Fashion may come and go, but if you have got the basics right, then you are set for life. For the new headquarters of Swedish fashion giant H&M (Hennes & Mauritz) in Stockholm, Reflex Arkitekter opted for reserved over racy, for an interior that is oh-so-Scandinavian – clean, bright and minimal, interspersed with graphic punches of solid colour.
The Stockholm-based architectural practice was initially approached to redevelop a prominent corner site in the heart of the Swedish capital’s central shopping district. A car park and narrow office building were demolished to make way for larger retail premises and new commercial spaces, with the aim of a long-term freehold. In keeping with the variation of the surrounding architecture, the block is divided into three separate, seven-storey buildings, each with its own identity. They are connected by internal walkways and share an inner podium-level courtyard. A base of various double-height shops occupies the street level, cutting through the site via a retail passage.
Not surprisingly, a new multi-level H&M store occupies a significant part of the retail premises, as this was the site of one of its original stores. To avoid the disruption of the retail street frontage, the three buildings share an entrance. In common with any self-respecting fashionista’s wardrobe, a basic colour palette forms the basis of the scheme. In place of a little black dress, crisp white shirt and chic grey pencil skirt, there are a slim black steel-clad infill building, an austere white limestone-clad corner building and a grey slate-clad entry building.
Reflex was then commissioned to design the interior of the commercial tenancy, once it was confirmed that H&M was to relocate its head office to the premises. This second commission allowed a seamless continuation of the architectural concept into the interior scheme, enabling the project to have a more holistic outlook. The offices were to accommodate about 760 staff, but the size of the workforce grew, and an extra 300 employees are housed in an adjacent office.
The heart of the workplace is the wedge-shaped atrium courtyard in between the three buildings. Inspired by a Mediterranean square, the company’s communal activities are based there. Entry is via an escalator from the ground floor that leads into a narrow, but high, reception area which fans out into the main courtyard. A lounge furnished with brightly coloured pieces and an adjacent meeting pod that is visible from the street await the visitor. In a continuation of the exterior colour scheme, the internal elevations are clad correspondingly in black, white and grey, animated by window openings that provide day lighting for work spaces.
Glazed walkways connect the floors between the buildings, creating ideal spots for people watching in the courtyard. A cafe and staff restaurant – dressed separately in shades of red for autumn and green for spring – create a liveliness at the edge of the courtyard, while outdoors-style seating and indoor trees suggest an outdoor atmosphere. Centrally located in the courtyard, a
black “cat-walk” is used by staff as a long dining/meeting table, accentuating the length of the space. Most importantly, the size of the courtyard comfortably accommodates events such as fashion shows, company presentations or formal meetings.
The interior accommodates a combination of open-plan and closed offices, design studios and workshops, with various meeting spaces interspersed throughout. A blank “canvas” provides the basis of the fit-out, kept as clean as possible through white walls, ceilings and ash flooring, hidden floor cabling, concealed services and integrated ceiling lighting. The interiors feature the
corresponding black, white or grey of the building in which they are located; this could be the colour of the workstations, dividing walls or bathrooms. For further differentiation, each building has a unique graphic pattern that acts as a privacy screen for transparent glazing, and has a different palette of bright accent colours which is used for the meeting rooms, kitchen splash-backs and feature carpeting or furniture. The plan is sliced vertically with voids that plunge into the courtyard below, creating a dynamic relationship between the different floors.
The day lighting, internal workplace lighting, feature retail and facade lighting were an integral part of the project. Stockholm winters are long and dark, so the ability to work in a well-lit environment makes a huge difference. The courtyard acts as a large central light well, and windows form the basis for the day lighting. Workstations are placed along the building perimeter close to openings either overlooking the courtyard or street.
To control the glare and heat, the size and number of openings is dependent on the orientation of the facade. Hence, pragmatic requirements become identifying characteristics of each building.
The black building, with its facade of full-height glass, is fitted with moveable custom-designed laminated glass louvres that block out the sun. In contrast, the windows of the white corner building are arranged at sparse intervals, thin and vertical to minimise direct sun throughout the day. To maximise daylight, the grey building, which has windows facing north and east, features more generous openings organised in a slightly “random” fashion. For those who want more light and fresh air, a semi-open rooftop terrace provides respite from the work environment and views into the city beyond. Designed by renowned Swedish landscape architect Ulf Nordfjell – who was a gold medal winner at the 2007 Chelsea Flower Show – the glass-covered terrace at the top of the black building is a Swedish interpretation of a Japanese garden, featuring granite elements, timber benches and abstract ponds.
The design scheme of the headquarters will be adopted for new H&M offices outside Sweden. So perhaps the next time you are in H&M and you reach for a black, white or grey garment laced with bright splashes of graphic colour, then you’ll know where the inspiration came from.