Situated on a busy intersection between Aldgate High Street and St Botolph Street stands the shell of Aldgate House. From the pavement below it’s a fairly unremarkable sight, but in December 2007, a colourful new tenant moved into the building’s top floor. It now houses the London leg of Gensler’s extensive international remit, and the branch itself was tasked with the design and refurbishment of its new home.The result is a slick and reflective aesthetic in a paired down black and white palette, strategically designed to act as a neutral backdrop to the work and to the staff. “The intention was that the design should sit back and let the work sing, because we’ve got some fantastic talent,” says Enrico Caruso, one of the firm’s eleven principals. The colour palette comes across most strongly in the client-facing areas to the left of the lobby, where I’m currently sat with Caruso and Gensler associate Alessandra Almeida-Jones. “It’s very London in its look and feel,” says Almeida-Jones. “It reflects all the English trends that we’ve witnessed as a company. We’ve been encouraging our client leadership to sit open plan and to have more common space, but also to have private rooms. I feel we’ve incorporated a lot of that on this project.”The office is approximately 95 per cent open plan, seating 225 Gensler employees across desks that occupy at least two thirds of the width and length of the space. Privacy is at a minimum, with only a handful of secluded spaces (two boardrooms and a couple of soundproof rooms used for transatlantic conference calls, or as Almeida-Jones succinctly states, “quiet time”). My first impression was one of a structured and regulated workspace, all clean lines and adjacent desks, not a seat out of place. On closer inspection I couldn’t have been more wrong. The design utilises wall space and freestanding vertical surfaces wherever possible, but without creating clutter, to encourage staff to display work and foster ideas. There are also several relaxed communal areas (complete with Eames-style furniture), which sit between the end of each row of desks and the pane of glass that spans the length of the wall behind them, revealing breathtaking views of the London skyline. The design means that staff can choose where they want to work. The idea is that freedom will increase productivity. The use of space affords a casual yet efficient quality, a veritable feast of communication and collaboration. It’s basically a 2,300sq m think tank.Gensler London previously occupied 3,250sq m across two floors in Roman House, Woods Street, but the layout was not productive. “We had a floor and a half in that building,” says Caruso, “but it was disjointed. Planning teams and organising staff to deliver a project was a challenge. In this building each of the different disciplines – interiors, retail demographics, architecture and master planning – are all on one floor. Everyone can see each other and know what the other’s doing, we collaborate a lot more closely and it means that we can move staff around and assemble project teams in a much more efficient way.” It’s quintessential Gensler: not necessarily by design – the company has no specific trademark image – but certainly by concept. Art Gensler, one of the firm’s founding partners, is considered by many to be single-handedly responsible for distinguishing interior architecture as a discipline in its own right. In 1965, when the Gensler brand was first established and other architectural firms concerned themselves only with elegant facades and bold exterior statements, he charged Gensler with a self-made mission to optimise workspace performance using interior design. “Art saw a niche in the market,” says Almeida-Jones. “In the Sixties architects really looked down on space planning. They were really just concerned with the shell of a building, which often meant that they were very inefficient. There wasn’t really anybody planning space strategically, anybody who really saw how to make a building work for an organisation. Now, that attitude is pretty embedded in the Gensler culture; it’s about making the building work for the people who occupy the space.” “For us, business and creativity are all one in the same thing,” says Caruso. “We’re creative thinkers and we understand our clients’ business and the two have to be married.” In this case the client was Team Gensler, and I was delighted to see how true to its manifesto the firm had been on its own office project. Gensler Architects has fitted out several blue chip offices and interiors around the world, from Seattle media group Cole & Weber to the Ritz-Carlton Dubai. The firm’s work shows an implicit understanding of the psyche of its clients’ staff, ranging from basic demographic differences through to issues of diversity. “The way people work now, regardless of what industry they’re in – or certainly the sort of industries that we deal with – is very different. People don’t want a production line model,” says Caruso. “Our client work reflects that, so this project was really an opportunity to put our money where our mouth is, so to speak. I know that being in this office will cause a shift, culturally and in our output, and it will be interesting to see how that manifests itself.” It’s still early days to try and determine just how successful the design will be though – as we go to press the cladding between the building’s internal and external walls is yet to be finished – but I would hazard a guess that Caruso’s beliefs are well founded. I would also say that if there was ever a building indicative of trademark Gensler, this might well be it.
Shi, an ancient Japanese word meaning “master”, is a fitting name for this desk designed by Mario Mazzer for Interoffice, which leads the way to creating versatility in the office space. This flexible desking system is characterised by the variety of material finishes and colours.
Colure Design is a textile and wall-covering company that specialises in bespoke design for interiors. The featured image is taken from the Urban Lines collection, showing the design Towers on the wallpaper and City Block on the cotton velvet of the chair. This is one of the first in a series of collections that can be adapted to a client’s exact requirements. Scale, colour and material can all be designed to suit the individual space.
