How important/relevant is LDF for designers based outside London?Dan Ziglam, director, Deadgood
Although we are predominantly based outside London a lot of our business and customers operate within the capital, so LDF is both important and relevant. The festival acts as a key focal point to meet and build relationships with our existing contacts and clients, but it also gives us the opportunity to promote our products and services to new national and international audiences.Even though it is called the London Design Festival, in an ideal world it probably should be called the UK Design Festival, because there are designers and companies represented from all over the UK. I believe promoting the entire country’s creativity as one collective force could be a much stronger offer – however I’m not very optimistic about this happening in the near future!
In what ways is the festival occupying new areas of London?Tom Dixon, designerWest London deserves a spot for lovers of design and creativity, and finally, after months of searching for the perfect location, we have found the ultimate base. Portobello Dock combines the beauty and solidity of the Victorian industrial infrastructure with lots of open space and contemporary architecture – we now want to share it with everybody else.How well does LDF raise the profile/ awareness of design with the general public, as well as other industry folk?Max Fraser, editor, London Design GuideThe London Design Festival is a positive annual focal point for the design industry and a moment during which we can celebrate the year’s output and come together face to face. For many, it is reaffirmation as to why they work in design. Within the public realm, the upside is that design has its own forum alongside more popular industries like fashion and film, which is essential to garner more interest and understanding of what it can offer. The downside is that the design scene can be insular and seem highbrow and rather impenetrable to outsiders. We look to the festival organisers to ‘solve’ this, but they can’t perform miracles – every participant should be reminded of the importance of clear and inviting outward communication to the eventual customer.How important is LDF in launching a business?Anna Hart, director, MARK
LDF is a great time in the year when everyone in the design industry can take a bit of time out to look to London for some inspiration, see what’s new and what’s going on in the world of design. We were keen to be part of this which is why we chose to launch MARK at 100% Design last year. It gave us the opportunity to showcase our company to a wide-ranging national and international audience and we’ve continued working with the people we met at 100% Design over this past year to form a great network of dealers and retailers. Without this focused opportunity, getting MARK out there would have been a much slower process. How has the recession impacted on LDF this year? Peter Massey, director, 100% Design LondonMassively. The design industry is reappraising and readjusting to new conditions. This year will see a flight to quality over fashion, with sustainability overtaking frivolity. We will experience a more creative 100% Design and LDF, as designers focus on presenting new thinking and ideas relevant to a new economic and social landscape. We can also expect to see the entrepreneurial spirit more evident, with designers leading the way on new business models and collaborative working in order to bypass financial difficulties posed by the recession. All this will make for a very energised, but more concentrated, festival spirit, as designers come together in groups to participate and showcase their ideas: expect to see the unexpected! For example, just what will a 100% Design/Designersblock collaboration look like?How is JAM helping to build 100% Design, and LDF as a whole, into a true British brand?Jamie Anley, director, JAM100% Design and the London Design Festival are both inherently British brands, both of which still have a massive untapped global potential. This year JAM is working with them to support their growth and success. As creative directors of 100% Design, one of our first initiatives was to seek ways of integrating the show with The London Design Festival to increase the experience and impact of both brands. We have achieved this in a number of ways. Firstly, by visiting 100% Design you will capture a glimpse of awe-inspiring installations taking place around London, with information on hand to locate them. Secondly, we have brought into the same venue as 100% Design one of London’s leading fringe events taking place during the London Design Festival, Designersblock. Thirdly, we have launched the Brompton Bicycle Tours, taking people from Earls Court on a tour of interesting installations up to the V&A and back again. In short, we have recognised that the collective energy and creativity of all the various events will create a more positive experience for all involved. JAM is art directing a more unified experience at 100% Design. We are also introducing more participatory, theatrical and multi-disciplinary installations to provide the inspiration and surprise that you would expect from a British design experience.
