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.”
The 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.
Before 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.”
A raft of challenges faced MoreySmith when it came to turning the vanilla Cat A office space in north London’s Regent’s Place into the new headquarters of media giants Aegis Group.
The move, a culmination of a two-year strategic property review, is the first time that the company’s various brands (including Vizeum, iProspect and Carat) have come under one roof. Previously spread around London, in locations ranging from the Qube near Tottenham Court Road to the Tea Building in Shoreditch, each had developed an individual feel to their offices and workspaces. The project demanded a level of unity, so that the brands would sit together in a coherent way, but no individual agency wanted to lose any of its identity in the transfer.
There was some controversy over bringing a group of media companies to Regent’s Place, the British Land development that spans the area behind Euston Road between Great Portland Street and Warren Street tube stations. When it couldn’t find a single space big enough in the traditional media strongholds of east London and the West End, Aegis took the step to move its 1,150 staff to the “other” side of Euston, to an 11,000 sq m site overlooking Regent’s Park.
The company had found the space it needed, but the building itself needed a stamp of individuality. The Regent’s Place development already had everything in place, from the reception, which directly mirrors others in the development, to the raised floors and suspended ceilings. Important decisions had to be made over whether to extensively refit areas, or to allocate the funding elsewhere, injecting personality into the building through other means.
These factors made consulting each individual client more important than ever. The project also had a tight timescale attached – eight months from consultation to moving in. This posed an additional challenge: each contractor had to be closely phased, with all eight floors of the building fitted out in a synchronised manner, meaning that each floor plate needed to relate to the next.
Despite every floor-cum-agency having a unique treatment in terms of design and feel, a layout template was needed to make the project deadlines achievable. On each floor, the meeting rooms sit behind the lift shaft; the lift gives way to reception entrances with breakout space and drinks points leading off them; and the open-plan office spaces lie beyond.
A skilful balance of creativity and pragmatism was essential to make this project a success. “We had been faced with a similar challenge with another client, Arup,” says Nicola Osborn, a director on the project. “We had to bring a number of companies together, retaining the identity of each. Sony Music was similar; many labels that had existed separately had to come together in one location.” These projects served as testimony of MoreySmith’s ability to listen to each company individually and deliver a shared vision for the client. “It’s this experience that they really valued,” explains Osborn. “This is the most brands we have worked with in a single project, however.”
The main feature as you walk into Aegis’s reception is the staircase, which the architects dropped in, meaning that big clients do not have to go through security, or the main lift lobby, but are linked directly to the pitch rooms on the first floor. It also bypasses the ground floor cafe, which is designed as an informal space for employees to mix, eat and relax. Its style is traditional-brassiere-with-a-twist, with a mix of black and white tiling and wooden parquet floors, and a pre-cast concrete serving counter. The ceilings have been stripped back, and an eclectic mix of grouped pendent lights create more intimate areas to meet. It’s contemporary but classic, rather than all-out Shoreditch, Osborn explains: “It’s designed to accommodate a range of agencies – some more corporate than others – so it has to be inclusive to everyone in the building, and also be somewhere people want to spend time.”
The first floor is split between the offices of Aegis Group executives and the shared meeting room suites, a central resource that teams across the building can book via a meet-and-greet reception desk. “One thing we noticed consulting the clients is how much these spaces get used, and they are now fully booked out,” Osborn explains. The rooms here include a cinema suite for formal presentations and entertaining, and a range of rooms (dedicated to various media legends such as Tim Berners-Lee and Alexander Graham Bell) with high-spec video-conferencing facilities, sliding panels to create a flexible use of space, and walls made from wooden railway sleepers and upholstered panelling to add texture and warmth, giving the area the exclusive feel of a private members club.
Each lift lobby has been branded with the aid of in-house designers, so that coming out on any given floor you’re presented with floor-to-ceiling graphics, and immediately immersed in the brand of the agency you are entering. “Being media agencies, the more flat space each company was given to brand themselves with, the better,” Osborn explains.
It was probably a great help to the schedule that MoreySmith had already worked with some of the companies prior to the move – designing Vizeum’s workplace in the Qube, for example, and Carat’s in the Charlotte Building north of Soho. Osborn explains how, for some of the brands, the move offered the chance to build on what had worked in previous fitouts and refine what hadn’t, whereas with others it was a chance to launch the brand differently, elevating itself through the move.