Alexander Kneller has designed the Side Chair Two. This large seating unit contains a table and two fitted drawers, which take up the width of the front for a practical storage solution.
Measuring 1500 x 850 x 550mm and constructed in MDF with a two-part polyurethane paint finish, the piece provides a dramatic statement, whether in a corporate setting or relaxed private space.
Workplace design firm AOS Studley has created a new space for the Penguin Group, with a potentially controversial move from publishing’s traditional, hierarchical offices to contemporary open plan.As you might expect for a publisher, there’s no shortage of books at Penguin’s revamped headquarters on the Strand. They appear in some pretty inventive guises too, especially in the reception. As I’m waiting to look around, I can see some really old children’s editions I remember from my great aunt’s hand-me-downs beneath the glass of some custom-built coffee tables, while behind me various tomes appear to be floating on the wall (this magic trick is later revealed to come courtesy of the humble L bracket). “The reception is all about displaying the books. It wasn’t intended as a design experience,” says John Symes of AOS Studley, the workplace designers responsible for the scheme. In contrast to the grandeur and, dare one say it, fustiness of the marble and granite entrance to the main reception of number 80 on the Strand, senior design manager Scott Colman explains that the brief for Penguin’s own reception was very clear: “They didn’t want it to be too corporate. They wanted it to be on a distinctly more human scale. It utilises mirrors to maximise the space, which is actually smaller than the original, and the artwork is quite subtle without complex illumination.” The low ceiling height and warm wood flooring does indeed make it more of a cosy space. The reception desk is less imposing than the average oversized blue chip offering, which was a deliberate move to lessen the barrier between receptionist and guests. The display area on the adjacent wall to the desk, which shows Penguin’s various brands and imprints – from Rough Guides to Ladybird books – can be changed around as desired. To show Penguin has moved into the digital age, there is a workstation to the other side of the reception with excerpts from its back catalogue available to read on screen. Colman continues, “Penguin wanted to let the product do the talking, including playful elements such as the book tower on the workstation, and we used reclaimed wood for the table from storm damaged trees. It’s not meant to be slick and engineered.”The building was originally fitted out for Penguin in 2001. This time around, the brief, explains Symes, was two fold: “One aspect was to release the fifth floor in order to cut operational expenditure.” This meant going from 14,860sq m to 11,150sq m after handing over the fifth floor to parent company Pearson to rent out. Making sure over 1,100 Penguin staff could fit across four floors was a real driver in terms of completing the project by the end of year. “Equally significant was improving the working environment for everyone,” Symes continues. “We knew at the outset that this would mean a complete rethink of the way the building was going to work by opening up the space. There were 147 offices – now there are none.” This latter element was no easy job given the nature of Penguin’s business, as operations director Deborah Wright explains: “Publishing as a business is quite traditional, and we were the first to go from cellular to completely open plan. It has changed the way we work, encouraging a non-hierarchical approach – even the chief executive is open plan. We conduct our business in a very consultative way and so the design was a very consultative process. We now have a much better workspace.” Originally the front of the building was laid out as desks, but this has been given over to what is now known as the River break-out space, with another smaller break-out space overlooking the Strand. With their colourful diner seating and cafe-style chairs and tables, these areas have been affectionately dubbed “noodle bars” by staff. Other meeting areas have been reconfigured into corners or at intervals along the corridors. All areas in Penguin now have access to Wi-Fi to facilitate roaming and visitor touchdown, and some managers use DECT cordless phones to help the transition to open-plan working. To personalise the space for Penguin, its own art collection has been deployed around the scheme.Wayfinding was also a big issue and to this end, as you exit the lifts, the signage on each floor includes a large number indicating the number of the floor plus details of which side of the building is where – the riverfront uses a green colour, the Savoy side is represented using yellow while the side nearest the Adelphi theatre is an aquamarine colour. One of the major structural changes entailed putting in a raised access floor, as previously power and data points had been strung along the wall in trunking. For most of the workstations, Vitra’s Joyn benches, supplied by Crib 5, have been specified. Wright says, “The bench system gives us the flexibility to move people around more and staff are surprised at how much space they have been given.” KI’s sidefilers were reused across all floors, but mainly only the two- and three-high units to maintain the low landscape. White laminate tops were added to the cupboards to match the Vitra benches. Penguin’s commissioning editors also each have a table where they can meet their authors and bespoke bookcases to display their authors’ work.Storage was an issue that AOS Studley had to handle sensitively, engineering specific solutions for each team. These ranged from the cute ABC Book Towers, also by Vitra, at individuals’ desks to a reference library to store the mix of regular books, review copies and dummy books. Each of the printer pods – there are three on each floor – is engineered to lock away confidential copies as well as decreasing the ratio of printers to people to reduce waste and encourage staff to get up from their desks. “People now send fewer emails, adds Wright finally. “They are more likely to go and speak with others and are much more attuned to what the business is doing.”