How important is LDF for establishing a brand? Jimmy MacDonald, director of Tent London
For an international brand wanting to crack the UK market there is no other time of year to do so. Most global brands that have taken full advantage of this period have found it so useful that they have now set up show rooms in London permanently. For UK based emerging brands the LDF provides the all-important immovable annual target for getting to a state readiness. The LDF is period in the year when you can be absolutely sure there will be more media, specifiers and buyers in town than at any other time of year, all on the look out for something new or surprising. How important is LDF for spotting new talent in a climate with so many other channels (such as blogs and Twitter) available?Barbara Chandler, journalist and current design writer for the Evening StandardYou cannot substitute seeing something for real to get a feeling for scale and quality and above all a true idea of colour and texture – which any internet image can never reveal. Also, when meeting people in the flesh, ideas spark back and forth in a way you cannot replicate, particularly when there is a group of you. And you only get 140 characters on Twitter. I should know as I am marginally obsessed…
Ken Giannini, the newly appointed Interior Design Director for Scott Brownrigg, discusses the ins and outs of bringing existing office stock up to current standards
The sustainable building movement is suffering a crisis of overhype and from focusing too often on new buildings. We have seen a groundswell of ideas, legislation, and examples of new green buildings in recent years, but comparitively little work has been done on how we make existing buildings more sustainable. Considering that existing buildings make up 99 per cent of our stock, it seems we have been spending most of our efforts solving one per cent of the problem. Making existing buildings more sustainable will be the next big focus for the design industry. Albeit by default as new build opportunities are limited by the recession. Landlords will have to consider how best to market empty properties and occupiers will fit-out or refurbish their offices in order to sweat their assets. They will also be responding to the wishes of staff, customers or shareholders to be green. Making our existing building stock more sustainable may also be the best way for the design industry to contribute to helping meet the aggressive government target of 80 per cent carbon reduction by 2050. We are seeing greater interest from landlords to refurbish and for many of them the motivation is to add value. This is the holy grail. Value can mean different things including premium rents for green buildings. There is not enough clear evidence to say that green buildings demand higher rents, but recent research in the USA shows that on average green buildings demand six per cent higher rents or sell for 35 per cent premium compared to non LEED buildings. I am not sure any UK developer would agree with those figures but there is a general concern among landlords about being left behind. There is also the risk that future legislation will make poor performing buildings subject to tax penalties.It’s not an easy feat to refurbish older office stock because it means facing up to issues like services that are past their life and no longer meet standards and regulations; DDA access requirements; providing adequate insulation; facades and windows that are single glazed; common parts that are tired and run down and do not convey the right brand; lack of raised floors; low slab to slab height; inadequate means of escape to suit high density occupation; or buildings that are occupied at the time the work needs to be carried out. The list goes on and on.The good news is that older buildings often have advantages including higher car parking ratio allowances, sometimes higher plot ratios, so no risk of triggering section 106 agreements. A recent study we took part in with the British Council of Offices, called Can Do, dispelled a few myths regarding old buildings and their potential such as the idea that it is more expensive to refurbish than build new, that new builds will be less of an investment risk or more sustainable, or that it’s not an option to refurbish an occupied building.It is a common misconception that as interior architects or designers we have very little to contribute to a building’s sustainability credentials when designing a fit-out or refurbishment for the occupier. This is not true. Most designers specify products responsibly and consider, for example, locally sourced products, products with recycled content, recyclability, materials from renewable sources or that have low embedded energy, using alternatives to natural stone or petrochemical products.These are common sense choices and often have little cost implications. But we have to be reasonable in our specification and realise that if we drill down into every product and interrogate every aspect of its sustainability credentials, we probably will find something non sustainable.The occupier’s use of buildings is where I believe there is even greater scope to help our clients be green. Behaviour and operational protocols are developed in the briefing process and designers can flesh this out and then create the physical environment with these in mind. The menu of these protocols can include: Getting rid of rubbish bins, flexible working and desk sharing to increase density, recycling, temperature set to 24 degrees in summer, lighting controls, shutting down certain areas not in use, filtered water on tap, bike sheds and showers, rainwater harvesting to flush toilets, blinds and space planning the southwest corners of buildings to respect the heat gain issues. Steps like this will take us a long way to greening existing buildings.
John Irwin, managing director of Bisley, makes a case for design led manufacturing in Britain.
If the recent financial crisis has taught us anything, it is to appreciate the importance of a manufacturing culture. Disillusionment with the banks and the City has prompted many of us to wonder how so much money can be made and lost with nothing to show. It’s not just about the unreal world of high finance, but the virtual reality that we increasingly inhabit with our computers. There is a growing trend toward rejecting these virtual worlds and embracing authenticity – hence the desire to grow your own vegetables or knit your own jumpers. Hopefully, this will bring fresh appreciation for manufacturing – in particular, for products made locally. It’s a straightforward business model: take raw materials, add design, manufacturing, and tooling to create a physical product. As a baby boomer from the North East, I am part of the first generation not to be employed in the ‘smoke-stack’ of heavy industries such as ship building and mining. Much of this has been outsourced to developing countries, and Britain has been branded a nation of knowledge workers. With this a perception has arisen that the vast majority work in the service industries. Yet it’s wrong to dismiss British manufacturing as gone for good. In Britain we still make things, and we make them well, using cutting-edge manufacturing techniques and employing local design talent – widely regarded as the world’s best.In our own office furniture industry, you don’t have to look far to find home-grown success stories. Not only Bisley, but companies like Senator and Herman Miller retain a major UK manufacturing presence.