Digital agency Glue Isobar, one of the edgier brands in Aegis’s portfolio, moved to the building from the Tea Building in Shoreditch, and used it to transfer what they loved about their old home, leaving behind flaws like the dodgy heating and a general lack of facilities. Stand-alone walls made from stacked-up wooden timbers, brick cladding, reclaimed pendant lights, supersized sliding garage doors, brightly coloured fabric walls, wall-sized chalkboards and dropped-in ceiling rafts all do an impressive job to transport some of the industrial warehouse features that had shaped the agency in its last residence, while distracting they eye from the more generic features of the brand-new building.
Overall, while the central resources have been cleverly rationalised, any vanilla aspects of the building have been eradicated behind the energetic graphics, vibrant colours, recurring motifs and natural materials that characterise each agency floor, creating effective brand microcosms in this media mother ship.
It’s easy to take the mick out of a company like Innocent. Its yummy-yum-yum marketing spiel is patronising, as is the fun wobbly font on its website. But ever since I discovered that cider doesn’t count as one of your five a day, Innocent Smoothies have become a regular feature in my diet. And I’m not alone. Founded in west London in 1998 by three friends, the company’s rise has been meteoric. Today, Innocent claim to sell 2m fruit smoothies each week and turnover a whopping £100m a year. With numbers like these it is little wonder that the staff has swelled from three to 250. Until a few months ago they were headquartered in the Goldhawk Estate in Shepherds Bush. But Innocent’s beloved warehouse, dubbed Fruit Towers, was beginning to creak under the weight of its personnel. Reluctant to leave its west London roots, they found a suitable home in Derwent London's Portobello Dock, a neat new building designed by Stiff + Trevillion on Kensal Rise. Overlooking Tom Dixon’s studio on the canal, it presented a combo of flexible modern office space in among a gathering scene of hip(ish) young professionals.
Following completion, Stiff + Trevillion was invited to pitch for the fitout in a limited competition. Making an impression with its thematic designs, the practice won the commission, beginning on site last autumn. Today, project leader Joe Howland is taking onoffice on a tour (Innocent kept the name, so this one’s called Fruit Towers as well). We meet in the buzzy reception and I’m given a sticky name badge stamped with Innocent’s cartoon effigy. The company prides itself on its willingness to engage with the community, says Howland, and office tours are a regular thing. The reception opens out into a beautiful double-height space that houses the kitchen canteen and, in the far corner, the food lab. This is where the biggest structural changes were carried out. Originally two floors, S+T cut away a large section of the floorplate to create a bright social hub and mezzanine. “The old office was all on one level with no vertical divisions, and one of the biggest concerns here was how to encourage integration between the floors,” says Howland. He toyed with the idea of smaller circular incisions on each floor before deciding on the one grand gesture (“much easier”).
The floor is covered in artificial turf, a major element of Innocent’s branding and something that’s been carried over from the old office. The material’s artificiality makes it a curious choice for a company that’s so caught up on natural ingredients, but nonetheless it crunches pleasingly underfoot. Save for the odd fruit-munching soul sitting at the picnic benches, it’s fairly empty today and feels more like a picnic spot than a workplace. In the corner behind some glass patio doors is the Innocent product testing room, populated by a gathering of lab-coated bods. “We were very keen for that part of the business to be conspicuously on show,” says Howland.
On the mezzanine level, S+T worked the space hard. Three meeting rooms, a library and diner-style meeting booths all live up here, along with staff shower rooms. The meeting rooms, encased in glazed, steel-framed Crittall panels, are named after vegetables (again a motif from the old office) but the library is something of a first. “Spaces like this were very disparate before,” says Howland. “The books were all over the place. We managed to pull it together with a bit more coherence.” The company awards are also modestly tucked away here.
