Clive Wilkinson has always been big news. His first workplace project, the TBWA/Chiat/Day complex in Los Angeles became known as ‘advertising city’ on account of its main street, central park, basketball court and billboards: it rewrote the way we viewed the workplace.
Since then there has been the Google Headquarters in Silicon Valley; helping to establish Mother studio in London as the mother of all creative agencies; and, at the end of last year, his project for marketing giant JWT’s HQ in New York (see onoffice issue 26).
It’s not all workplace design, he points out. He first came by his client TBWA incidentally when working under Frank Gehry, and was commissioned in ’97 to recreate their workspace. What he liked about designing offices from the outset is that you work with “non-professionals who think about space in exactly the same way that we (architects) do.”
Ad agencies have always been an obvious match for Wilkinson. “The focus is on how people behave, and how this improves the end creative product, without which they would go out of business.”
But, having worked on all the big ones, he came to feel he had exhausted creative agencies to the point that they were not such a big challenge.His latest project, designing workplaces for Macquarie, Australia’s biggest investment bank, goes against the grain of all of his clients until now.“This is the other side of coin for us; it’s the opposite type of business. Ordinarily we wouldn’t go near them; they’re a finance service, a different animal. But they reached out to us,” he says.“They may be a more conservative, conventional institution, but they are forward thinking in the way they work. They see themselves in a different way, and wanted to morph into something new.”In terms of scale and complexity, the project represents Wilkinson’s biggest challenge to date; at 330,000sq ft, accommodating 3000 people, it is three times the size of TBWA. “I was working on that project ten years ago, but it was not as radical as this.”The new project is built around activity-based working, a concept that the financial services firm was turned on to by a visit to Interpolis in the Netherlands, an insurance company that has done away with designated desks, where employees continually move around facilities and environments.“They had Dutch consultants (Prooff, see p56) on board to convert to this way of working, and we were prescribed a detailed brief,” he says, “which we interpreted for the building.”Does it still look like an office? “Not really,” he muses, “more like an airport, or a business lounge.” Hard to believe, with Wilkinson’s unconventional force at the helm.“We had creative input into the building, as well as the fit out,” he moves on to explain the stunning ten storey atrium, with working clusters and meeting pods cantilevered over the side at the centre of the building. “It is a dramatic, vertical space and built area”: this sounds more like it.The working ethos is “very radical, very unusual”, so does it work, in practice? As occupancy hasn’t taken place yet (the project completes in October 2009) it’s hard to tell. But the process was piloted before the leap was made with a test run floor that staff were rotated through, which got a ‘high thumbs up’. It’s nice to have “that change of environments,” Wilkinson points out. “Companies in the dot com era ten years ago tried to do this open desk policy, but they didn’t think intelligently about it; if you got in early you ran for the best desk and if you got in late you had nowhere to sit.”The paperless office may be a long way off, Wilkinson reckons, but the management at Macquarie for example are making a concerted effort to reduce it and it’s definitely headed that way.What Wilkinson looks forward to now is the rest of the world’s reaction to the project. “A lot of businesses will be sceptical, which is why the post occupancy survey will be interesting. It’s a big story, because it’s such a large model, and it’s this company.“When ad agencies change working practices it’s easy for other businesses to believe ‘it won’t really apply to us’; with this company other organisations like it will be taking closer attention, and wondering if it could benefit them.Wilkinson is a key player in championing the move into open architecture, and “rarely does anything other than fight for it” when drawing up plans with a client.“You can have both, private workspace and collaborative space. If you had 20sq ft per person, our approach would be to minimise the personal space each person has to maximise public space: meeting rooms, club house areas, break out spaces, anything that keeps people moving around the office, making it interactive.“The strong case traditionally made that offices should be built one third collaborative space, and two thirds private, is exactly wrong.”The inappropriate focus on private space is a paradigm Wilkinson wants to see put to bed altogether. “Open environments encourage transparency, you can overhear, see what goes on around you.” It seems a relevant cause in today’s climate, when academics predict the survival of the office in the face of emerging technologies on the fundamental basis that we, as humans, are a social race.Getting to know a client well, and realising other people’s vision of themselves, is key to Wilkinson’s approach, as much as helping to create the identity they want.