It’s the sophistication, precision and quality of these manufacturers that is so appealing to designers and specifiers of workplace interiors. In my experience, the quality of the products will largely determine the success of an office scheme. These manufacturers have continually invested in their factories and production technologies, to deliver enhanced products that aren’t easily replicated by less-skilled producers.Manufacturing is often accused of being product led – consumers are offered a product and decide whether to buy it. This may have been true several decades ago, but these days it is impossible for manufacturers to be successful with that attitude. Technologies employed by British manufacturers have made it much easier to produce individual, bespoke solutions, that can be delivered quickly. And while internal and external designers are employed to create a range of products that you will find in catalogues and at trade fairs, they are also busy working directly with customers on unique solutions.We have become project-led manufacturers, remaining customer focused and producing solutions to meet their needs. Our industry has evolved into a more consultative format, much more akin to design. So next time you hear about the UK financial meltdown, take heart that there are real, physical things still being made in the country that gave birth to the Industrial Revolution.
Laikingland is a creative collaboration based in both the UK and the Netherlands. Its intention is to design and manufacture beautifully crafted kinetic objects that engage the observer, and evoke a sense of play and nostalgia. Laikingland’s first product is the Applause Machine, designed by British artist Martin Smith. It is available in the Yorkshire Sculpture Park and the Harley Gallery in the UK, and Hot Ice ConFUSION in Amsterdam.
If 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.
There is something incongruous about the word “greenscraper”. Even though it slips easily into architectural vernacular, it is a difficult term with which to grapple.On the one hand, Foster + Partners’ new high rise is the fourth tallest skyscraper in London’s Square Mile. The Willis Building is bold and brash, boasts more than 5,000 tonnes of steel and has piled foundations the length of four-and-a-half London buses. Twenty-one high-speed lifts travel the 125m-high building at 15 miles per hour, taking staff from the ground to the top floor in a matter of seconds. Thirty thousand people spent a total of 1.5 million man-hours taking the project from inception to completion.But the building excels in terms of its BREEAM (Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method) ratings and was awarded 10/10 for its low energy consumption. The high standards of sustainable construction were also commended – material from the demolition of the building was recycled and crushed for use in the foundations of the new structure, reducing both wastage and road miles.The glass facade incorporates high-efficiency double-glazing, and the distinctive saw-tooth design – apart from enhancing the silhouette – prevents overheating, reduces the usage of air-conditioning and optimises the amount of natural light coming into the building. Only about one in five new builds achieves excellence in its BREEAM rating, with the proportion in London far lower. For a skyscraper to achieve it is a particularly tall order. But if any building was going to hit such heights, it was going to be the Willis Building. The team behind this new addition to the London skyline is the architectural equivalent of a super-group, with Foster at the helm, British Land as the developer, Stanhope as the manager and global insurance broking company Willis laying claim to the whole tower.The green theme is at the heart of the structure. StructureTone, the company behind the fit out, managed to carbon offset the project in keeping with the core build. The building is the UK’s first Forestry Stewardship Council-accredited fit out and a wide range of initiatives were introduced to reduce the carbon footprint of the development. These included a 50 per cent decrease in the haulage of CO2 through the use of a consolidation centre, and a recycling rate of over 85 per cent. Mineral fibre tiles, which produce 80 times less CO2 than their metal equivalent, were used in the ceiling.Foster + Partners designed the lift lobby, a show-stopping glossy affair with mood lighting and reflective ceilings, giving a modernising effect to the rest of the fit out.The interior of the building is a corporate fit out to suit a high-end insurance broker. Designed by Swanke Hayden Connell Architects, it includes a 375-seat auditorium, a fully equipped gym and restaurant to accommodate the 2,000 plus staff with its own outdoor terrace.The three roof terraces are a highlight of the finished build. The highest and most impressive, the Client Advocate roof terrace, is used for corporate entertainment and dining, and takes in views of the whole of the city. The statement, however, is in the building – and it is most definitely a trumpet blow that will be heard across the City. In 2007, Willis’ New York division moved into first-class office space at One Financial Centre. Lloyds previously occupied the company’s London site, at 51 Lime Street, before it moved to 1 Lime Street, opposite the new development. Willis really is placing itself at the heart of the insurance sector.When developer British Land was looking for a tenant for the new build and approached Willis, some unusual adjustments had to be made. The insurance broker wanted a tower that it could occupy exclusively. British Land’s head of London leasing, Paul Burgess, says: “It was probably the first time we had ever gone to the city planner and asked to make a build smaller.”The changes went ahead; it was a collaboration that everyone wanted in on.The project is not the first time Willis has worked with Foster + Partners. The three-storey Willis Building in Ipswich was designed by the company’s previous incarnation, Foster