Part of Innocent’s appeal is its happy-go-lucky image and the directors have worked hard to hold on to it. Howland was presented with a lengthy inventory, which needed to be transplanted wholesale into the new digs. Chairs, sofas and even a red phone box made the journey across, resulting in a predetermined palette for S+T to work with. This proved a blessing and a curse: on the one hand, it ensured a strong bond with the company DNA, but was inevitably restrictive when it boiled down to designing breakout spaces. Each office area begins with a small tea point/kitchen around and about the entrance, with soft seating arranged to form the breakout space. “As a designer it is always nice to bring in new furniture for those kind of key spaces. But we did not design those spaces with that furniture in mind, although we were aware of it,” says Howland. Nevertheless, the comfy charm of the sofas and armchairs is pretty apt.
Together with Innocent, the practice worked with neighbour Tom Dixon to design the desks, the one real furnishing extravagance. The wood-panelled tops fit nicely with the company’s natural ethos and come in a variety of sizes. “They wanted it to be as flexible as possible,” says Howland. Indeed, this flexibility proved to be crucial in fitting all 250 staff over three-and-a-half floors, the biggest challenge of the brief according to Howland. On the top floor is the largest meeting room and a rather lovely outdoor terrace.
The project has also has some pretty dippy features. For example, a cartoonishly large lever emboldened with the mantra “last leaver, pull the lever” powers down the office at night for anyone staying late. Similarly, a green lamp flashes when the outside temperature reaches a suitable level, reminding the Innocent staff to open the windows as the air-con cuts out. Though slightly naff, the sentiment is laudable. Elsewhere, themed meeting rooms on each floor document different aspects of the business. In the History Room, for example, the walls are adorned with press cuttings, while another shows where in the world the ingredients are sourced. These quirks are intended to counter the stripped-out monochromatic base-build, and ensure that the company’s character is not stifled. The result is a Peter Pan feeling to the office. And although there is no doubt Innocent is growing up, the company is doing so on its own terms.
Like the distinctive shopping bags from nearby Selfridges, it’s all about the yellow and black at The Interiors Group’s new headquarters in London’s Balderton Street. The dramatic yellow recessed ceiling lights that surround a massive media wall in the informal entrance zone perfectly echo the square brackets on the company’s logo – and were what made me realise I’d arrived in the right place. These corporate colours are a little reminiscent of ITV’s, and once you’ve got properly inside, with the bank of screens behind you, the effect is a little News at Ten-like. Bong! All this is part of The Interiors Group’s plan to make this workplace “memorable yet functional”.
Interior designers Scott Brownrigg were charged with consolidating the workforce from two sites, one from nearby Bruton Place and one from Sunbury-on-Thames in Surrey. Was it tricky having one of the country’s best-known fit-out firms as a client, I ask Scott Brownrigg designer Renate Sa. Not at all, she insists. In fact, it allowed them to take more risks. Not to mention specify high-end products on more favourable terms than others might be able to manage, adds Interiors Group CEO Andrew Black. Hence the unusual black Flowcrete floor in the entrance, which could just have ended up resembling a Tarmac road but just about gets away with it, and the Vitra Alcove sofas, in a shade of white that one imagines must give the cleaners quite a headache. A Barrisol ceiling system here brings a light crispness to an area which had previously suffered from a lack of natural daylight.
The adjoining space on the ground floor is taken up by a pair of meeting rooms. The ‘funky’ room has tri-folding doors that can open up to accommodate larger gatherings and presentations in the reception. Here, the coolness of the white leather chairs and glass table is balanced by the warmth of the walnut panelling used across one wall. This is no ordinary timber wall, however. Using fibre optics, LEDs and other lighting gizmos, an infra-red photograph of a 1960s London bus can be summoned to appear on the wall, and with the twiddle of the controls, the ordinary walnut wall returns. It’s a pretty neat trick, no question.