“Corporations often have such a fragile identity and sense of brand. They may have a logo, but their relationship with it is completely abstract, it’s not a genuine representation of a community of people.”His agenda however, pushing for highly collaborative and identifiable spaces, only works with the right client.“It’s not easy to get these projects,” Wilkinson acknowledges of Macquarie, “Gensler and HOK are seen as safer options. There is more risk in going with us. But the clients that come to us regard that as an essential part of our approach. They want to move into the future without the baggage of the present.”As it brings different groups from across Australia into one building Macquarie was a very complex project, he explains.“There were many different leadership teams involved. It’s a process of negotiation and navigation. We had to present to many different groups in Australia. It’s a complex, human, intense process. It’s highly socialised, you’re looking at how people spend their time every day. You can’t fail, there is no margin for error, it could be incredibly disastrous for business.”The finished project is “still quite colourful, but not as nutty, it has a sophisticated edge.”Wilkinson takes workplace design seriously, but doesn’t see anyone else out there pushing the boundaries in similar ways. “There are a lot of architects doing interesting buildings, but very few looking at the workplace in a creative way.”Although his approach isn’t for everyone, “on the Googleplex project there were two camps, those who loved it and those who didn’t, but there were political things happening at the time,” he does not see himself as a designer pandering to novelty.The 2000-gallon fish tank that is talked about at TBWA was something they incorporated that was already there from an advertising shoot, and the indoor basketball was a client request, “there is a banal assumption we author everything,” he levels. Since the recession hit a year ago, he has been applying his approach to new areas, including education, where there are “fascinating parallels”. He is also working designs for a radio station in Los Angeles, and a University in Texas. Rest assured, that while this LA firm is in practice, the concept of working space is unlikely to ever reach standstill.
When global American pharmaceutical Johnson & Johnson took a floor of the landmark Starrett-Lehigh Building on the Hudson River, New York it was a seismic step for a major company.
Moving boxes shelving, which is part of the City Collection, is ideal for storing magazines, files or paper-cases within its special dividers or holders. The location and amount of boxes can be specified by the client and can change the style by sliding along the shelving. The shelves are both functional and practical and made of mdf with oak and venge veneers.
Those working in the media and creative sectors are probably familiar with London venues such as the Frontline Club in Paddington or The Hospital Club in Covent Garden, which offers bars, lounges, private cinemas and a rotating collection of contemporary art.
Operating under the moniker OfficeLifting, architects at Berlin-based practice raumteam:92 are responding to that infamous “efficient” German stereotype in kind.Since the 1990s Germany’s capital city has undergone a structural renovation the likes of which no other European city has seen since the end of World War Two. Berlin’s buildings have received enviable architectural treatment at the hands of international talent (in 1999 Sir Norman Foster had converted the former Reichstag into the new German Parliament; it’s glass cupola has since been hailed the “hallmark” of the city) and via more indigenous means.Stephan Braunfels, Axel Schultes and Charlotte Frank, Von Gerkan Marg and Partners, Hans Kollhoff, Josef Paul Kleihues and now raumteam:92 – the subject of this story – have each left a mark on the “new look” Berlin and, arguably, as inhabitants of the city these architects have proved best placed to reshape their home. There is a reason for this: like Germans on the whole, Berliners are internationally renowned for their skills in engineering and design. But unlike their countrymen, Berlin’s avant-garde have had reason to safeguard their city’s identity more than most. In the wake of the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the city’s occupants began a salvage mission; they set about regaining a collective sense of identity. It’s had a profound affect on all Berliners’ ways of working, but raumteam:92 has perhaps epitomised the approach with its innovative form of interior architecture, OfficeLifting. Angelika Zwingel, a project leader at raumteam:92, says the firm coined the phrase to describe its bit-part approach to interior architecture (“you could call it interior design, but we think that’s too generic a term”), a self-styled “integrative design strategy which, with careful means, is aimed simultaneously at designing the spatial company identity and at structural improvements in the actual work environment”. The term was borrowed from the practice of plastic surgery, as recipients of such treatment receive a nip here and a tuck there – just enough to revive weary elements, but not a whole new face. But OfficeLifting