Associates, in 1974, and given Listed status in 1991.The new headquarters have been developed as a series of overlapping curved shells, with the sections arranged in three steps. Roof terraces overlooking London are directly accessible from three floors of the office tower. More than 2,000 Willis staff, from four offices across London, have moved into the 28-storey build.An adjacent nine-storey building, 1 Fenchurch, which is part of the same development, has been part let to a law firm. Both buildings have an open and integrated area at street level, more in keeping with nearby Leadenhall Market with its shops and cafes than a financial district.The smaller building’s concave facade shapes the public plaza that both buildings step down to. Its curved corners maintain important view corridors, as well as reinstating a historic route through the site. A fringe of shops, cafes and bars at its base, together with linear seating and landscaping, combine to enhance the public realm.Both buildings have a central core to provide open floorplates and maximum flexibility in use. The entire development is unified visually by its highly reflective facade.The Willis Building won the 2007 New City Architecture Award, not only for its architectural form, but also for its contribution to the streetscape of the City. Chief executive Joe Plumeri says that for a global giant such as Willis, the move also shows commitment to London as one of the world’s leading financial centres. “I have no idea what the BREEAM means, but I am guessing that it is a real good thing.” For him, it is about modernising – and standing tall. The glass structure certainly achieves both these goals.
Words by Helen PartonLondon-based practice GMW Architects has overseen a consolidation of three locations into one for British American Tobacco, with a controversial move from cellular to open plan.I had a rather romantic image of smoke-filled rooms with people puffing insouciantly on Lucky Strikes, but of course post-smoking ban, that was never going to be the case. I doubt it was before to be honest – British American Tobacco’s offices don’t seem to be that kind of environment, certainly judging by the persuasion it took to let me in there in the first place. “It’s quite hierarchical and still is to a certain degree,” admits Tim Hardingham, partner with GMW Architects. The practice has been working with BAT for over seven years and garnered a British Council for Offices award for its work on BAT’s offices in Cannon St in 2001. The practice began developing concepts for this current project – at Globe House in Temple Place, just off London’s Embankment – in 2006. Entitled Project SEA, it was to be a test bed for design ideas to be rolled out across the rest of Globe House. Senior staff had been relocated from three different buildings to consolidate BAT’s European-wide operation into a single location, and as a result they have had to make the switch from cellular office space to a far more open-plan option. I get the impression this wasn’t easy in terms of physical reorganisation or employees’ prevailing attitudes towards having their own individual offices. “The brief was to get everybody together and reflect the values of growth and responsibility,” says Hardingham. He goes on to explain how GMW came up with the idea of “grown up open plan” to make the senior managers more accessible, while still acknowledging their status and encouraging interaction between the company’s various European functions (which previously hadn’t been the case). The solution GMW came up with consisted of making a serene atmosphere as opposed to a buzzy one, with plenty of informal meeting space and not skimping in terms of quality furniture – if those senior staff were going to give up their individual offices, they had to be compensated for that somehow, the thinking went.As we walk around the floor to compare the new elements with another part of the office, which hasn’t undergone the makeover, the lack of colour and comfy informal space of this “before” area are all too apparent. In the “after” part, primary shades have been used on the workstation partitioning to give the space a more playful feel. Bench style seating positioned in a staggered layout has also been introduced to maximise the opportunities for people from different teams to interact. The standout part of this project though is the break-out areas, with their collection of suspension lights from Artemide plus easy chairs, bar stools and sofas from Vitra and Ergonom – they are light, bright and contrast well with the rest of the office. Apart from the long, white, gondola-shaped solid surface material featuring striped upholstery, which may be a radical design step too far for the employees here, the rest of this more informal space seems to be well used. Indeed it may be a victim of its own success. I’m visiting this project at quite an interesting time, as the results of a feedback questionnaire are just in. While there has been demonstrably better communication and socialisation with the introduction of open plan, and staff have praised the break-out space, those for whom these areas were originally provided are now territorial over other departments using them. It seems you can physically remove the idea of cellular office space, but the idea of who is supposed to be sitting where is not shed so easily. GMW has also introduced a series of circular meeting pods, located in the middle of the floor for more impromptu meetings and, judging by the scribbles on the walls, they have proved a fruitful place for BAT staff to gather for brainstorming. Again there has been a positive response to the pods from those surveyed, particularly from senior staff. But in terms of developing the design, they will, in the future, be treated acoustically to prevent the floor from becoming too noisy. Other new elements developed for this interior in the long-standing relationship between BAT and GMW include phone booths and talk rooms, designed to deal with the perceived problem of a lack of privacy.