Adjacent to this meeting room is a transition zone featuring yet more talking points for visitors: yellow and black acrylic boxes of different sizes and depths dominate one side of the space, again referencing The Interiors Group’s branding, while opposite is a white-on-white city skyline. In case you don’t recognise all the iconic London buildings, there are a few from Abu Dhabi just to throw you, a reference to the company’s other office in the UAE capital. Further back, the second meeting room also features a skyline motif. It has a more serious feel to it, with Fritz Hansen’s Oxford chairs and a ceramic-topped meeting table by Methis making the space seem that little bit more corporate. Running longside the stairs there is a compact servery area. Staff can enjoy a cuppa at the stand-alone walnut bench, or hold informal meetings here – there are stools provided, but equally it fits in with the trend for stand-up working and gathering. There are subtle accents of yellow on the bench’s storage inserts along one side and a bright, canary-coloured tap sat atop the sink. “We wanted to make this area quite moody and with the mirror at the back, it also gives a feeling of space,” says Sa. A single yellow fluorescent strip on the wall is an homage to American minimalist artist Dan Flavin, whose work with fluorescent tubes was a starting point for the whole project. “The interior had to grab people’s attention; it had to be inspiring,” says Sa.
The skylines and acrylic boxes, as well as another piece of wall-art with copper piping fashioned into the word “innovation”, are the work of Acrylicize, which worked with Scott Brownrigg on creating site-specific pieces. Look around and you can spy a few more pieces of art. There are two large egg-shaped sculptures by sculptor Andrew Sinclair: Going to Work has a roaring lion on the top, while The Big Idea features a spread-eagled cockerel. And instead of a rather ugly street view, those heading up the stairs are treated to photographer Barry Crawston’s image of the Wills Tobacco Company in Bristol, sourced from the Affordable Art Fair.
The reflections on a set of suspended Tom Dixon’s Mirror Ball lights add some distortion to the interior. They also provide a visual connection between the ground floor and what Black refers to as the “engine room”, the first-floor area with workstations for the 50 or so staff plus the now-ubiquitous booths for privacy. Nothing too out of the ordinary here, but it’s the client-facing downstairs that is the star attraction in this workspace. Says Black in conclusion, “We just want to show people what can be done.”
The first commandment of any creative company these days seems to be “Thou shalt inhabit a post-industrial building with lots of exposed ductwork.” So at first, it may seem peculiar that a trend-forecasting consultancy should want to move from a converted warehouse to a row of Georgian townhouses in a conservation area – but as a workplace concept, the warehouse has been done to death, and in some cases it doesn’t yield the best results for an organisation. (We at onoffice are slightly bored of reporting on it.) London-based group The Future Laboratory, ever ahead of the curve, bucked the trend back in January, abandoning the tin-roofed, open-plan shed it previously occupied in Shadwell for a row of 18th-century houses tucked away in a quiet cobbled lane near Spitalfields Market. It wasn’t the obvious step, but then, that’s what this company is supposedly all about.
Elder Street, a few steps away from the hustle and bustle of Commercial Street, is a spectacularly preserved piece of Georgian London. The Future Laboratory has taken hold of numbers 24-28, which sits atop a Roman cemetery. Rumour has it that since 1722 the buildings’ occupants have included a silk thrower, a worsted stuff weaver and, in 1857, Mrs Kivor Thomas, a cow-keeper (our favourite). Numbers 24 and 26 are the company’s main premises, with plans for 28 to be added later.
As it turns out, the shift to a higgledy-piggledy series of townhouses made a lot of sense. The company has three distinct arms: a trend-forecasting portal, a bespoke research division and a brand innovation team. These services had been incrementally introduced since the company launched ten years ago, and its office in Shadwell no longer supported the way staff worked together. Staff needed private rooms for work and meetings, client-facing spaces, workshop and seminar rooms and social areas. So, instead of a couple of gaping open-plan spaces, as before, The Future Laboratory envisioned Elder Street as a maison – a home instead of a headquarters, so to speak. “One of the reasons we came to these buildings is that we were looking for a space that would reflect the way we work as a business, which is unconventional,” says Tiffany Arntson, who heads up the research division.
So, even though the intention was to pave the way for change, the new digs needed to stay true to the carefully engineered image and work ethos of The Future Laboratory, which, as Arntson suggests, is different from the average company with 40 staff. This is clear from the minute one steps through the wooden gate into the old goods yard, which has now become the central hub of the building. The interior had been pretty drastically altered over the years, with a substantial 1950s extension to the rear. The effect it currently gives is a bit like an enchanted factory. To the left, a reception/gallery area is dotted with art pieces from the founders’ own collection. At the other end, sunlight streams into the courtyard through a glass ceiling: here, a tiered vertical garden, its shelving system created by retail designers Campaign, contains vegetables and herbs that are tended by staff. “You need to be able to take people away from their desks and break up their day,” says Arntson. “Culturally, that development has been a very important thing for us to manage and it’s something we’re very aware of. So things like the vegetable garden are a good way to bring in that dynamic.”
