte, working with a budget Zwingel describes as “minute” proved inspiration on the project rather than the hindrance it might typically have been. The team enjoyed much success through the simple and subtle implementation of plants; the architects hung flower boxes with the help of a carpenter, and stencilled plant-like visuals on the walls, which wove an energising green thread through the Zucker office to “revitalise” its staff. “It is probably not surprising that the two OfficeLiftings we think have been most exceptional were designed for PR agencies,” says Zwingel. “The best clients we’ve worked with have understood the influence of a carefully conceived finish and did not hesitate to invest in thought rather than shiny surfaces. Working with people who are open to experimenting with their space in order to find a strong theme is fundamental in achieving more than a pretty arrangement of elements.”It’s not the first time during our interview that Zwingel has sworn by the benefits of client interaction. She is quick to stress the importance of input from employees too, even citing examples where OfficeLifting projects had failed due to a lack of input from those sources. “We have had projects that didn’t work because we felt that we weren’t able to really incorporate the ideas of the employees,” says Zwingel. “This was either because there weren’t many or the client would tell us what he or she thought employees needed, but that doesn’t work because the client has different needs to the employee. It can be hard work convincing the client that it’s important for us to talk to their employees.” But judging by the results, this collaborative approach has proved invaluable.

Published in Projects
Tuesday, 17 June 2008 16:29

Work's like a dream

workAltrincham in Cheshire is the first beneficiary of a new high-quality office concept aimed at small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Dubbed MyBüro, it is the brainchild of property developers Nikal, with design by the Manchester office of HKR Architects.

“The reception smells of leather and coffee, and there is that real hotel feel about the place,” says Simon Millington, head of interiors at HKR Manchester. This part of the project best epitomises what the architects describe as a high design approach to the materials used. The bespoke reception desk is clad in black leather and covered by a curved ceiling canopy in the same material, hence that distinctive smell. This sits alongside custom-made white lacquered cabinets that conceal a plasma screen, while translucent glass doors slide back to reveal a kitchen plus printing and copying facilities. The flooring here is a mix of honed and riven slate, with integral light fittings. Elsewhere, the lighting is deployed to highlight the features in the reception, to add a sense of theatre as an introduction to the workplace. On this floor, there are also meeting rooms, visible behind curved glass doors, and a lounge area, separated from the rest of the space by coloured, laminated glass screens. To underpin this, a full concierge service, managing the building and providing secretarial support, is available to companies based in the building, again replicating a concept from the hospitality sector. MyBüro’s own branding is deliberately kept to a subtle minimum to create the impression of a stylish workplace more usually reserved for much larger corporate clients. As Millington points out, in terms of both design and organisation: “These occupiers want the same quality as any other office fit out and it has to be just as flexible.” Alternations to the base build of this three-storey, newly built town centre building have been specifically made with these small businesses in mind, typically media firms or small chambers of barristers. Each floor plate has been divided up to offer premises from about 30sq m to 150sq m, to allow for growth and expansion. The suites have been offered for freehold sale. “It is an asset that grows with you as you grow your business,” says Millington. Nikal’s managing director, Nick Payne, says: “For many years, small businesses have been faced with a similar challenge to first-time homebuyers. A lack of available and affordable quality accommodation has left many with the prospect of long-term leases, when buying their own accommodation would represent a better investment. MyBüro has the added advantage for business people in that it is also a pension-qualifying property investment.” Connectivity between the occupants was also a vital component to this workplace, whether that’s making a cup of coffee in the shared kitchens, which, continuing the theme of high-quality finishes, comprise bespoke corian and black lacquered doors with floors of white composite marble tiles, or socialising at the communal bench seating. You might even bump into a neighbour in one of the bathrooms, with their flocked wallpaper, customised vinyl graphics and white-backed painted glass. “The culture of MyBüro is to mix with other businesses, so they can give each other business and gain value from networking,” says Millington. The green qualities of this building are not limited to the chlorophyll accent colours either. The floor plates have good natural light and no desk is further than seven metres from a window, all of which can open. Each suite also features its own temperature e-controls. Outside the offices, the grounds are landscaped, with the existing trees maintained, and externally lit stone pathways not only improve the nearby public realm, but also create a good impression before any visitors have even stepped through the full-height doorway. “We chose Altrincham as the site for piloting the concept before rolling it out nationally because of the wealth of thriving small businesses in the area,” says Payne. No doubt the market town’s accessibility from Manchester by road, as well as national rail links, helped Nikal reach a decision. Plans are already in the pipeline to replicate the MyBüro concept in a handful of other prime city-centre locations in the north west and on the south coast of England. The plushness of the finish is not just for those visiting the offices, but also to help lift the spirits of those working there on a daily basis. As Millington says: “The original working title for this project was work sweet work – the idea that when you go to work, you love your desk and your desks loves you. That sense of making your working day a lot better.”

