Urban Salon has revamped BBH’s offices, creating open spaces and a new atrium on a small budget.
Huh? What’s this? A marble and chrome reception topped off with full-length mirrored wall, you say? Well, this must be some slick corporate headquarters conceived in the 1980s, when greed was practically a government-endorsed character trait. But it’s not. It is the shared reception for a spec building, part of which is occupied by Bartle Bogle Hegarty (BBH) and bears little relation to the advertising giant’s own office. Still, the firm has emotive connections to the 1980s – their men in bow ties masterminded the revival of Levi’s with adroit use of a buff twentysomething model and a launderette. Now the company is reinventing its workplace courtesy of longtime collaborators Urban Salon.
BBH moved into the Kingly Street building a decade ago, when viral marketing campaigns were a twinkle in the creative director’s eye.
In a world where one team was assigned to one client, it seemed natural to have staff working in dedicated silos arranged around a glazed central atrium.
“It worked when the business was make a short film for a client. But now adverts have to work in so many different ways, and if they kept the department model, younger, more agile companies would chisel away at its business,” says Urban Salon’s director Alex Mowat.
The clear boundaries between teams – creatives sitting with account managers – was old school.
Urban Salon knew how to fix this state of affairs. What the practice didn’t have was money.
“Whoever needs privacy has it, regardless of job title”
While a wholesale revamp of the workspace was out of reach, Mowat nonetheless convinced BBH that to kickstart the new working practices, demolition was the only way forward.
The glass partitions separating the opposing flanks of offices were removed, allowing movement across the atrium (and consequently between departments) and Mowat inserted a zigzagging bamboo staircase at the far end of the office that joined all the floors together. The structure, clad in either perforated acoustic plasterboard (it appears to have been machine-gunned) or bamboo slats, snakes around the atrium, forming a balustrade bar top around the perimeter where staff can flip open a laptop and work. Indeed, bamboo is an almost singular presence in the project – a reaction to the coldness of the previous fit out.
Seeking to immerse the visitor in BBH’s culture, Mowat positioned the reception desk, again made from bamboo but this time in a dark caramel colour, on the middle floor of the office, thereby establishing a clear break from the chrome-infused entrance. A spiral staircase allows for rapid transit between all floors. Located at the rear of this floor is a canteen designed for clients and BBH staff alike.
“Advertising is not just a pitch in a big meeting room with a client. Now it is a campaign over time and over different media, and the process has to be more collaborative,” says Mowat.
Continuing this collaborative theme, the cosmetically seductive ground floor, formerly home to a pink and gold reception desk atop a marble floor, was transformed into a flexible work/meet space for up to 40 people, with bespoke, configurable benches that also incorporate built-in sofas.
“Say, BBH New York is working for a shared client: this could become a satellite New York office,” says Mowat. “Or you could bolt three together and make a big long bars at the sides of the atrium to stop people wandering into the office.”
With budgets tight, most of the cash went on these features, leaving little to improve the meat-and-potatoes office space. Individual offices, placed at the outer limits of the floorplates, were spruced up with coloured adjoining walls, but the key addition was the dispersal of what Urban Salon calls ‘think boxes’ throughout (some in more obvious places than others.)
“They wanted the different departments to have a little quiet space to get together for an hour or two, so you might have an account handler, a sound specialist and an art director all sitting in different places, and these shared acoustic boxes are somewhere you can have a meeting,” says Mowat.
Constructed from bamboo and fully powered, the think boxes feature a built-in worktable and removable upholstered seat. The internal wall is covered in graphic wallpaper on which BBH staff can pin their work (although there is not much evidence of this resource being used in this way).
“Advertising isn’t a pitch in a big meeting room. It has to be more collaborative now”
One of BBH’s main concerns about opening up the office space was noise, so the architects worked double time to incorporate acoustic baffling.
Most striking, however, are the wood wool acoustic fins that dangle just underneath the glazed barrel vaulted roof. Blue on one side and white on the other, the fins provide an aesthetic dynamism as one moves through the office. The internal hierarchy is not glaringly obvious – aside from the art director, highly visible in a glass box. The rest of the big cheeses are peppered throughout the floors.
“Whoever needs privacy has it, regardless of job title,” says Mowat.
Most remarkable, though, is that during all this upheaval, BBH remained open for business. Even as the 18m staircase was craned in, the company continued to pitch for (and no doubt win) jobs. Crucial to this was Urban Salon’s total engagement with its client.
“We had a meeting at Christmas right before we started and showed everyone an animation of how it might work. Once the work began, we put Perspex windows in the plasterboard, which was also decorated by graphic designers so that people could see what was going on. The idea was to make sure it wasn’t, ‘what are they doing to our building? But ‘this is what we are doing to it.’”