Lovely as the garden is, the best bit of the ground floor is the new canteen situated just off the courtyard. Intended to function as a staff lunchroom as well as a client event space, it’s where the “heart of the home” message really comes into its own. (A member of the production team, who incidentally also coordinates care of the garden, was baking a delicious-smelling chilli and chocolate cake when onoffice swung by.)White tiles against blue-grey walls, black and white framed photography and a hodge-podge of school furniture purchased from eBay are all in line with The Future Laboratory’s “aesthetic DNA”, as Arntson calls it (an internal design team orchestrated the look and feel of the whole project).
“We love the canteen, it’s our favourite room,” Arntson declares. The charm and cosiness helps to draw people away from their desks, she adds. “You have to give people room to approach things from a different direction by slightly messing around with their senses. That is how we’d like to interact within the business and with our clients. It’s more pleasurable and it tends to spark people’s creativity.” If that’s not enough, toward the back of the courtyard is the “undercroft” space for art installations – the latest being a sculpture by Sam Spencer, sitting next to the bike storage.
The main work happens in a series of rooms on the first floor, reached via an industrial staircase, and also by another staircase next to the reception in the original part of the building. Moving through a small lounge area into a substantial seminar room for client workshops, the styling has been kept simple with the same sort of school furniture used in the canteen. The sizeable room just beyond has been stripped back from an ancient fit out when the building was extended, so it now has lots of light and exposed beams (post-industrial motif prevails!). The research and brand innovation teams sit here, and the massive cork walls are used for collaborative work sessions.
Up a few stairs and down a hallway, in the older part of the building (past a rather spiffing toilet, replete with Aesop soap and Dyson hand dryers, take note), is a smallish room where the trend-forecasting team sits. A research library and meeting table off to the side of the desks is perhaps the reason why it feels vaguely cramped – but the good thing is there is a small, rather adorable meeting room right next door and another quiet work room on the top level in case someone needs it. Up the original staircase to the second level are dedicated rooms for sales, the design team and finance. Further up still is a quiet room, administration office and a roof terrace (IT man Martin will be the volunteer beekeeper this summer). Add to this the basement bar (which onoffice didn’t see) and the canteen, both of which can be used for working, and there are plenty of options for flexibility. “We never had enclosed space like this before,” says Arntson. “In our old office there would have been a bunch of people in the middle of the room with desks either side.” In other words, it was doable, but it wasn’t ideal. “This project was about being smart,” Arntson concludes. “It wasn’t about us throwing money at a new building; it was about evolving our business into this space and creating a place we can grow and extend the different things we can do.”
London-based architects Sheppard Robson has won planning for a 20-storey office building on a prominent site at One Mitre Square, Aldgate, in the City of London. The building will house 25,000 sq m of Grade A office space with a retail/café space on street level. The scheme will also create a new public square. According to Sheppard Robson the design is based on a medieval priory that used to occupy the site and is ‘broken into a cluster of smaller towers, each with its own subtle identity.’ The building features a double-skin cladding comprising a double-glazed inner layer, single-glazed outer layer and an operable blind in the cavity between.
“The interior was about living and breathing their green ideals,” says Vyshali Sardesai, associate at BDGworkfutures, which worked with UK energy company EDF on the revamp of its headquarters near Victoria station in London. This encompasses everything from the selection of sustainable materials within the fit out to showcasing the company’s new brand messaging.This began with the reception. Before the redesign, visitors encountered a large, bright atrium space upon entering the Grosvenor Place building, where levels of welcome and security were relatively high – yet when they crossed the EDF Energy threshold on the first floor, the contrast was marked: there was no formalised meet-and-greet area.
