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A plywood shed for (small) meetings and colourful stools sit in the area just off reception Bespoke cabinets of colourful, laminated birchwood ply give the office its character as well as defining different zones Taking the garden motif to the max, the fire control panel near the front door lives on a plywood “cactus” A red, plywood element holding the company fish tank and beer fridge also separates a small eating/meeting area from the main studio The recycled plastic light fixture in the meeting room echoes the structure’s outer walls Modular birch ply panels are designed with tiny windows to see in and out
16 Apr 2010

TBG's Kentish Town HQ by Satmoko Ball

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  • Architect: Satmoko Ball
  • Client: TBG London
  • Location: London, UK
  • Cost: £181,000
  • Duration: October 2006 - January 2010
  • Floor Space: 388 sq m

Digital advertising agency TBG has brightened up its north London space with vivid plywood cabinets and... a shed 

“Defy expectations,” demands a neon sign on the wall of TBG London’s office in Kentish Town. Although a creative business based in a converted factory building is not necessarily defying expectations, perhaps this fit out’s price tag of £466 per square metre is. Either that, or being confronted with a plywood shed in reception.

London-based architecture practice Satmoko Ball was brought on board to reconfigure TBG’s existing space in Highgate Studios – an industrial jewel that has been resurrected as a creative business hub.

The digital advertising agency is on the ground floor off the central courtyard, and with only 388 square metres, relatively low ceilings and 50 staff (a number that fluctuates), Satmoko Ball had a job of ensuring it didn’t feel cramped as well as delivering the sort of impact a young, quirky ad agency requires these days.

Carried out in phases so that TBG could continue trading, the project had two core facets: a new meeting room comprised of modular elements and a layer of movable and static furniture of laminated birch ply. These colourful elements are what define the space and give it a bit of pizzazz, albeit with relatively little cash.

As visitors come through the doors into reception, there is a palpable buzz due to TBG staff working only a few metres away. One side of the office runs along Highgate Road, so buses and cars are visible over the top of frosted glass film in the windows that run the length of the space. You’d think it would be distracting, but it just adds to the atmosphere. However, it means that windows can’t be opened and therefore mechanical ventilation was needed.

The open-plan work area, situated in rows, uses TBG’s old desks – but is separated from reception by the ply storage units in acid colours, many of which are on wheels.

“They change teams quite a lot – that’s why everything has wheels,” says Adrian Ball, one half of Satmoko Ball. “So it is an implied flexibility as well as a real flexibility.”  

The concept for the reception and adjacent informal meeting area was based on an “urban garden”, Ball explains. The most obvious interpretation of the theme is the shed, which is situated smack in the middle of the office floor.

Inside it has a writing surface, plus little windows on either side that swing open to break-out spaces with low coffee tables, stools and a couch. Although it works as an interesting focal point for the office, the shed doesn’t look particularly comfortable, which might explain its emptiness.

"The meeting room is like a coconut: warm and tactile on the interior and smooth and refined on the interior"

“Doesn’t look like it’s getting a lot of use,” chuckles Ball. “We were trying to break the space down into little pockets.”

The garden motif continues in reception, where the fire control panel has been covered by a green ply element designed to mimic the shape of a cactus.

“We thought we’d make a feature out of it,” Ball adds. Hard-wearing green carpet creates the “lawn” of public shared areas, whereas the floor of the office area is kept as bare metal tiles. (Good thing those advertising types tend to wear trainers.)

Onoffice is happy to report that the reception desk (also made of laminated ply in a lovely red) is DDA (Disability Discrimination Act) compliant and wheelchair accessible.

However, the threshold of the building is not wheelchair accessible, so it may be more of a gesture than anything else. Still, it’s a start.

The same red ply is used for a bit of cabinetry at the far end of the space, which is next to a small kitchen. The cabinet, which holds a fish tank, sections off a small eating area and also has an in-built refrigerator stocked with booze, as any creative company worth its salt will undoubtedly have. Flatpack tables from furniture company Unto This Last carry on the plywood aesthetic.

Down at the other end of the office is a flashing server wall of black acrylic and LEDs inspired by movie representations of computers.

“Think War Games, Blake’s 7 and things like that,” says Ball. “As a digital ad agency, there is no tangible output in terms of what they do – so displaying the server was quite an important feature of the office.” It was also important to TBG to have a formal meeting space that it could be proud of. In phase one of the project, Satmoko Ball conceived a room “barely able to contain the ideas generated within it”.

The idea led to an internal structure of modular birch-faced ply panels; the articulated walls providing shelves and tiny windows for glimpses in and out of the space.

The architects have compared it to a coconut: “a room that is warm and tactile on the exterior and smooth and refined on the interior”.

A recycled plastic light fitting, designed in collaboration with Scottish design studio Blue Marmalade, echoes the texture of the outer walls. Aside from some jazzy “nightclub” wallpaper in the loos, things have been kept pretty simple. Now if they could just find an inspired use for that shed…

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