is about much more than just semantics. A fundamental aspect of the approach is the use of design to harmonise the formulation of external company branding with internal authenticity – bearing great resemblance to the citywide effort to secure a new identity for Berliners without losing any more of the old one. “During my time in England and the States I encountered a much more developed awareness towards the intrinsic qualities of an intentionally formed space (as opposed to mere ‘hip design’),” says Zwingel, “and there was a greater openness there to provide a reasonable budget to achieve it. Berlin is a great place to watch all sorts of recycling, tuning and the recharching of spaces and objects on a highly individual level, but in the end it all comes down to money and Berlin, or perhaps Germany in general, has certainly not been a place where money was found on the streets and available to spend easily.” Thankfully, expense isn’t an issue when it comes to OfficeLifting. All improvements are bespoke and tailored to budget, and despite the outlay being joyfully inexpensive, it’s clear from raumteam:92’s past projects that the results clients can expect are quite outstanding. In the case of Schröder+Schömbs, a public relations company based in Berlin Mitte, utilising textile partitions enabled the firm flexibility in terms of spatial division. The makeshift walls play confidently with the building’s depth and lighting conditions too, offering a sense of identity to a design that had previously been defined by clutter. Likewise, at Zucker PR, also located in Berlin Mitte, working with a budget Zwingel describes as “minute” proved inspiration on the project rather than the hindrance it might typically have been. The team enjoyed much success through the simple and subtle implementation of plants; the architects hung flower boxes with the help of a carpenter, and stencilled plant-like visuals on the walls, which wove an energising green thread through the Zucker office to “revitalise” its staff. “It is probably not surprising that the two OfficeLiftings we think have been most exceptional were designed for PR agencies,” says Zwingel. “The best clients we’ve worked with have understood the influence of a carefully conceived finish and did not hesitate to invest in thought rather than shiny surfaces. Working with people who are open to experimenting with their space in order to find a strong theme is fundamental in achieving more than a pretty arrangement of elements.”It’s not the first time during our interview that Zwingel has sworn by the benefits of client interaction. She is quick to stress the importance of input from employees too, even citing examples where OfficeLifting projects had failed due to a lack of input from those sources. “We have had projects that didn’t work because we felt that we weren’t able to really incorporate the ideas of the employees,” says Zwingel. “This was either because there weren’t many or the client would tell us what he or she thought employees needed, but that doesn’t work because the client has different needs to the employee. It can be hard work convincing the client that it’s important for us to talk to their employees.” But judging by the results, this collaborative approach has proved invaluable.
On her website, a nonchalant Katrina Kostic Samen is perched elegantly half in and half out of a helicopter. As she cheerfully waves her magic wand, buildings pop up effortlessly out of the cartoon cityscape.In reality, of course, major property development takes rather more than a bit of fairy dust, as Kostic Samen – a former partner at workplace specialist Gensler – knows full well. But as head of her own strategy, design and architecture firm KKS – with a 25-year track record of advising blue-chip clients on complex multi-million pound relocations, rationalisations and refurbishments – she’s entitled to have a little bit of fun. Joking aside, her achievements are impressive. On a window at KKS’ Southwark offices, a map of London is covered with dots representing major properties that she’s had a hand in, with clusters in the City, West End and Docklands, including big names such as Norton Rose, Clifford Chance and several confidential major banking clients. “Twelve schemes that I’ve been involved in are currently [going up] on the skyline,” she points out proudly.Her firm’s hybrid role is tricky to sum up neatly. In simple terms, she sees herself as the link between the developer, the occupier and the architect: “I’m that piece of glue,” she says, pointing out that a lot of architects may design pretty buildings, but that doesn’t mean they necessarily know how to get the most out of a plan, how to organise the circulation space or even where to put the front door. That’s where KKS’ expertise comes in, with the firm scrutinising plans right down to the height of the windowsills, the toilet configurations and the loading bay positions, and suggesting changes where necessary. “I try to bring the best of what an occupier would look for to the development,” she says.Sometimes Kostic Samen works with the developer and its architect at an early stage to adapt the design of a proposed building in order to attract and secure the right tenant. Sometimes she helps tenants formulate their property needs to suit their