Words by Michael Willoughby Michael Willoughby met British architect Matt Yeoman, partner at east London-based practice Buckley Gray Yeoman, to discuss carving up buildings, complex simplicity and feeling brilliantIt is no surprise that Matt Yeoman is popular with such property big boys as British Land, Land Securities and Great Portland Estates: he has the mind of a speculator combined with the skill of a developer. He does a mean PowerPoint presentation and has coined not just one but two taglines for his firm – namely “complex simplicity” and “poetic pragmatism”. Yeoman is relentlessly positive and will answer a question with a “Yeah!” even before he has thought about what the rest of the response will consist of. London, he says, is brilliant. Being in the country is brilliant. Hell, even the train ride joining the two is brilliant, since you can work on it. Yeoman must be the most enthusiastic person about mass transit since Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Yeoman also likes the train because it allows him to flit through the suburbs about which he is less keen. A former Torquay boy, who had turned down a career in competitive sailing, Yeoman wanted to live right in the centre of town, not on the edge. And so, following the departure of artist vanguards from Clerkenwell in the early Nineties, he became one of the first people to convert one of the neighbourhood’s warehouses into his own liveable space – the Ingersoll building on St John Street. He now spends three days a week working nearby at the edgy Tea Building in Shoreditch, home to a number of contemporary art galleries. For the rest of his time he is based in Exeter, where his family live, although he’s on the road a lot of the time. “Both my wife and I were from the West Country, so there was a tremendous pressure to return there,” says Yeoman as we overlook the site of the future Shoreditch station. “She and the kids used to follow me about wherever I went. But when they got to school age, I decided it was the wrong way round. I should run about as my job takes me, and they should have a base. It’s brilliant, absolutely brilliant!”But despite his upbeat nature and his numbering developers such as British Land’s Paul Burgess among his pals, Yeoman is not your usual corporate, glass-box architect. Instead, as befits a person who lives in one pioneering conversion and works in another, he is keen, above all, to retain as much of the fabric of existing buildings as possible. This is as much a matter of common sense for him as it is a matter of environmental urgency. “Take this building” – he waves his hand around – “They’ve [Derwent Valley, another Buckley Gray Yeoman client] done a fairly low-cost refurb on it and it’s packed. It’s full. Three years on, when you get a cab, they know the Tea Building.”“British Land and people like that are very confident, talking through the [new build] schemes they have. There’s clearly still a market there. But for SMEs we are finding that existing stock is where those gaps are being plugged. I think this is for several reasons. “Firstly, they don’t need the large floor plate or to meet the certain criteria that the leasing agents are asking new builders to meet. But also, more and more, people are saying, ‘Why are we knocking this down?’”The answer is, on the one hand, because few people have the visionary approach to existing – historic – buildings as BGY does. And on the other, it’s because most buildings aren’t just shells like the Tea Building or Yeoman’s Clerkenwell warehouse home. Most have additional complications such as walls and rooms and existing staircases. However, Yeoman prides himself on being able to see the bigger picture, beyond the original structure. He seems to regard the limitations imposed by last century’s architects as a challenge and sees their buildings as worthwhile but sometimes irrational, or as having become irrational. “This complex simplicity idea,” he says, “it’s about looking at the existing stock and at first it looks like being complex – something that people can’t get their heads around – so they knock it down. It doesn’t take much effort, but some intensity of thought, to rationalise it; to bring the building up to where they want it to be.”Take for example BGY’s plans for Derwent London’s nearby Rosebery Avenue development, currently in final stage of planning. A late Victorian or early Edwardian building, it was put up as a series of workshops and had been divided into three separate buildings. “There are three labyrinthine staircases,” Yeoman says. “It’s difficult to find your way up the building. And it’s difficult to find your way across the building without going down to the ground floor and back up again. The lifts aren’t really up to the current standard. It’s just a tired building that has been broken down over the years.”But that doesn’t mean it should be knocked down or, since it is Grade II listed, left in its current state. “They wanted us to see how we could add some additional space and how we could rationalise it and put it back on the market,” says Yeoman. “It needs flexibility and so we took the innards of the building out – giving it a new core, new staircases and up-to-date lifts.” Space was found for these in a formerly disused alleyway. “We like to grab space back,” he adds. “The front of the building will be given a new central entrance and you can see all the way through to the back.” This is almost the signature style of BGY – the cutting away of existing