This has now been rectified with a clearly branded destination point and a manned reception desk, where visitors are greeted and given a welcome booklet as they sit and wait on the charcoal-grey tub chairs and sofa, while a light installation further reinforces the EDF message with brand imagery. “We went out of our way to get a good quality reception and we felt that as well as being professional it should be secure, so we introduced glass turnstiles,” explains Andy Trotter, EDF Energy’s head of property. A concierge-style floorwalker service is available to show people where they need to go, where previously they would have headed into the firm’s open-plan environment.
Guests can now go straight to the new Touchdown zone, for instance. “We have a very large number of visitors and we needed a facility for them, where they could plug into the internet and log on to EDF’s systems and also store their luggage. This hotdesking space is exclusively for their use,” says Trotter. The brief called for a contemporary yet classic interior, and this is best exemplified in the cafe area, which has a combination of tables and chairs and bench-style seating, with bright orange and white oversize suspension lights. Images of Olympic cyclist Victoria Pendleton loom large here, part of the corporate branding imagery used throughout the space.
Where previously there was a lack of standardised work settings – some staff had an abundance of space around their desks while others were in somewhat cramped conditions – now the building is used more efficiently and the density is on more of an even keel. There is further transparency too – the office landscape is lowered to ensure a clear line of site, as Trotter explains: “In the old office design, everybody had their backs to you. The staff weren’t linked in. Now, people can look at a variety of other areas. It’s a much more welcoming environment.”
Sardesai explains how BDG created a more fluid circulatory route: “We came up with the idea for a manifestation, using icons that would talk about green Britain, based on EDF’s ten steps to reduce carbon emissions.” Here houses, trees and bicycles are interspersed with soundbites on how the company is working with car manufacturers to improve the design of electric vehicles or providing charging bays for them.
During BDG’s discussion and discovery phase of its design process, it conducted a space utilisation study, where it found that although most of the meetings were two-person or four-person, most of the space available was for between six and 20 people. The space was reconfigured to meet these needs by increasing the number of more informal spots to gather. The more formal space that remained was given a makeover with white walls to add a crisper finish, and there are increased facilities for video conferencing to cut down on travel and consequent carbon footprints.
Interestingly, even though this workspace has a certain boxfresh aesthetic, Trotter says the reality was quite the opposite: “In terms of being sustainable, one of the most basic things we did was reuse the furniture.” All frames and legs on the desks are the same, with new tops added, task chairs were reupholstered and refurbished with new fabric and all high and mid-height storage units were resprayed – 70 percent of pieces were recycled in all. Ceiling tiles were also refreshed instead of being replaced, while the air-conditioning system was refurbished to improve its output.
Recycling of materials is a huge part of this workplace design story. During the fit out, demolition material was saved from landfill as much as possible and the timber in the reception is reclaimed from Hoxton Square Gallery, east London. Instead of run-of-the-mill wood, imperfections such as small splits, nails and pinholes are what gives the timber its character. The worktops in the service centre, meanwhile – home to centralised printers and copiers that cut down on paper usage and get staff moving around the workspace – are made entirely from yoghurt-pot tops.
The new carpet tiles are from Desso, which has a commitment to the “cradle to cradle” approach of waste-free production, while elsewhere flooring is made from rubber with coconut fibre rope, which is not only hard wearing but also provides texture. Instead of using pin boards, the walls near the meeting rooms are clad with cork, another material with ecological appeal. The green theme is embraced in all conceivable areas of the office, even down to the water-based inks used on the graphics and manifestations, which contain no solvents, and the substitution of plastic cups for ceramic mugs in the break-out area. Recycling options have been widened to separate out plastic cups, aluminium cans, white paper, general plastics and confidential documents. “We had a strong sustainability story to tell,” says Trotter. “The space is used by around 100 people, but it’s also about the 19,900 who aren’t based there.”
London advertising agency Wieden+Kennedy has spent the last ten years cultivating a reputation as one of the coolest independent advertising agencies around, and arguably a small part of that is down to its office. Tucked away on Hanbury Street, near the trendy junction of The Old Truman Brewery and Spitalfields Market, the firm’s gaping ground floor window shows off a collection of colourful knick-knacks, drawings and curiosities. The reception area is filled with the slick racers and Dutch bikes of staff. It’s a casual, bright and lively atmosphere – and undoubtedly the odd member of the public has been struck with office envy when passing by. It would have been a shame, then, if W+K had been forced to move out of this cosy, lived-in building as the company expanded to take on new business. But after winning a substantial account with Nokia and doubling in size in one year, a move seemed inevitable. “We didn’t want to have to walk away from our environment,” says Sam Cooke, managing director of W+K. “Originally, there were a lot of desks and a lot of breakout areas. It’s important for us to have that mix, but because we grew so quickly after Nokia we lost all of that – desks were literally encroaching on every area. We were starting to get snarky with each other because there was a lot of space for work and no space for play.”