Words by Michael Willoughby Kohn Pedersen Fox ovehauled the 1930s offices of Uniliver, making the most of the spectacular riverside views. Michael Willoughby was blown away, by the outside at leastIt’s always good to get out of the office. On the roof of the Thames-side 100 Victoria Embankment, it’s absolutely sublime. Pampas grass and beech trees form the dune-like foreground for a view that takes in all the splendid spires and towers that the South Bank and the City of London have to offer. It’s extraordinary to be at eye level with the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral and Wren’s more fanciful creation, St Bride’s. The National Theatre, the Globe and Westminster Abbey look completely different when seen cheek by jowl.
But, my is it blowy! The wind pummels the roof, bowing the roof garden rows of pampas and beech and playing havoc with my digital recorder.
“It’s like being on the coast!” I yell to architect John Bushell, of international practice Kohn Pedersen Fox, as my jacket flaps wildly around my midriff.
“London funnels all of its wind down the Thames and so what are here are the only things that would survive on the coast,” he say, leaning authoritatively into the wind, and giving me an impromptu geo-biology lesson. “That’s why they have chosen these plants. It’s in a windy space.” He is absolutely certain about everything and doesn’t ask me a single question during our tour. I feel like an excitable, windswept schoolboy.
But Bushell must be somewhat excited because the roof garden, created with the famous plant expert Charles Funke, is the realisation of a long-held dream for the architect, who did his fifth year dissertation on the very subject.
Perhaps his blasé nature has been buffed during the process of simultaneously planning a complete gutting and structural refurbishment of a Grade II listed building while working with Unilever, legendary trustee of some of Britain’s most respected brands: Comfort, Persil, Knorr, PG Tips, Lynx, Marmite, Walls and, more recently, Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream.
Its hard to believe that Unilever was ever thinking about moving away from the building, but when KPF started on the project, the steering committee asked Bushell straight up whether he thought they should stay at 100 Victoria Embankment. “I simply drew their attention to the view, to the location,” Bushell says. The building is itself a national treasure. Built pale grey Portland stone in 1932 in the style known back then -
Bushell informs me - as Classique Moderne. The front curves round towards the river with a stone base made up of a heavily rusticated ground floor with a portcullis-like door, and massively extended solidity over the next three floors with smaller arched windows punched in. The second level of the composition has a huge attached, Doric colonnade with strong solid ends, the third is a window-pierced subtly detailed cornice with original urns. At least some of the carvings on the base were by Eric Gill. It deserves to be better known, but is perhaps invisible sat next to the traffic chaos of the Embankment and Ludgate Circus.
So KPF’s task on the exterior was quite simple: “It was a question of preservation and undoing ad hoc things that had happened in the past,” Bushell says. The back of the building was simply falling apart and needed a good seeing to.
Inside was a different matter. While the building was spacious in the 1930s, with five of the partners being in a pioneering open-plan-style office, an accretion of walls and partitioning had taken place through the years. “Over time lots of things got filled in. You lost all connection with where you were in the building and it became a rabbit warren,” says Bushell.
During the war, the Ministry for Food took possession of the building and started to fill in spaces and confuse things. “The front door had been put at the side and the real front door had been closed and turned into a meeting room. So the whole process had been to take something that was quite fresh and over time it got to the point where they felt they had a very closed space; somewhere difficult to orientate yourself inside,” he adds.
Ironically, given the building’s aspect, people coming in from all over the world to meet with senior executives would be hustled to underground meeting areas. It got to the point where the directors were ashamed of their building. “They were worried they weren’t getting good graduates because it had a fuddy-duddy atmosphere,” says Bushell. “They wanted us to design a new workplace.”
Luckily, despite the classical flavour of the building, the structure is steel framed, allowing the architects a fair amount of latitude when it came to remodelling the interior, particularly the atrium, which is the most startling addition to the building.
White, clad in glass-reinforced (GRP) acoustic panelling with rounded edges, Bushell says that the atrium is a form of soft modernism which “makes reference to” but does not pastiche the Thirties. Large columns project into the space and affixed to them, at the top, are four platforms with large, white joins offset with each other that seem to spiral down. They are each connected with a spiral staircase that is hewn from a cylindrical form.
From the bottom of the lowest of these platforms, dubbed “the flying carpets”, is a rather sinister structure: a four-phonograph horned installation – Space Trumpet by British artist Conrad Shawcross – modelled on the listening devices that were used on the south coast of England during the second world war. The trumpets are controlled by a central computer and change shape every day at noon, never forming the same sculpture twice.
The atrium is intended as a semi-public space – the floor is of the same material as the pavement outside, Bushell points out – and it was created to feel like a room, but somehow, I don’t feel happy about it. The steel columns seem too thick, the rounded plastic balcony edges look wrong – too chunky, somehow – and the acoustic material is too obviously acoustic material. The installation appears to be stuck onto the platforms as an afterthought. The architect says that projectors are stationed around the building and shine varicoloured light onto the interior surface after twilight.