Published in Projects
Tuesday, 17 June 2008 16:03

The wizards of Oz

OZWhen employees question their level of job satisfaction, it probably boils down to facing the same monotonous routine, colleagues and environment, day in day out. Is the daily grind supposed to be fun, inspirational or challenging? Lucky Lincolne Scott employees may beg to differ, as they step out of the lift every weekday into a vibrant workplace that is focused on the health and happiness of its occupants and the environment – all complete with table football. Designed by Australian practice BVN Architecture, the space accommodates the Melbourne office of the international engineering practice that is strongly committed to sustainability. Housed in a 1930s department store on Bourke Street in the central business district, the single-floor office was converted from a dilapidated, low-grade commercial tenancy. The client had significant involvement in the project. Not only was it the engineering consultant, but before the design process began, extensive briefings with management and staff workshops were conducted to ensure that the new space specifically suited their needs. Lincolne Scott’s managing director, Che Wall, recognised that “investment in the workplace was also an investment in business”, especially during the current skills shortage. The director of BVN’s own Melbourne office, Trudy-Ann King, says: “Che believed that momentum was being lost in the company because junior engineers felt unable to make decisions and progress projects while directors were out of the office. We were charged with providing them with spaces to pull project teams together quickly, without needing to book a space or leave the working environment. He also charged us to get the engineers off their chairs and encourage them to integrate with their workmates. In every office, there is always somebody who comes to work hoping to avoid spending time with their colleagues.” A former chair of the World Green Building Council, Wall stressed that the fit out reflected the company’s commitment to sustainability. The Melbourne directors requested that something of the city’s identity be incorporated into the design, and what could be more distinctly Melbourne than its urban warren of eccentric laneways. Staff were asked about where they felt most comfortable and places that inspired them. Including anything but work, responses ranged from “the cafe where they know my name and how I like my coffee” and “my local pub” to “the beach on a sunny day” and “the mountains”. The commonality was the idea of change, with shifting sounds, textures, colour, light and movement affecting the environment. People could make that place their own, with alternatives in which to meet and interact. “Understanding that people feel their best in these types of environments poses a dilemma in the design of a commercial workplace,” says King. “Traditionally, designers have been trained in a modernist style where consistency in the design, detailing, lighting and colour is encouraged. Our approach here was to be random in how we designed the space.” With that in mind and a tight budget, the aim was to channel the resources into the main priorities – providing stylish health and wellbeing benefits for staff and a holistic sustainable outcome. Instead of “renovating”, the philosophy was to “dematerialise” by stripping back to the shell and using materials only where necessary – for example, for acoustic requirements – thereby saving huge costs and resources from unnecessary finishes. The damaged false ceiling was removed, instantly increasing the height of the space and highlighting the core principles and services of the business. The chaotic network of crumbling beams, conduits, ducts and pipework, along with the outer walls and columns, were painted white to increase light reflectivity, hence creating a clean backdrop. “The randomness and rawness of the space speaks of extreme honesty in how it is being used and how its history and bones are revealed,” adds King. New additions, seen as pods and modules, are “insertions” that don’t touch the newly bare shell of the building. Relating to temporality, it also references the dynamic nature of the laneways where bars, art, shops and even festivals pop up as fast as they pop out. These centrally located elements form meeting and communal environments, each with their own personality. As you step out of the lift, much of the eclectic interior is revealed, where a random combination of textures, colours, heights and forms stand out. The first thought that comes to mind is that you must have got out of the lift at the wrong floor, as this can’t be the office of an engineering company. At a raked angle to the left, a yellow reproduction shipping container – a real one was too big for the lift – accommodates a meeting room that can be closed to provide darkness for lighting engineers to test new products. Funnily, those in the property industry now recognise this practice because of the signature yellow box. Directly opposite is the brightly lit white reception, with the glass-clad boxes of the formal meeting rooms and boardroom behind. While these rooms provide more traditional meeting spaces, the bold red separation screens are slightly less conventional; they originate from remnant steel sheets from laser-cut automotive parts. The false floor of the rooms, elevated to create a height differentiation, conceal a displacement air-conditioning system. Fresh air is pumped up from below, avoiding annoying drafts from above. Linking the container and formal areas is a band of black-clad elements that house the cafe and service functions. The central location encourages staff to bump into each other if they go to the printer, kitchen or bathroom. An open eating area separates the kitchen from the rest, above which hovers a curious flock of lights – energy efficient, of course. “Waste wall” dividers were fashioned from unused timber shelves from the previous office. Furniture combines new, vintage, refurbished and custom-made pieces from recycled materials. Within this zone is the games room, no doubt a huge hit at lunchtimes and after work with the predominantly young-ish male engineers. Equipped with a foosball and pool table, the space is a definite retreat, its darker interior, low ceiling and decor more akin to the local pub than corporate office. “With meetings functioning alongside here, it was initially thought of as a problem for staff to be seen – and heard – playing games in the office,” says King. “The reality is that this space is seen as honest and open, with an acknowledgement that staff need time out from their focused engineering pursuits.” Everybody, including the directors, works in open plan. Personal workspaces were valued above all else in the office. In this way, workspaces are located along the perimeter to maximise daylight and views and custom-made workstations were introduced. Lighting, which is zoned in individual blocks, can be personally adjusted from a user’s PC, while chairs are ergonomic. Defined by yellow scaffolding, team meeting points within each project area cater for impromptu meeting spaces, which help empower young engineers in the decision-making process. Whiteboards and drawings hang from the frames, allowing others to see what the team is working on. Modularity was incorporated into joinery, workstations, flooring and walls to enable relocation and reuse. As a final touch, blue fluorescent uplighting, designed to trigger occupants’ circadian rhythms, is programmed to activate at 3pm to draw staff out of their afternoon dip. Either that or they should eat less for lunch. The energy of the environment is addictive and the details really make the space. Young engineers have decided to join Lincolne Scott over other practices because they were inspired by the office interior. Since moving into there, the number of staff has expanded from 96 to 130. Melbourne state director Dang Hodinh, who had his own office for more than 20 years, comments: “I initially resisted the relocation to this building, but I am now completely reinvigorated by this space.” So while you can’t control who your colleagues will be nor what projects you will be given, you can at least enjoy being at work and battling over a game of lunchtime table football.

Published in Projects
Wednesday, 21 May 2008 15:32


Touring is a range of office furniture designed by Roberto Danesi and is the result of a close collaboration between top qualified wood and metal specialists. It was manufactured with the most advanced techniques and using the best materials in order to achieve impeccable finishes, focussing on the smallest details regarding design and functionality. Shetug creates furniture for all office environments.

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