structures to reveal a new, more poetic space and the radical introduction of light.Another signature is the installation of upper floors on the roof of the building, a plan that necessitates constant diplomacy with local planning authorities. The glass spaces – rooms of light – give the over-familiar buildings an almost François Mansart-like air. They add a lot to the value, too. Yeoman reckons that, with a good view, these upper floors can be let for ten to 15 per cent more than their lower counterparts. At a 1960s block in Hatton Garden’s Kirby Street, for an eponymous investment firm, BGY has pushed its “phototechnics” even further. As part of the land grab for space, BGY convinced the developer to bring the basement space into usage – hitherto priced at three pounds a square foot. But there was a cost. “We said actually what you need to do is to cut back a big portion of your ground floor space and let the big light in and make the basement and the ground floor one true space.”“It’s hard for clients to swallow that,” he continues. “They say, ‘Hang on! You are taking that away. I am not sure I’m getting that back yet.’” The architects created a bridge over which you walk and look to the basement from the ground floor. “Thankfully they went with us and the Conran restaurants took the whole space,” Yeoman concludes.Other light effects are more subtle – Yeoman transformed the back of the same building, which housed a light well that gradually filled up with pigeon droppings. “We added some glazing at the top and created a space which collects light for the whole office,” says Yeoman.Another noteworthy feature of this project involved making the long, front windows flush with the exterior of the building and the elimination of some columns, sending the building back to the 1930s with the creation of a Corbusian picture window. Yeoman agrees with my assessment that he sometimes uses light like the early Flemish painters, drawing one’s eye through a building. “It’s like the shaft of light that comes through a cloud,” he says, “pulling your view into the distance.” Some light effects are more straightforward. For example, for a boardroom for asset management firm Ziv Gani, BGY simply sliced off the top of the building in north-west London.There is something deeply appealing about BGY’s methods. Perhaps it is that they possess the true artist’s realisation that rules – pre-existing buildings, in this case – sometimes make the best art, or perhaps it is my susceptibility to the aforementioned light effects. Yeoman likes to talk about it in terms of sustainability – the energy saved by converting a pre-existing building, and that’s all very worthy. But he seems to me to sometimes reach the qualities of Italian architect Carlo Scarpa, whose renovation of the Castelvecchio Museum, completed in 1964, set new standards for the meeting of old and new. It is, truly, brilliant.
This year marks the tenth anniversary of PearsonLloyd, the British design studio founded by Luke Pearson (right) and Tom Lloyd. The duo, who design for an A-list client base, are now taking steps towards self-initiated projects. Kerstin Zumstein visited their London studio to unravel a batch of brand new productsThe first time I met Luke Pearson, I had just started working on our launch issue. It was during London Design Week last year, and Pearson asked, without hesitation: “So do you already have a launch cover?” It was clear then that it was never going to be anything less than a cover story for PearsonLloyd. The British designers had exceeded the point of short profile snippets in Wallpaper and had risen to join the design league that future students will be learning about in books.
“When thinking about our break-through point, rather than a product or project it was simply the decision to start our own thing,” Pearson recollects. Lloyd (40) and Pearson (39) met while studying at the Royal College of Art in London, where they now give lectures. There is a certain quality in their work that stems from the two of them training in both product and furniture design. “We’re pluralists,” Pearson says. “Product design is function driven, with clever engineering on the inside, while styling is seen as a dirty word. With furniture, on the other hand, the mantra is – take the Curve chair for example – what you see is what you get.” He talks about the emotive connection to furniture, how people have a relationship with these items. “You keep it because you like it,” he says.
“While products are exchanged frequently,” adds Lloyd. “It’s like two halves of a brain, so studying both gives you a balanced approach,” concludes Pearson. The same notion seems to apply to the two business partners.They both feel the importance of intellectually engaging in design and its values, and therefore support the RCA’s platform system based on experimentation and freedom. “We often show photos in our lectures. We’re real photo junkies,” Lloyd admits. Their meeting room wall is covered in an eclectic mix of images, reporting on cultural phenomena (Japanese rappers) as well as natural textures (pebbles on a beach). On a shelf, various miniature models of PearsonLloyd products are mixed with prototype mock-ups, stuck on mirrors. A mysterious collection of brushes catches my eye. “Yeah, we have a thing for brushes,” says Lloyd. “It’s incredible how many different types of brushes you can find in the hardware stores of various different countries. We’re just fascinated by different cultures, from all angles.”
