Seel Bobsin Partner has revamped an early 20th century loft with a modern edge for Covus’s Berlin office
Over here in London, space is at a premium: office floorplates are increasingly dense, office rents remain high and sufficient housing provision a joke. Cut to Berlin and the story couldn’t be more different. A population of just 3.52 million has room to live and breathe in comfort and, despite some whinging from local creatives about rising living costs, it’s still comparatively cheap. Let’s just say, it’s still possible to get a lot of warehouse space for your euro.
Which brings us to the Covus offices in Prenzlauer Berg, a central district in the former East Berlin.
Covus is a digital commerce company, set up a decade ago; with over 15,000 domain names in its portfolio, it leads the way in digital marketing, and its workforce has grown from 15 to more than 50 in the last five years. Staff were spread over three locations in Berlin, so this was a chance to house everyone together for the first time, making for better internal communication.
Those in charge at Covus wanted to get away from the feel of it being a start-up. In a neat handover from old media to new, this office used to be the home to the Gutenberg publishing house.
Now it is Covus’s programmers, marketers, SEO specialists and designers, as opposed to printers, who call this location their workplace.
Architectural studio Seel Bobsin Partner (SBP), which is based in Hamburg, was keen not to eliminate the building’s industrial past and so the Art Nouveau facade, which dates back to the turn of the 20th century and forms the entrance to the factory, has been carefully retained.
“The client had a desire to show that it valued its young, fast-growing group of companies”
The office is set across three floors, and designer Kim Marc Bobsin says that the main goal “was to preserve the existing Berlin factory area. We did this through a mix of materials, furniture and lighting to create a really special and modern atmosphere.”
On paper, the juxtaposition of a metal spiral staircase next to a big slab of Corian on the ground floor might seem a bit ungainly but it somehow works. There’s certainly been no skimping on the specification here, not just evidenced by the aforementioned super-expensive solid surface material but the AAC dining chairs by Danish firm Hay facing an oversized Chesterfield-style bit of upholstery with Tom Dixon’s Beat lights suspended above in the Covus cafe.
It’s all in the name of underpinning the corporate values, explains Bobsin: “The client came to us with a desire to show that it valued its young, fast-growing group of companies. The interior also had a positive role to play in supporting recruitment: employees and would-be recruits should feel they are in safe hands.”
The project began in earnest in late December 2011 with SBP working with Notholt Lighting Design. As is now par for the course in modern workspaces, they installed a variety of different work settings, although without any major structural work being done; separate air conditioning wasn’t needed as there are lots of windows to open. Acoustic solutions were tweaked as necessary after staff moved in, rather than a one-size-fits-all approach.
There’s everything from the more traditional boardroom overlooking the courtyard – with an all-white furniture selection to symbolise the company’s values of clarity and openness – to the anthracite-coloured ‘war room’. Here, there are no concessions to frippery: it’s sparsely furnished with a democratically round table, eight task chairs and that’s it. Next door is the library, where staff can get on with some research or hold a private conversation, with a brace of stags’ heads on the dusky orange walls and easy chairs with a distinctly vintage vibe, deftly making use of what is an awkward narrow space.
On the other side of the war room is the Bretterbude, which translates simply as ‘shack’. The benches and wall are a seamless vision realised in Cleaf, a melamine panel system from Italy. The broad sweep of the ground floor, with its reception area and cafe, functions as an event space as well as a workplace.
We selected furniture that could be adapted, because employees are always moving around”
This office is very much an evolution for Covus, a sort of tech workplace 2.0 if you will. It needed to convey a sense of professionalism, communicating to the outside world that the company is a rapidly evolving, grown-up outfit with the sleekest of floor finishes and all the fancy down lighters money can buy.
On the first and top floors things get more serious still, as this is where the workstations can be found. Desking areas with room for up to eight people are divided by transparent screens with designated desks kept to an absolute minimum. Bobsin says that “the client wanted flexible desk configurations with height adjustability. We selected furniture and storage that could be adapted quickly because employees are always moving around and team structures are ever changing.”
A programmer, for example, needs no storage space but will require more desk space than, say, a marketeer, with at least two screens and other accessories. Floor lamps (in this instance, the GO XT model by Tobias Grau) are predominantly used in these group offices, while corridor wall lights and pendants take their cues from the building’s industrial heritage. There are also stretches of blackboard walls, which give a nod to the quirkiness of downstairs in what are quite conventional-looking upper floors.
The brief called for a workspace that engendered both creativity and collaboration, and the client should be more than satisfied with the result. The ground floor reception has that all-important power to impress, while the serious business of digital marketplaces and Freemium business models can be got on with upstairs.