Thursday, 22 November 2012 09:38

BVN curates Allens Linklaters' Melbourne HQ

When the previous tenants left Allens Linklaters’ new Melbourne HQ, they left nothing more behind than the grey carpet – the perfect clean slate. BVN architecture was appointed to develop a simple and sophisticated new workspace for the international law firm, which was relocating to a seven-storey space in the city’s landmark skyscraper, 101 Collins Street.

First off, a central stairwell was cut, connecting floors 35 to 40. Not only did this create a feeling of a building-within-a-building in the 57-storey skyscraper, it made for a more integrated, sociable space: “Otherwise, people on different floors do not see one other,” says Ninotschka Titchkosky, lead architect on the project.

“Mergers and acquisitions or tax lawyers will work together on the same deal, and come together to problem-solve,” Titchkosky continues, highlighting the need for a workspace that was custom-designed to accommodate a project-based working practice for the firm, in which teams are more closely connected. In its previous premises (at the other, more “corporate” end of Collins Street) offices were all sorts of sizes, ranging from 9sq m for a junior practitioner to 25sq m for a senior partner. “This meant that moving people around was problematic; there were hierarchy and status issues, and meetings tended to take place in people’s offices,” says Titchkosky.

The new space offered up the opportunity for a new format. Offices are now grouped into clusters around central secretarial workstations, and office sizes have been standardised, with two junior lawyers sharing an office of 12sq m, and all other lawyers occupying a standard office size of 10sq m. “The standardised model allows for really good breakout spaces and shared meeting areas, for the same total floor space,” says Titchkosky. “This is the trade-off.”

BVN 2BVN worked closely with a design committee of eight group partners, mocking up different-sized offices to test, and undergoing a whole range of prototyping, to bring them on board. There was then was a “town hall” meeting with the rest of staff. “The consultation process was interesting,” says Titchkosky. “A lot of the time, firms have a desire to be more creative and want to be pushed, but they are also sophisticated strategic and logical thinkers and want to see the evidence that a new design works and makes sense.

“The majority were excited about the design concept, but some were used to creating a world within an office, hanging up ten shirts” – for privacy, presumably – “and holding all their meetings there.”

The artwork incorporated into the building also greatly lifts the space. “The concept of having an art-gallery feel to the offices came from the fact that the firm had an extensive collection of Australian art, and the feeling that this was a strong part of their brand, a differentiator,” says Titchkosky. “The idea of the workspace being a showcase made sense, as some of the collection hadn’t been seen in a long time.”

On the client floor, the concept has been ramped up; clients can come in and sit on benches to look at the art as if they have entered a gallery space, but the collection is also hung throughout the floors and within shared spaces. Managed by the firm’s own curator, it gives each floor a slightly different feel.

Talking about the inspiration for the rest of the fit out, Titchkosky says that “in the user-group interview, the term ‘clear thinking’ came up a lot. We wanted to come up with a space that was calm and uncluttered, where you can carefully think about solutions.” The team looked at a lot of art galleries, examining how they break up and manage space. Wide timber floorboards – inspired by Titchkosky’s stay at the Nimb Hotel, Copenhagen – help to add character to the space. Supplied by Dinesen, they are cut from Douglas fir with a lye and white soap finish, and along with the white walls, they have been used throughout to tie the project together. “They bring texture and warmth to the interior, without being busy, which is important,” says Titchkosky.

Manoeuvring 15m-long floorboards to the top of a skyscraper, and making them lie flat across large surface areas in the steel-and-concrete-slab building, was a complex element of the project. BVN looked at craning off part of the building’s facade to get them in, before it was sensibly decided to cut them and transport them in the goods lift instead.

“Since occupying the space, the design has filtered right through the organisation,” comments Titchkosky. “Employees have taken it seriously, and the space is maintained immaculately. The attention to detail in the finishing touches they have bought to the space have really set it off, right down to the hand-made grey Japanese teapots bought to complement the fit out.”

With the move, the firm also had a new part of the city to look forward to. The eastern end of Collins Street, Melbourne’s main boulevard, is known as the “Paris end” for the high-end mix of designer shops, restaurants, clubs and theatres that sit alongside office accommodation. The building also backs on to Flinders Lane, home of BVN’s studio as well as a plethora of after-work restaurant and bars.