Lime green supports hold up the lifts and thin segments of straws form a background wall, ensuring that lift occupants can see out when at a horizontal angle, but exterior prying eyes are unlikely to be able see in. On the struts of the windows next to the lifts are holographic strips, which reflect all the colours of the rainbow around the gallery.
Bushell talks of the influence of Alvar Alto and Future Systems’ Selfridges building and of the 1930s, but I can’t make the links. Perhaps it is a space to be photographed. It’s sensationally photogenic.
But if the atrium falls somewhat flat, for me at least, the top floor cafe and meeting room areas are a triumph. Bushell tells me that he wanted to give people who came to the top floors – particularly those who were just in from overseas – “a sense of arrival” and he has achieved this in spades. The roof garden and the river and London, looking splendid, can be seen through the windows.
The chief executives’ dining room must be one of the world’s leading corporate spaces. A huge, round, glass-topped dining room, a bespoke design by Luke Hughes with rough metal mesh under glass, is surrounded by simple VVD01 B&B chairs, softly bent into an L-shape. The table can be extended to seat 22 people. A chandelier floats above. Eames Softpad chairs and a Vitra Noguchi coffee table sit in the next door executive lounge.
The architects haven’t neglected the regular Joes, either. They share the same view and Campus chairs, but Lammhults and Fritz Hansen tables vibe with the slate walls in the staff canteen.
Abutting this area are meeting rooms with reeds embedded into the walls by the entrances. These have been made by an Amish community and sit – incongruously – next to a fridge containing Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. Though the teams have just begun moving in, products for tasting and testing have started to arrive.
“They always bring loads of them to meetings,” says Bushell. “After a while, all I could eat was Slimfast. Apparently they work if you have enough of them.”
The building’s large floor plates ensure the workings are tremendously spacious and curve around the front of the building. Large ‘vitality’ boards are installed every so often containing, what the team says, is ‘inspirational art’, but to me looks more like the kind of thing you might expect to find in a BUPA hospice – reeds, flowers, leaves, trees, smiling faces – on boards that can be slotted in. Perhaps it’s just the effect the boards themselves have. They bring “colour and brand promotion throughout,” a spokesperson tells me.
The Naos desks are by Ergonom and at the same height as the KI storage units. The confidential documents storage has been taken out of ugly green bins and placed into a flush and colour-matching, lockable depository. “We wanted something very flexible with a certain amount of height adjustment requirements,” says KPF employee
Etain Fitzpatrick, who worked to choose the furniture. “The brief was that they didn’t want to spend loads of money on the build and then skimp on the furniture. There were a few systems that fitted but we liked the ones with the glass top. It’s all cantilevered and height adjustable and can be regrouped into twos and fours.” Le Klint Undercover Pentant lights float in clusters above, bringing a spot of colour.
As I leave, corporate office cleaners with massive feather dusters are listlessly tickling the spotless furniture. The marketing genii of Unilever are arriving at their new space. I have no doubt their sparkling new office space – and being able to go up on the roof and gaze at London’s architectural wonders face to face – will inspire them to create ever more alarming personal hygiene issues, more tempting ice creams and less disgusting diet shakes.
Words by Kerstin ZumsteinWhen Jimmy MacDonald and Ian Rudge (see page 146) broke away from 100% Design and REED Exhibitions last year, the UK’s design community anticipated a breath of fresh air for London’s design week 2007. And that’s exactly what their joint venture Tent London is out to do. Indicative of the rising image of office design, Tent London initiated the Urbantine Project, a fast architecture competition sponsored by the Workspace Group, which invited unrecognised architects and designers to tackle the issue of rapid change in the 21st-century workplace. The winner, Alex Haw with Work/Space/Ply/Time, will get a 10k budget to assemble his project in 48 hours, to be shown during Tent London at the Truman Brewery from 20-23 September. As one of the competition’s judges, I was astounded by the quality of many of the other entries, so rather than let them go to waste, we’re highlighting the projects that didn’t make the shortlist but nonetheless address current workplace issues in an original way. The diversity and humour on show here display the scope of creativity in workplace design – and might spark off some fresh ideas with you!WorkOut by Katz FeigisIn the world of increasing work hours and a blooming economy driven by an anonymous work force, the workplace has become a sterile, neutral environment. It was made to fit the elementary needs of communication, more a showcase of social status and success rather than a good place to be in.The rise in ridiculous letting rates for the highest floors just for a view of some green indicates that most workers are thinking, “Oh, it’s such a lovely day outside; I wish I could have enjoyed it, what a pity.” Katz Feigis has turned this scenario and the common shift towards more open-plan to offer a prime location asset with a back-to-basics attitude: a worker must have sunshine and a room of his own.This outdoor working environment is set in the park, a more positive version of the usual open-plan company floor, giving each worker an individual and flexible space in the ground. Each of these organic “cubicles” is made to the minimum dimensions for a sitting person with a laptop, successfully avoiding a 1.5m working grid. The timber decking system is assembled according to the needs of the user; a folded surface creating a desk or a cabinet. Drum Tent by Amenity Space We are constantly being forced to be quieter. With tougher legislation relating to noise reduction, such as Part E of the Building Regulation, it is becoming much harder to make a racket. The rise of the personal MP3 player shows we still want to hear sound, but we are fearful of making any ourselves. By taking this premise as a starting point Amenity Space experiments with how we can facilitate loud architecture in ways that connect with the user/listener/amplifier. Amenity Space proposes a series of spaces that embrace noise and encourage users to be loud. These loud spaces or Drum Tubes twist through the streets and between buildings like huge