business goals, and then organises a search for appropriate sites, entering into discussions with shortlisted developers and their architects right down to heads of terms and agreement to lease, and then helping her clients make the best choice.Big, complex projects don’t scare Kostic Samen. Norton Rose lasted five years and she’s currently working with architects KPF on a 130,000sq m headquarters for a leading global financial services company. But KKS also takes on smaller design projects of its own, such as new premises for Beetham Organisation and Vivid Interiors.It’s an unusual route for a graduate in interior architecture and environmental design to take. But listen to her talk and her references are all finance and business – more management consultant than creative, or at least a fusion of the two. At KKS, these two sides of her can come into their own. “I like the creative aspect of design and architecture. But my focus is on reading the FT, Newsweek, Time, the business journals, to understand who the client is, and what their thought process is,” she says.Kostic Samen’s globe-trotting upbringing must be a help in dealing with her international, frequently American clientele. Born in Athens to a Ukranian-American diplomat father and an English mother, she lived in Pakistan and Germany before spending four years at school in England, and then moving to the US when she was 14. After university, she worked for a healthcare practice and then at three Gensler offices in the US before moving with them to London. And while she retains a subtle American accent, she feels more English. On the day of this interview she is dressed in a stylish business suit with a large fabric flower corsage of the sort favoured by Carrie in Sex and the City. Indeed, her 16-strong office is predominantly female, which is still highly unusual in the property/development world. But she’s shown that she’s far more than a novelty. At Gensler, she was one of four staff sent over to open the London office in 1989, coinciding rather unfortunately with the onset of the recession. But Gensler, and Kostic Samen, toughed it out. After a few years, the other founding staff went back to the US, but she stayed on, and by the time she left as partner, Gensler’s London office had grown to 300. “I adored Gensler. I grew my career with them and had the most amazing training,” she says.But by late 2003 and now with two children, Kostic Samen felt ready for a change. Initially working from her kitchen table, she set up KKS. Norton Rose was a key project from the onset. Here the challenge was to help the client bring its seven offices together on one site at the same time as it was moving them from a traditional law firm set up to more of a corporate model. KKS narrowed sites down to the shortlist of two, discussing with the scheme architects how to fulfil the client’s needs, and presenting the options back to the client. The result was that Norton Rose chose 3 More London designed by Foster + Partners, who subsequently adapted aspects of the scheme including re-siting the building to maximise views and redesigning the structural column grid. Legal clients have become a speciality. KKS has also worked with Allen & Overy and Burges Salmon and has just finished offices for Eversheds at One Wood Street, providing strategic planning and concept design in collaboration with Fletcher Priest Architects and Woods Bagot. Like many law firms, Eversheds was exploring ways of becoming less cellular and KKS analysed open-plan and cellular options, coming up with a studio concept compromise. This arranges people in two, four, six or eight-person modules as appropriate, with three options of screen heights to give increased privacy to those who need it.Over the years, she’s worked with Foster, Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners, Foreign Office Architects, Grimshaw & Partners and many more big names. Unsurprisingly, not all have taken kindly to KKS suggesting some quite significant changes.“We’ve just had two strong run-ins with major architects. Luckily the client backed what I said. More often than not it’s fine,” she says, adding that KKS is increasingly getting calls from architects directly asking if they’ll look over office plans. Having been there before in the recession of 1989, Kostic Samen is pragmatic about the prospect of an economic downturn. “There’s no question it’ll affect all of us,” she says, heartened that her big 130,000sq m project is still going ahead, and pointing out that legal clients aren’t as affected as other sectors by a downturn. And if anything, it makes KKS’ work even more essential – developers will have to work harder to attract occupiers and will be asking her advice, she hopes, on future-proofing their buildings for different scenarios. And attention to details of the sort that KKS specialises in will certainly matter more: “I can’t tell you how many deals we’ve done on the quality of the toilets – we spend hours detailing them,” she says. Full of drive and energy, she is clearly enjoying running her own show: “We have a really good time. Otherwise it’s not worth it.”Contrary to her website cartoon, Kostic Samen may not be a fairy godmother. But with her expert knowledge and dynamic attitude, she can still make her clients’ dreams come true.