As an added incentive towards teamwork, the architects made sure that the breakout spaces in each floor make the most of the building’s enticing views over Melbourne’s Botanical Gardens and Yarra River. Titchkosky confirms that it’s all going to plan: lawyers are being lured out of their offices, and into shared spaces and project-based working. “For younger team members especially, it has made the workplace a more interesting and dynamic place to be.”

Published in Projects
Monday, 17 September 2012 10:22

Grocon offices by Hassell

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.”

Hassell2The 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.

Published in Projects
Monday, 16 January 2012 17:29

Profile: Hassell

If you haven’t heard of international architecture firm HASSELL yet, that is about to change. Founded in Australia some 70 years ago, it has more than 900 staff and 14 offices in Australia, China, south-east Asia and, as of a few months ago, the UK too. It designs hotels, airports, research facilities, bridges, parks, rail stations and offices, among other things. In China alone the company has 300 staff, working on mega-projects like the masterplanning of sustainable cities for 100,000 people. And in Australia it currently has two AU$1.2bn hospitals on the way to completion, says Tony Grist, who is head of architecture at HASSELL and heads up the new London office. “We are also designing a number of major research facilities as well. That keeps us in a knowledge leadership position not just in Australia but internationally.” 

At the core of HASSELL’s success is a collaborative, inter-disciplinary approach, and an ability to work holistically on a project from masterplan right through to architecture, interiors and the public realm. Its non-hierarchical respect for all disciplines is shown in the backgrounds of its leaders, who are landscape architects or interior designers, as well as architects, by training. At HASSELL’s new studio in Clerkenwell, Grist tells me about the practice’s workplace design philosophies. A great illustration, he says, is the ANZ Centre, the 85,000sq m HQ designed with global property developer Lend Lease for one of Australia’s main banks, located in Melbourne’s Docklands area. “The three main conceptual ideas behind ANZ were permeability, diversity and sustainability,” says Grist. The ground floor, with its cafes, public art, a visitor centre, a daycare centre and a gym “is more like an extension of the city into the building,” he says, adding that this level of public accessibility has rarely, if ever, been seen before in a global banking HQ. “It says a lot about how ANZ wants to interact with its customers and be more transparent.”

HASSELL2The project, for which HASSELL worked on the architecture and the fit-out, has been showered with awards. It is the largest and greenest commercial office building in the country (having been awarded the six-star Green Star Office Design rating by the Australian Green Building Council). Water consumption is 60% less than the industry average and the building’s green roof and exterior shading help to reduce heat gain and loss. Though it houses a workforce of 7,000, no staff member sits more than 11m from natural light. It uses ideas taken from urban design, with a concept of a town square with a main street – or an urban campus, as Grist puts it.

In this urban campus, putting an emphasis on how you move through a building is key, says Grist. That means putting in stairs instead of lifts where possible, and bridges so you can see people moving around, “creating a village on a number of levels,” he says. “Psychologically, if you’re in a building and you’re going up and down in the lift you’re not as connected,” he says. “It’s a bit like using the tube versus using a bus. If you travel by bus in London you get a better idea of the city.” But it’s more than that. If you’re stuck in a lift you are cut off from the incidental interactions and connections during which important innovations and ideas are often born.

It may sound straightforward but the ANZ building, like most HASSELL workplace projects, was the result of an “iterative and collaborative approach to concept design”. HASSELL took the client to see roughly 15 projects around the world, “analysing what was good and bad about each one and what the client did and didn’t like”. Research into workplace behaviour was done with global workplace design consultancy DEGW, identifying things like the fact that senior people are at their desks the least, meaning less need for a private office or permanent space. “This translates into a 30-40% floorplate saving over a traditional building,” says Grist. The design focused on 44 individual hub spaces spread out over the building’s 13 storeys. “Wherever you are in the building, you’re IT-facilitated,” says Grist, “and you’re never more than a few steps away from a power point and a coffee machine.” Creating zones and nodes, meeting spaces, breakout areas and collaboration spaces is how you create communities, even in very large footprints, he explains.