musical instruments. The Tubes allow for commuters to pass through them making as much noise as they like on their way to and from work. The sound reverberates through the fabric of the structure and creates a constant drone that ebbs and flows. The whole space pulsates with sound and vibrates the users along, shaking them out at their destination refreshed and revitalised.The Drum Tent, so called because it is made from drum skin, is a five-metre section of our Drum Tube proposal. It is designed to maximise sound reverberation in and around the space in order to create a piece of architecture that is the antithesis of current acoustic guidelines. Its construction makes it more akin to being inside a drum or speaker than a building. The structure is covered in Mylar, the material used to make drum skins, which forms a diaphragm that resonates when hit or affected by noise.Micro office – unfolding the traditional office by Donna Walker and Sam DawkinsAs technology advances, so too do our ways of working. The relationship between man and computer has given our working environments a simplicity and flexibility that were impossible in the past. Whereas once, the workplace was geared more towards social interaction – a bustling collection of prescribed spaces allowing both formal and chance encounters between colleagues – now it seems just a laptop and a table will suffice. We pose the question: is there an architecture that responds to this new condition, while still holding dear the traditions of our more socially based past? With this in mind, Walker and Dawkins propose a new architectural model for the modern workplace – compact and flexible, affordable and easily transportable, based on a language of cabinetry and craftsmanship. The design itself has been led by a desire to recreate the social spaces of the traditional office – but with a modern twist – in that the entire 5 x 5 x 5m working module is capable of being folded and packed away into a simple rectangular box, which will comfortably fit inside a transit van. As an installation, it will encourage people to explore the idea of human interaction within the working environment. Alongside this, the design could be seen as a prototype for an affordable and transportable office space, containing a number of flexible workstations, as well as a place to sleep. From cubicle to commune by EcoshackWe prize today’s workplace for its regularity and efficiency. The office environment, typified by the generic cubicle, is the backbone of global commerce. But in our reliance on order, we’ve lost touch with the power of chaotic communities, local interactions and the collective experience. It is here that innovation is incubated. A new form of office typology should emerge that condenses many unique visions into one tightly woven environment. To make this office more interactive – a social and creative microcosm that breeds innovative thinking –we looked at the commune concept.A commune is an intentional community where most resources are shared and there is little or no personal property. It is designed to promote a much higher degree of social interaction than other communities. The members of a commune typically hold a common social, political or spiritual vision. They also share responsibilities and resources. To go “from cubicle to commune”, officemates can work collaboratively to reconfigure their cubicles, adding and removing components, experimenting with form and texture, layering in systems and data networks, creating temporary or permanent “experiences”. This takes the traditional office from the generic non-space of global commerce, to a new experiment in multi-programmed working,.Zone by Laviano WorksIn today’s ever-changing workplace there is an increasing need for a place to get away from it all. Zone offers every employee a place of refuge and release from the constant bombardment of our over-connected world, whether your interest is a moment of peace, meditation, or prayer. Zone allows for any form of silent, electronics-free release.The office at one point might have been a place of focused attention, but today it’s hard to find 15 minutes of distraction-free immersion within work. Our computers, mobiles and BlackBerrys accompany us into the most private areas. The office has not only become ever-changing, it has become omnipresent. Zone is designed in order to be easily disassembled into panelised bits that can be stacked and transported to fit within a van or small truck. It has been detailed to maximise the use of standardised size materials and minimise cutting and waste. Panels interlock to create the required sound and light barriers and are held together with threaded rods.Enter feeling befuddled, flummoxed, anxious. Exit once refreshed, clear headed, focused. Superhero at work by Zhubo Design GroupAs our attention is increasingly occupied with the filtration of 2D information, we become less sensitive to 4D spatial experience. The very existence of public space, its substance, its density, its psycho-physical thickness, is threatened by increased deficit of attention – spatial ADHD! Consequently, Zhubo Design Group would argue that contemporary space, especially in the public realm, is becoming thin. The same can be said of the workplace. ThickSpace_Hair is one in a series of ThickSpace spatial superheroes that attempts to counter this phenomenon of thinning in our daily environments. It is a system of flexible, light-transmitting cables suspended from above, creating a thickened spatial environment that replaces hyper-visual void space with a highly tactile environment of luminous body-space. The contemporary office is the ideal place for the intervention of ThickSpace_Hair. It is perhaps the most common social space in our daily experience. The lightness, flexibility and simple assembly system allows it to intervene from above (as a superhero does) without the need to alter the existing office landscape. As energy and inspiration blossom, spontaneous acts of creativity will begin to turn a typical office into a personalised version of Office_Thick.Flowing worksurface by Tetsuya YamazakiThe main aim is to create a single continuous surface to meet a wide range of usages in different situations in the 21st-century workplace. A surface of new landscape for the future workplace changes its form and shape, depending on the situation, not only for working but also a variety of other activities such as lounging, relaxing, eating, viewing and communicating. This multi-activity surface also provides a new relationship between the human body and the workplace. The project is composed of 20 different components. The materials will be polystyrene foam with plastic coating on the surface and polyester, cut by laser and assembled on-site.