The company looked for a suitable new home but didn’t immediately find one until, in a stroke of good fortune, an industrial building directly across the road became available to rent – meaning that they could bin the idea of moving and instead shuttle back and forth between two offices. It was decided that two floors of the new building would provide the flexible work and event space that had been absorbed by W+K’s mushrooming numbers in the original building. Architects Featherstone Young, previously Featherstone Associates, were brought in to do the job. The new building was “a mess”, says director Jeremy Young, but everyone was quite excited about linking the two offices and creating a workable solution that retained W+K’s charm. “We couldn’t have laundry lines, passing messages across as we initially wanted,” he jokes. “The idea was that we’d have this window where you’d pass your messages off, kind of like a Huguenot house window, but planning weren’t that keen. There is obviously still that very strong link though, you can look out of the windows of both buildings and into the others very clearly.” In the new office, Featherstone Young opted to create open-plan workspace and mezzanine levels with breakout areas, meeting rooms, editing suites and resource libraries. There is a huge flexibility in what W+K can do as a company, and the aim was to reflect that. “We wanted to give these spaces some kind of design quirkiness and identity without monopolising and telling people where to work,” says Young. “They do like customising space – across the road they’ve really made it their own – and we didn’t want to stand in the way of that, so it was a case of treading a very fine line between how much we did and didn’t do.” Both floors have been cleaned up and painted white, with bold splashes of colour and lime green vinyl cushioned flooring. There is plenty of room for workstations, but the project really stands out for the customised details of the mezzanines, loos and kitchens.
Entering the first floor, visitors can be taken up the stairs of a new mezzanine – a steel and plasterboard structure with MDF panels spray-lacquered fire-engine red. A short corridor, which with its bright red hue looks kind of like a mouth, is underlit by LEDs and has doors leading to a DVD library, two state-of-the-art editing suites and two smaller meeting spaces that are visible to the workstations below through glazed balustrades. “It’s quite a maze really, but it maximizes the space as we had these high ceilings to work with,” Young says. “You get the benefit of efficiency but also, for creatives, the opportunity to work in a variety of interesting spaces.” Materials are fairly tough and basic. Industrial steel railings lead up to the second level and the architects were keen to use plywood at every possible opportunity. A bespoke plywood shelving system weaves its way over the door and part-way into the kitchen, and will eventually be filled with W+K treasures as a further connection to the main office across the street. Through the back service hallway are staff lockers and a set of loos that have been treated with blackboard paint for spontaneous musings. Up on the second floor, the same aesthetic continues. There is a great open area for social gatherings and office meetings, a smaller area for workstations and an open mezzanine with two client meeting rooms and informal work areas with tables, chairs and couches. Underneath this mezzanine are three small rooms with garage doors and bean bags for meetings, solo working or storage. At the other end of the open space is a kitchen, with bespoke joinery in coloured MDF, accessorised with knobs collected from junk shops – all of which can be sectioned off from the main area by folding panels. These kinds of details make it look and feel a bit like a really fun school – an appropriate look, since the agency hosts a series of workshops, Platform, for aspiring young creatives.
Other quirky features include clusters of the kind of industrial lights more usually seen on building sites, and the bright yellow boxed-in fire stairs: “That’s what we call the ‘stair to nowhere’, but there really is a staircase in there,” Young chuckles. Featherstone Young designed the staircase’s ‘ceiling’ to be step-shape as well, with the aim that it will eventually be used as a kind of shelving system, filled with objects for display. Downstairs, Young takes in the mysterious art installation that W+K have placed in the ground floor window. “They have a street identity, which is nice,” he says. “Its kind of like a shop. It’s very much treating the building not just as an office but also as an extension of their brand and what they do.”