That inspiration is evident in the diversity of PearsonLloyd designs. The mix of cultural influences makes it tricky to pinpoint English roots. So does different cultures mean different nationalities in this context? The international assortment of PearsonLloyd’s client base is quite exceptional: they have currently developed new products for Italians (Tacchini), Germans (Walter Knoll), British (Allemuir), Americans (Bernhardt), Danish (Danerka) and Japanese (Kokuyo). “It’s a dodgy topic, isn’t it?” says Pearson, “talking about national stereotypes. But I think we should celebrate even our subtle difference. It’s inspiring!” And it’s fun. We talk about the Danish being brutally direct or sitting in a Japanese meeting drinking tea in silence and thinking, “shit, something’s wrong.” The typical British reaction would be to say: “Oh, isn’t this tea nice!” just to break the silence, whereas the Japanese are simply deep in thought about the meeting.
So with such a degree of global clientele, how attached are PearsonLloyd to British design? “Of course it’s refreshing to see how British creativity is resurrecting, with the city of London as a strong focal point,” says Lloyd. “Also that British manufacturers are back, like Senator, who own Allemuir, for instance. It’s great to see they’re prepared to invest so heavily in technology and design now.” Senator invested £200,000 in tools for the development of PearsonLloyd’s cantilever chair Soul, first shown at Orgatec 2006.
The story of Soul is a phenomenon in itself. PearsonLloyd actually did the project twice, in total spending four years on the chair. Initially the pair developed the product for Fritz Hansen. Pearson tells me the amusing anecdote of an important planning meeting with the Scandinavians, when he was pacing the room, deep in thought, and automatically sat down on the €4,000 prototype, which instantly exploded beneath him. “I saw it happen in slow motion, it was highly embarrassing. But supposedly, it’s a classic. It’s claimed Magistretti once sat on a prototype too,” Pearson recalls. “Anyway, the whole project was quite a horror story.” In a nutshell, Fritz Hansen commissioned the ambitious project before deciding a chair made predominantly of plastics didn’t quite fit the bill. But when Senator saw the prototype they immediately said: “We’ll build it.” The brief was to design a cheap cantilever chair that is ergonomically sophisticated. The end result, for £150, is half the price Fritz Hansen had planned for, and sophisticated isn’t the word – more like super complex or ultra complicated. Pearson springs to his feet and starts demonstrating the chair: “Ok here’s my pitch!” he says, half jokingly – his pride and self-promotion are part of the package. He lifts the chair as if it was a feather. “It’s light for health and safety reasons,” he says. In fact it’s substantially lighter than Citterio’s Vis a Vis, and stackable at 30mm. Pearson places it on the table, with the seat bottom comfortably sitting on the table top – no need to lift high, no scratching of the table surface. PearsonLloyd clearly exceeded the brief – Soul outshines its competition. It’s a crossover chair, dynamic and flexible and somehow – at the risk of sounding corny – it does have soul. I sit on it for three hours and must admit it is shockingly comfortable. I like the way it promotes movement – you can sit sideways into the armrest and your back still feels supported. Ultimately, the chair is beautiful in its simplicity.
The see-through bottom that Soul is now famous for was initially meant as a joke to celebrate the minimal frame, but everyone loved it and the final fine-tuned production piece will be on show in Design Prima in May. As will Dine, a contemporary version of Arne Jacobsen’s Danish classic 3107, a moulded plywood chair on a tubular steel base, invented in 1955. “Since Jacobsen, everyone has tried to design one,” Pearson says. “The challenge is to design intelligently with the given restrictions. We used conventional veneer but designed mould and profile in parallel, and had to come up with a bespoke shell for under £100.” Production was completed in February 2007. Also, look out for Curve, another chair for Senator with 3D ply, with production completed this February, as well as last year’s Conic and Open.
The form, shape and style of these chairs reflect the confidence and natural ease with which PearsonLloyd designs. At the same time the duo has just finished a desking system for Bernhardt, the American, family-run office design giant. Pearson doesn’t take to my comment that Bernhardt’s general product range isn’t exactly sexy. “They have an incredible set of products and their owner and art director are super savvy. Admittedly though, American design is different.” Lloyd goes for the bigger picture: “Sometimes there is much more room for innovation working with clients that don’t sit among the traditional top ten design firms. For instance, the Italian firms that led in terms of style for decades have been taken over by a new generation that are often either arrogant or scared of their heritage. It’s more difficult to move things forward and create innovative designs. If you take a company that may be hailed the number one and dissect their products you’ll find that – their classics aside – most products are not that great.”