Bosch & Fjord’s radical, colour-fuelled makeover of Lego’s Development Centre in Denmark has created an appropriate springboard for creative thinking.LEGO DEVELOPMENT CENTRE
ARCHITECT: BOSCH & FJORDCLIENT: LEGO COST: UNDISCLOSEDSTART DATE: OCTOBER 2006COMPLETION: MAY 2007FLOOR SPACE: 695SQ MImagine if, after finding the final golden ticket, Charlie Bucket had turned up at Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory and found nothing but a series of conveyor belts on an industrial estate near Crawley. Instead of Oompah Loompahs, there would be overweight, middle-aged women reading the Daily Mirror and, in the place of amoral and punitive confectionery, Charlie would happen upon greasy hairnets and chipped mugs. He would, to put it mildly, be disappointed. The hearts of people who visited Lego’s old design development centre at the Danish toy company’s Billund HQ must have sunk in a similar fashion. And visiting fathers must have had to invent stories about what it was really like where they dreamt up new Lego products when asked by their expectant offspring. “It was very grey and very dim, with no light coming in,” says designer Helle Sager M¯ller. “It looked like a closed-down railway station. People didn’t feel welcome, either as a visitor or an employee.”Senior designer Will Thorogood is more cautious in his criticism, but confirms the gloominess. “Where you arrived in a place that didn’t look good, it was demoralising,” he says. “The weather isn’t raining today, but it was quite often raining, so that didn’t help.” So who better to cheer up the “interior weather” than colour-loving design practice Bosch & Fjord? From the furniture-less central atrium of the Copenhagen furniture fair and the river of rubbery blood pouring down the stairs of the Maison du Danemark in Paris to packable/unpackable office units, the studio’s designs exude playfulness and, equally importantly, bold colour.“We like to turn up the volume on the colour,” says co-founder Rune Fjord Jensen. “Most interiors are boxes and corners. We try to bring a lot of contrasts in shape and colour. It makes it very powerful.”This outrÈ design sense is combined with what Jensen says is the use of space as a tool for development. “All people are different, so we like to create spaces with different identities, to make different people feel good,” he says. “If people feel good, they work better.” It was just what Lego’s creative director Torsten Bj¯rn, who is in charge of the designers and their environment, was seeking. “The ideal environment was one in which we could reflect our values – spontaneous curiosity, playfulness and quality,” he says. “We successfully express this in the products, but we wanted to translate this into our environment and our culture.”The Lego project involved revamping a series of meeting rooms, the reception area and buffet/cafe area. B&F designed 13 meeting rooms and came up with three different types of meetings they would have to cater for – brainstorming, informal and formal. But that only hints at the wild variety of solutions the studio created. They range from the calming – in the form of the Picnic Room, with bright-green grass and pictures of clouds on the walls – to the disturbing, such as the Ballroom, which has a crystal chandelier hanging against a wallpaper of broad black-and-white stripes. The Cosy and Focus room has a glow light at the centre with a small Persian rug underneath, which is said to be good for focusing on one idea. Another room looks like the set of Big Brother, with chairs, sofas and even a bed. Yet another features four tennis umpires’ chairs in a square, to help generate “high-minded ideas”, apparently. There is a room with a cross in the middle that can be used for a catwalk – Jensen believes in the value of moving around – while another has a large oval table that functions as an observation space from which to watch and make notes on the “consumers” (aka children) playing with the products. I use the word “playful” in talking to Bj¯rn about the design of the rooms, but he says this was not the ethos behind the project. Although the designs are, to a degree, fun, they have all been created to fulfil different tasks, even if these are whimsical. And what of the Ballroom? Some people might find it a little disturbing or confusing, I suggest. “It is good for a brainstorm,” says Bj¯rn. “It’s a provoking room. I am trying to set up the interactions between the different departments to ensure that we have this innovation in the environment.”Bj¯rn hires designers from around the world to give a similar sense of cultural diversity to the proceedings. He says he likes a mix of characteristics. He doesn’t like people getting too comfortable. It is also true that B&F’s designs avoid childishness, even while referencing it. The furniture they use is unostentatious and the ideas are limited to one or two per area. Edges are always clear and the bright colours retain their dignity or freshness. We are not in Great Ormond Street Hospital, here. Indeed, the effect of sitting in such brightly coloured surroundings could be almost alienating. Research indicates that such environments can be most productive for creative thought. Despite its colourful nature, the Development Centre is a highly secretive area. Lego’s operating profits in 2006 were £140m and, like Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, everyone would like a look around. I am allowed to view only the welcome area and cafe, and two of the meeting rooms. Dreams are being concocted or refined elsewhere. But such super-secret quarters have a downside: they can be isolating for the people inside who might need to sit down with people from the rest of the Lego campus. The old space made that an unappealing prospect. Even the staff didn’t enjoy