Rarely does onoffice feature a project from Switzerland. It’s certainly not intentional, but maybe the unassuming Swiss are less inclined to parp their trumpet than the rest of us. Well, allow us to redress our absurd (and imaginary) bias against the bastion of neutrality with Office Nest – a new HQ for Zurich-based pension fund Nest Sammelstiftung by OOS AG. The brief was straightforward: design a flexible office space that comfortably houses the company’s growing headcount while reflecting its eco-friendly ethos. Throw in some light renovation work on the 1960s office block that Nest called home for 25 years and you have a pleasingly comprehensive project for all concerned. The company expanded since its birth in 1983 by cramming more and more furniture into its office. By the mid-noughties this piecemeal approach had created an office that was unlikely to impress potential clients. OOS had worked with the company before on a more logistical level, when it addressed the practicalities of rehoming some Nest staff. Nevertheless, Nest had seen enough to convince them OOS could embody its identity. To achieve this, the architect conjured up a slightly abstract concept. They would resettle the staff over three floors, each with its own elemental theme – earth, forest and sky. “We were curious how to convert their ideals into an architecture,” explains OOS co-founder Christoph Kellenberger. “This company has a vision. Their goal is to be an ethical and ecological funds company. They will only invest in sustainable energy, for example.” These are noble aspirations – and OOS’s cue to whisk Nest’s staff on a journey through nature beginning on the fourth floor – or “earth” – of this seven-storey block. The layout here is linear and regimented. Islands of desks line the edges of the space. Underfoot, the brown carpet hammers home the theme, while hanging above the desks are constellations of storage units with orange-brown PET plastic windows. “Stalagtites”, Kellenburger calls them; the architect wanted this floor to have the feeling of a cave. The clean white desks contrast with the wooden step that abuts the facade denoting the difference between workspace and the building or the “house” as Kellenberger rather endearingly describes it. OOS worked with Dutch furniture designers Bureau De Bank to select furniture and it was important both interior design and furniture complemented each other, rather than fighting for attention. Kellenberger says: “We had a very nice ping-pong with them. We discussed the interior and vice-versa so this is a total environment not just a space where you put nice furniture.” OOS also tried hard to use only eco-certificated furniture – either sourcing it locally or from elsewhere in Europe. “Of course, in construction it is very difficult to know the exact content at the end. But we tried our best.”
All the floors are accessed by a spiral staircase, a constant that knits the project together. OOS used this to gradually reveal the contrasting geometric shapes and colours of each floor. Things change on the “forest” floor. The straight lines are broken up in favour of a more collaborative layout. It is no surprise to find the marketing types lurking here, but also on this level is the reception desk, whose angular form and grass inlay provide the floor’s centerpiece. The MD gets his own cellular office next to the reception. It is good to see that neither OOS nor Nest succumbed to misguided egalitarian buffoonery and stuck him/her on the IT desk. With less stress on acoustic baffling, the brown carpet is replaced by bamboo flooring, which gives a brighter feel. Glass meeting rooms continue the forest theme. Bamboo tables designed by Bureau De Bank appear to grow organically from the floor on branch-like legs. Green curtains can be drawn for privacy – rather like on a magician’s box.
After the forest comes “sky” – the rooftop office. OOS designed and built a new roof for the building using copper cladding and full-height French windows. By recessing the structure from the facade, the practice created a decked rooftop terrace that overlooks the cityscape. Architecturally speaking, this was the biggest addition the practice made and was undoubtedly the most troublsome. After receiving positive noises from the local authorities, OOS suddenly found its plans thrown out at the last minute. “It is in circle four, which is a working class district and there are very strict rules about new buildings,” sasys Kellenberger – who goes on to explain how the original plan was deemed too wild for such a stolid neighbourhood. “We redesigned the new roof in a week.” Juxtaposing white walls and furniture against blue flooring, the idea was to mimic a cumulus cloud. Geometric shapes divide the space, controlling the movement of people. Here we find not only the workers’ canteen, but also the boardroom and, tucked away in what feels like a loft space, the accounting department. Again, Bureau De Bank honed the design, adding to the boardroom bespoke overhead lamps that resemble box-kites.
Kellenberger says the budget was generous, allowing the practice to maintain a high design standard throughout, and both client and architect were very pleased with the results. “There were hard moments and funny ones because you are very close to the client. It is getting personal. And at the end you have friends or enemies – and in this case we have some more friends.”