Another recurring theme for HASSELL is how the workplace and education sectors are increasingly crossing over as the former becomes more flexible and mobile through new technologies. “The workplace is increasingly seen as a learning environment to develop people professionally on the job, a collaborative and interactive place where ideas are realised,” says Grist. “As new generations of technologically savvy workers arrive from university, their expectations of a workplace designed to offer a choice of settings for different work styles is having a great impact.” The flipside is that tertiary institutions are realising they need to make better connections with the corporate world, and that increasingly they will have to compete for students by providing state-of-the-art facilities, “so the education space is in turn taking cues from the corporate world in the design of their buildings.”

Combining the concepts of interaction and learning with play was central to the design of dtac House, the Bangkok HQ for one of Thailand’s leading telecommunications providers, completed by HASSELL in 2009. Formal meeting rooms are balanced by informal meeting spaces; locally sourced solid timbers and locally made cotton and silk fabrics are used throughout the fit-out. Similar to a hotel, an entire floor is dedicated to staff recreational facilities including a gym, a running track, indoor soccer, a band stage, karaoke and two large outdoor terraces overlooking the Bangkok skyline. It’s the sort of office you wouldn’t resent spending time in, and that’s the point. Staff wellbeing, environmental sustainability and “social sustainability” as Grist puts it, are at the core of the design.

HASSELL3Before I leave Grist shows me photos of HASSELL’s own studios around the world. Those in Shanghai and Brisbane are located in a former motorbike and bread factory respectively, and are striking examples of HASSELL’s workplace philosophies in practice. What that means is a lot of communal spaces, places to gather formally and informally (many of which are outdoors in the Brisbane office, taking advantage of the balmy climate) and open access for their clients. “It’s about enhancing the ideas of communication,” says Grist. In a lot of offices you come to a wall and don’t know what’s going on behind it. When the client comes in they don’t understand how you’re spending their money. “We like to involve our clients and bring them right into the centre of what we’re doing.” With this client-centred approach and their expertise in so many different project types and areas, the arrival of HASSELL in the UK and Europe is a breath of fresh air – can-do Australian air, at that. When I ask if they have any projects afoot in the UK and Europe already, Grist smiles and says, “We are already working on a number of projects. All I can say is there are plenty of opportunities.”

Published in Profiles
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
Monday, 11 December 2006 00:00

Riverbank Revival

Riverbank_revivalWords by Indigo ClarkeMelbourne-based architecture practice Six Degrees has a reputation for inventively recycling materials. The firm’s new office is an innovative adaptation of derelict boat sheds beside the Yarra River A series of derelict bluestone boat sheds known as the Vaults are tucked beneath Federation Square, the large-scale cultural centre in the heart of Melbourne. Over 100 years old, the Vaults are quirky, cavernous spaces that overlook the Yarra River – a prestigious water view. From street level, the spaces are below ground, but at the riverbank, the resurrected Vaults appear as a series of glass-fronted, fishbowl-like spaces on display to passers-by.

“It’s a great space,” says Six Degrees director Craig Allchin of the Vaults. “Particularly for Melbourne where there is only one true waterfront place – Southbank. The Vaults look out to this river view as well as to the Arts Centre Spire – Melbourne’s postcard image – while also taking in a view of the public gardens around the city. The decked outdoor area of our offices is pretty large, so the table-tennis table comes out every lunch time so people can play by the river.”

It was a big downgrade in physical size for Six Degrees, which has previously inhabited expansive open-plan spaces, but the rare opportunity to exist alongside the riverbank was the motivating factor in the relocation. “The Vaults posed a unique opportunity to be as close to the river as you can get, without being on a boat,” explains Six Degrees director and head of the Vaults project, Mark Healy. “It’s a bit like being inside a submarine, with a lot of linked volumes in a single line. Maximising the river aspect also drove most of the plan decisions – there is an interesting crossover of private and communal spaces.”

Included in the precinct is an adjacent cafe/bar located in one of the Vaults, owned by Six Degrees and open to the public all year round. This somewhat unorthodox extension is a tradition for the 15-year-old practice, beginning with the opening of its Meyers Place bar in 1994. Owned and designed by the six company directors, Meyers Place was the first of a new breed of Melbourne bars that effectively revived forgotten laneways – inspiring the city’s alleyways and backstreets to come alive at night.