being inside. “People used to eat their lunch outside,” says M¯ller. Bj¯rn confirms this: “We had to change the cafe area – it was not so nice for people to be a part of this, every day.” One stipulation of the new area was that it should share a space with the reception area. “To begin with, we were pressured by lack of room,” says Bj¯rn. “But during the brainstorm, it was also conceived as an advantage, as receptions are often boring counters or rooms, without much activity. With this project, we want to show our values when you step in the front door. In that way, you get welcomed by an open environment where you can feel and experience the culture.”But rather than forming a distinction between the reception and buffet areas, B&F created a flowing, blobby table that makes the two spaces one. This peculiar arrangement provides plenty of space within the canteen area and puts the receptionist at the front of the welcome. The surface spreads out like a massive white splotch from the middle of the room. The rest of the canteen area takes an outdoors theme, with green organic tendrils growing over the wall and a bright-green floor. Three pine podiums encourage different forms of interaction. The effect is fresh and relaxing. Around the perimeter of this area are various types of meeting space and a library, which is, perhaps, the only truly sombre place in the building. “This design was important,” says Bj¯rn. “But there were a lot of challenges in this, because the first time I discussed this with the reception, they said they didn’t want to be so visible. Suddenly, they were in the middle of the environment. But we wanted it to be more welcoming, and an environment that projected our values. Eventually, they understood – and they were fine with it.”Other fun elements of the design include a mirror that features recordings of employees’ voices telling people they look beautiful when they stand in front of it. There are also the latest designs from the Lego Masterbuilders, crazed yet talented fans who trade research information for free Lego, such as sound effects on opening doors and two chairs perched on top of the porch. So has this startling transformation had any effect on the designers? “When you came in, there was no one to say good morning to,” says Thorogood. “But now the lady in reception is smiling. It makes a difference.” M¯ller agrees. “In the coming week, we are meeting some people from the factory,” he says. “Now we don’t have to be ashamed.” And the internal weather? “There is more sunshine every day,” she says. I think Charlie would have approved.
Words by Helen PartonEncouraging staff interaction was integral to David Chipperfield’s design for BBC Scotland’s new headquarters, in Glasgow’s West End, which included creating a giant indoor street. BBC SCOTLANDARCHITECT: DAVID CHIPPERFIELD ARCHITECTS CLIENT: BBC SCOTLAND COST: £188.4M (INCLUDING RELOCATION) START DATE: JULY 2004COMPLETION: SEPTEMBER 2007FLOOR SPACE: 3,160SQ MThe prohibitive cost of adapting BBC Scotland’s base on Queen Margaret Drive in Glasgow to new technology ensured that the broadcaster would have to find a new home. “We were trying to find a place where people would be encouraged to meet,” says Victoria Jessen-Pike, director of David Chipperfield Architects. “For the first time, all broadcasting functions, radio, television and internet, were to be brought together, and ways had to be found architecturally to encourage interaction between members of the large staff.”Chipperfield’s solution was to create Pacific Quay, a stepped sandstone “street” that rises over five levels and has been likened to “stairs in a giant’s house”. To my mind, though, the end result, as viewed from the top floor, is more like the cross-section of an ant hill, albeit one in which the insects favour stylish lounge furniture. “The idea was also to put all the black boxes in this concentrated solid base of the building,” says Jessen-Pike. Here, in the three broadcasting studios, including the largest in Scotland, begins the start of a tapeless revolution, allowing the workforce to share its content on a highly sophisticated digital server. The building also has 23 editing suites and three dubbing studios for state-of-the-art production. Red sandstone was selected as the main material for the street – a nod to the building material used in Glasgow’s tenements – and a Dumfriesshire quarry had to reopen to meet the order. Other locally sourced elements included the Scottish oak used for some of the street’s meeting tables, while the reception desk made from girders alludes to the area’s shipbuilding heritage. “The desk lends theatricality,” says Ross Hunter, director at Graven Images, which was charged with the interior design of the project. “This is a broadcast building, not a bank.” Back on the street, the break-out spaces and informal meeting areas, spread over the various steps‚ further encourage movement, with a wireless network serving the space. The steps can also be used for more formal gatherings and presentations. The open-plan offices that wrap around the street mean there are even more opportunities for cross-departmental encounters. Exposed concrete and steel finishes provide a workmanlike quality to the interior. “We also wanted to add ceiling panels only where we needed to, and we wanted a workshop aesthetic, rather than a very corporate one, to give a creative atmosphere,” adds Jessen-Pike.The building’s glazed facade maximises light and affords fantastic views, emphasised by the floor-to-ceiling and, in some cases, double-height, glass construction. “One of the things we wanted to do was to have as much space for the staff as possible, in terms of the number of metres and the height,” says Jessen-Pike.The architecture of the BBC building is simple in comparison