I’m keen to hear more but Pearson brings us back to the point. “Outline – our new desking range for Bernhardt – is pioneering in different ways.” The system is being launched this month, to be sold internationally but only through US clients.
It turns out this Bernhardt project was a rare pitch for PearsonLloyd, going up against the Bellinis etc, and ultimately the pair presented what they describe as a sculptural response. Outline is an executive desking system – meant for law firms, accountancy firms, investment banking – in essence based on hierarchy and status. The system looks cold, hard, professional. It is at the other end of the spectrum from the Edge table for Danish firm Danerka. We sit at Edge in the pair’s studio. The table is as simple as can be: four screws, a simple frame and drop-in tabletop. I know which one I prefer – the simple, multi-functional, anti-hierarchical Edge. But I guess that’s why I’m not an executive at IBM.
“The company traditionally has this millwork,” Lloyd explains, “for cutting panels, veneering them and putting the parts back together. So we needed to create a design culture that responds to this millwork culture as well as the cost culture of the company. We had ambitions for the project that were more sculptural than this, but what it boiled down to was volume, detail, balancing the brutality of panels with jewellery if you like.” Pearson adds, “It has as much to do with art direction as with design. The chrome balanced timber work represents quality and value. We’re dealing with very subtle design details here that are not always about grand gestures.” I guess you have to see the system in the context of its planned consumers. (Watch out for a new desk lamp that PearsonLloyd will be launching for Bernhardt in conjunction with Outline this May. It will have a stem that rotates by 360º, a touch sensitive switch and hide complex mechanics under its clean finish.)
It seems in many cases the culture is the challenge, not the aesthetics. Another interesting client is Japanese firm Kokuyo, one of the world’s largest companies in its sector – an impressive 5,000 dealers assembled to view the launch of PearsonLloyd’s new Kokuyo bench system. “The Japanese have a different way of working,” Pearson says. “They use the word Okuyuki, which means depth, and that lies at the heart of their creative approach.” The irony here is that the British design team really struggled to decode the initial brief. “Initially we started working to a wrong brief,” Lloyd admits. “They said they wanted a ‘bench system that caters for the individual, a seating system but not a single seater, a system that defines individual space, creates separation’. We didn’t know what the hell they were after.” The end result, however, created in an impressive three months without the designers ever flying out to Japan, is an agile and curious bench curve. There are three different components to it, either formed with an internal 30º corner, an external 30º corner or simply straight. Each element that allows two people to sit on it also has a double V shape cut into the back so that the back portions can flex independently, preventing the usual jolt if the person next to you leans back or forth. The bench modules can be arranged in various ways, automatically creating an interesting pattern.
“A lot of the thinking process we developed while working on Tacchini’s Polar system went into this project,” says Pearson. “After all, when do three people ever want to sit next to each other in a straight line? Either you want to move towards each other and talk or you’d rather move away from each other. It’s like when you watch people on a platform. Strangers will turn an extra ten degrees just to be out of the eye line of the person next to them. That’s the basis of the curve idea.” The Polar system, designed in April 2006, is one of my favourite PearsonLloyd products. I like its ease and flow, and the idea that it is based on the natural forms of icebergs rising out of the sea. PearsonLloyd also has an impressive array of products for Spanish firm Martinez Otero on the market, with launch products experimenting with ceramics and rugs lined up for Milan. The original colour palettes for the rugs are based on optical kinetics, with shades changing “like fluids and liquids,” Lloyd says, “not that most people would recognise that.” The modular storage system Horizon made quite an impression at London’s 100% Design. “We used mitred joints for drawers and doors to accentuate a sense of volume,” says Pearson. “This volume is then challenged by the introduction of mirrored panels at the ends of each unit, which interacts with both the surrounding architecture and adjacent modules.”
PearsonLloyd has so much going on that after three hours my head is about to burst. There seems no end to the duo’s creative energy and they both seem highly ambitious and enthusiastic about everything they do. Despite the insight they grant me into their new and upcoming projects – and we haven’t even touched on their Virgin fit-out for every single travel class from economy to upper class, the first team to design an entire fleet I believe, not to mention their plans for Transport for London and a bus shelter for Sheffield Council – the best thing about them is that they transfer their passion for design into everything else they do. With the same fervour we discuss cycling in central London, food waste in Hackney, the environment and current outsourcing trends. Suddenly Pearson says, with genuine surprise: “There you are, that’s what I’d like to design one day: a bike!” Can you put me on the waiting list guys?