This unobtrusive, out of the way, European-style bar not only spawned a series of similar laneway hotspots, but helped define a Melbourne typology. Characterised by Six Degrees’ many commercial fit-outs in the city, this aesthetic is a successful merging of old and new, with vintage materials juxtaposed with modernist design to provide a new residence with a sense of instant history. The partners’ idiosyncratic fusing of myriad found materials and objects was born out of necessity (the practice began at the height of an economic recession), but soon became its trademark style.

The first Six Degrees office was conveniently located next to the Melbourne Theatre Company, from which it would acquire discarded stage sets and props. “This became a way of working both innovatively and ethically, gathering interesting materials and employing them to get the right results,” explains Allchin. “It also developed into a way to get texture and history into places so that there was a blurring between new and old.” Through Meyers Place and following small-scale commercial work, Six Degrees gained the reputation of the “cool bar” architect who could build things cheaply and sustainably out of recycled materials, garnering something of a cult status among students, artists, designers and other architects. Meyers Place also won the team the inaugural Melbourne Prize (as part of the Institute of Architects Awards), an award recognising architectural projects that have made a significant contribution to the city.

Six Degrees’ current workplace, while extraordinary to most, is in keeping with the company’s aims and culture and in practice is not as unusual as its former work environs, Public Office. Situated in a dilapidated warehouse space in West Melbourne overlooking the docklands, Public Office was a concept space developed in 1998 that catered to new ways of working. Featuring an interior bar, cafe and lounge, the space was open to anyone to use a computer, store files, grab a drink or have a work meeting. It encouraged collaboration between creatives and was often a site for bustling art and design events.

Beginning with its 1991 manifesto that proposed “To work as equal partners on ideas-driven projects and to avoid the stereotypical ego-maniac architect attitude”, Six Degrees has continued to break the mould with non-formulaic projects and democratic workspaces. The opportunity to take over the Vaults came through the management of Federation Square not knowing what to do with the river’s edge. Businesses were reluctant to take up the challenge of working in the historic capsules that were dank, relatively small and off the main strip. Six Degrees happily took up the challenge, and developed the project into a small precinct with a cafe and bar as well as an outdoor servery inspired by the Indonesian beachside eateries. A lot of outdoor space, where staff can sit with their laptops and work outdoors, was pushed onto the riverbank to catch the sun. Because of the delicacy required when restoring the heritage-listed Vaults, Six Degrees enlisted the services of conservationist architect Michael Taylor.“Deciding on how to restore the Vaults, which were in a really sorry state, was greatly assisted by our locating original City of Melbourne drawings from 1890. These provided a vision to direct restorative works,” Taylor explains. “I remember the Vaults when part of them was used as an awful nightclub in the early 1980s. It was a terrible venue, mainly due to the form and linear arrangement. It was very satisfying to have it all ripped out as part of the new project.”

An unanticipated factor, says Taylor, “was how much of a fishbowl the offices would be. Visibility is high to the passer-by, with no chance of avoiding clients, trade reps or builders who turn up at the door unannounced.” The offices are spread across six vaults: four of the spaces sit three people each, while the final two house the kitchen and dining areas, and the bathrooms.

The Six Degrees workspaces in the Vaults precinct offer an environment that allows for a lot of informal sharing of information, crucial for the growth of ideas and skills in the company, as well as “games of table-tennis on the Yarra, and lunch on the green banks taking in the view,” says office manager Sarah Bennett. “We provide lunch here for our staff every day, so the new office had to feature a kitchen to suit our needs – making sandwiches and eating around a table together. It’s a very alive and stimulating work environment.”

The Vaults offices have not only proven impressive spaces from a client perspective and showcased Six Degrees’ ability to undertake difficult projects with a unique vision, but, perhaps most importantly, they have provided staff with an inspiring work environment.

“Ever since moving here in April this year, we haven’t been able to take the smile off people’s faces,” says Bennett. “There is a great feeling of community and cosiness in the office.”

Published in Projects

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