with its neighbours: the futuristic Glasgow Science Centre next door, and the new Clyde Arc bridge and the SECC building across the river, known locally as “the armadillo”. But what it lacks in geometric interest, it makes up for in the practicality of its finishes. The double skin of the glazed facade, for example, with a fixed outer layer and opening inside layer, means that natural ventilation combines with floor-level displacement ventilation. Or, to put it in layman’s terms, as Jessen-Pike explains: “Staff can control their own temperature without having howling gales coming in. It brings in fresh air but not wind, and there is also an automatic venetian blind system. “We also wanted the building to be transparent, so that people could see the workings of the BBC,” she adds.The idea of involving the public is one that runs strongly through the project. When visitors enter the reception area, they immediately get a fantastic vista of the sandstone street. “The environment had to be conducive to making great programmes, while accommodating collaboration and new aspects such as public access,” says Hunter. As the new workforce settles in, plans are being drawn up for providing tours of the building, most likely commencing next year. The circulatory nature of the space means people can be at the heart of the action without disturbing those at work. When I visit, the widescreen television has yet to come to life and the finishing touches are also being put to two sound cones‚ and several booths, which are part of a series of interactive features. “The area [between the BBC building and the Science Centre] can really become a public square – it will start to improve when all the staff are moved in,” adds Jessen-Pike. As if on cue, as I approach the end of my tour, a group of tourists meanders in and exclaims in wonder: “What is this place?” Balancing this out, however, as I leave, the taxi driver comments, “This place, it’s no’ very accessible, eh?”, potentially ruining all the positive PR work done thus far. But, to be fair, it is early days for Pacific Quay as an area and, hopefully, with an organisation such as the BBC on board, accountable to the licence fee-paying population with a remit of inclusion close to the design brief, it will avoid a repeat of London’s Docklands, where workers spill out of the their glass-and-steel megaliths leaving the deprived local communities wondering where they fit into this hub of employment, entertainment and wealth.It is hoped that the area will become something of a media city, with Beat FM and Scottish Media Group already located in the vicinity. Pacific Quay’s location in one of Glasgow’s less salubrious areas did nonetheless prompt one wry blogger to quip: “The BBC is off to sunny Govan – and a culture shock.”Graven Images worked with local artist Toby Paterson, who has been commissioned to provide a work that will eventually sit outside the BBC building. “We had an ‘off Toby Paterson’ palette, if you like,” says Hunter. “There are connections between Toby’s piece and our layers of colour.”To say Graven Images’ job was to add colour would be to simplify its involvement in the project. Hunter says they started off incorporating shades of dark grey, before moving on to the more dramatic hues such as the fuchsia-coloured break-out spaces and lime-green counter tops in the tea-points. One of the biggest challenges Graven Images faced was the size of the building, which is more than 100m long. “We had to have elements that were bigger than the desks,” says Hunter. “Flooding the area with furniture would have made it look like a call centre.” To combat this, a series of sub-spaces was created, introducing systems of clear shelving to give a sense of ownership back to the staff, as well as colour-coded telescopic poles and signage.The most notorious element of the scheme, which has already featured in the Scottish Sun, is the two B&Q potting sheds. “They have taken on a life of their own,” says Hunter. “They are supposed to add a bit of humour, but have serious and non-serious roles. They are effective landmarks, quiet places for thinking, and amidst all the glass, their walls accommodate drawing pins.”Frequent changes in the size and make-up of teams, depending on the project, were also a workplace issue. “You can’t exactly phone up the facilities manager every time you want to add a desk,” says Hunter. “The team tables had to deliver flexible density, and storage pedestals are on the side so that you can easily fit in an extra person.”On the top floor, the licensed restaurant is where you sense Graven Images had the most freedom to put its design stamp on the space. “The area where they moved from was full of bars and cafes, and the BBC was conscious that it had to provide something that would replicate that,” says Jessen-Pike. There is a mix of seating styles, from benches and chunky tables to more delicate dining chairs and tables, as well as an outdoor terrace, to serve BBC employees from breakfast time through to evening. “Byres Road [the location of the bars and cafes] is no longer on the doorstep, so we wanted the canteen to look as good as a city restaurant,” adds Hunter. “It is said to have the best view of any restaurant in Glasgow. We designed it so that the bar is the focus, instead of that whole motorway service station-style of catering, with the canteen and shop, selling emergency items such as tights and aspirins, located behind, so they don’t drain the life from the place when they close.” In essence, the life of the project will come not from the high-spec furniture, or a quirky shed, or even a giant’s staircase, but, says Hunter, from the mix of people, both the staff and general public, who pass through the doors. “Like a television,” he says, “it has to be turned on.”