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 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.”