The lobby of 60 Great Portland Street bears the unmistakable mark of Jump Studios, the architecture and design firm that seems to have made a science of slick and edgy office design. From the sculptural red leather seating system (“a graphic description of an atom”), echoed in the fibreglass light fixture above it, to the curved display wall of miniature white cubicles with sliding doors, the studio’s imprint is evident right from the front door.
The entire five-storey building just off Oxford Circus has been given the Jump treatment for media communications group Engine, which has brought all 12 of its partner companies – and their 560 employees – together for the first time.
“We believed profoundly that the only way you could deliver an integrated solution to clients – rather than the traditional way of doing things, which is completely silo – was by being under one roof,” explains Tony Cadman, a project manager for Engine. “But it was even more demanding than that, because simply putting everybody in boxes under one roof doesn’t automatically make them share knowledge and trust, and gain an understanding of what the other companies do.”
As with almost all umbrella companies, the question was how to create a contemporary environment that forces a community flow, but still preserves the personalities of the individual components, which, in Engine’s case, range from a serious-minded public affairs group to T-shirt and trainers-clad creatives.
“You want them to coexist, but you also want them to have a brand identity culture and a sense of belonging,” says Cadman. “We couldn’t have marble and mahogany in one area, and seaweed and driftwood in another.”
With that in mind, a “common language” was introduced throughout the building, while leaving scope for each company to customise its individual office space. Simon Jordan, director of Jump, describes the result as “slick but directional” and based on the concept of a space that looks “machined rather than constructed”.
Jump didn’t need to address the fabric of the structure, so much as to create a group of architectural elements and space divisions to sew it together. On the office floors, a corridor was created around the central core using a shelving system flanked by a neon red and grey suite of seats for informal meetings. The shelving, a simple white frame and black panels, lends a sense of privacy to the separate companies without going completely cellular. Furthermore, since Engine is growing quickly, the offices required room for expansion and flexibility – so having permanent territorial divisions wasn’t going to work.
Each company has customised its area in a way that reflects its “personality”. PR has painted the pillars with pastel colours (post-occupancy, clarifies Jordan). Others have opted for graphics, wallpaper or, as with the music group, pointing the rear end of a giant teddy bear in the direction of approaching visitors.
“As you traverse the building around the lift core, you’ll see shared meeting areas, so that becomes a kind of vertical spine that connects the ground floor up through the fifth,” Jordan explains, adding that the rooms were kept monochrome so that occupants could have input as to how they were used.
“We wanted people to define how those meeting rooms worked best for them [libraries, open meeting spaces and so on] within the constraints of that form, which becomes the identity of Engine,” he explains.
The fifth floor, which functions as a sort of hub for the separate parts of Engine, contains the cafe and a series of formal and informal meeting spaces, which manage to have a social feel while also providing defined areas for working.
“We wanted to make this floor as dramatic as possible and somewhere that people would really enjoy hanging out,” says Jordan.
Three “beam me up, Scotty” seating pods – made of Corian – can fit 14 people, while pink and purple rubber-coated foam sofas below cylindrical light fixtures provide slightly more casual places to socialise. Moooi tables and green BarberOsgerby chairs dot the canteen, where employees may duck outside to the roof terrace overlooking the central London rooftops.
On the other side of the fifth floor, a series of nine meeting rooms divided by white laminated timber walls and glass provide opportunities for more formal meetings, fitted out as they are with Tom Dixon tables, Arper chairs and stools of rubber-coated foam.
Down on the ground floor, a mini-auditorium (designed for presentations) with timber bleachers and more of the colourful stools is another point where the various factions of Engine can come together.
“We liked the idea of treating a room in an unusual way to get people to work differently,” says Jordan. In this building, employees definitely have their fair share of choice.
There were certain pre-existing elements in the lobby that Jump left untouched – such as the stone slab floors, chrome columns and mirrored red lacquer reception desk. Other than that, the building is classic Jump – business as usual, but in a