Riga is on the radar when it comes to office architecture and design. Earlier this year onoffice covered the DnB Nord Banka building by Audrius Ambrasas Architects (onoffice 49), a slick corporate HQ north of the Latvian capital’s old town. This new project, by architects Open AD, although equally eye catching, is at the opposite end of the scale – a rich, colourful, retro-looking interior for advertising agencies McCann Erickson Riga and Inspired. (The two agencies share the same parent company and occupy the same building on different floors.)
It may be Open AD’s background in designing clubs, bars and restaurants in Riga that accounts for such an outside take on workplace design. “We began on private projects, and designing bars and clubs around the city,” says designer Elina Tetere. “Riga is quite small, people who have seen public projects we have done will sometimes look us up; work is often through word of mouth. Our signature is that we are very dynamic; we can do a very glamorous look for a club, or something completely different. For this project we used simple materials and recycled objects; we wanted it to have a natural, democratic feel.”
The building has been treated like an outdoor environment, with indoor urban planning. Corridors are treated as streets, with benches at the end of them. Separate offices and workspaces have been treated like houses coming off these indoor streets, turning the workplace into a small community with shared public spaces. A bookcase in the shape of a tree forms a central park-like area, making a garden-cum-library.
An igloo structure covered in old newspaper, which appears on the corner of one of these streets, is branded the Egg of Talent. “It is somewhere to go if you need inspiration, to watch a film, to take your laptop, or get your head down and think,” explains Tetere. “This was important to people working creatively in a shared environment.” Tetere adds that the project “was a good break from bars and clubs, as you are always thinking about function. We enjoyed learning about the needs of these companies and the people who work in them, and taking a creative approach to those needs.”
The team also took a creative approach to their budget, reusing and recycling materials wherever possible. When they commissioned furniture for the project, they used lacquered MDF. The panels that make up the corridors are made from recycled timber boards rescued from carpenters’ studios. The lighting is recycled from plasterboard tubes that once held bolts fabric, cut down with bulbs inserted. As well as helping to meet the budget the recycling achieves a retro aesthetic, which Tetere refers to as their “trash style”.
Open AD’s most noticeable recycling project is a large cabinet filled with a collection of disused domestic and office items, turning it into display case of pre- and post-Soviet design. “We went round second-hand shops and called friends to see if they had any appliances we could use, but more importantly, we asked the employees at McCann Erickson and Inspired to bring in objects from their homes that they didn’t need anymore,” says Tetere. “There is a big computer screen from the 1990s, an old home telephone. Some of the objects are ten, 20, 30 years old. I think it’s nice to come to work and see something that was a part of your home in the place that you work.”
“The building is quite new, and we took away everything to reveal its construction and ventilation,” Tetere explains. “We were a bit more creative and crazy, design-wise, with Inspired’s office space – it took on more of a punk agency look.”
However, this is a workplace with functional, as well as style, innovations. The main meeting room, which is walled along its longer sides, and transparent at either end, holds a meeting table hooked up to cables, which can be elevated, and hang suspended in the air when it’s not being used. “We’re very proud of this room,” says Tetere. “It can be used in many different ways. There are sliding partitions so it can be broken into smaller meeting spaces, and all the furniture can be easily cleared if more space is needed. And there are curtains if more confidential meeting spaces are needed for high-profile clients.”
This year the office won an award for best foreign interior at the Best Office Awards in Moscow, when it was up against much larger projects and international firms. “We were very pleased to have put in a project that stands out,” says Tetere of the accolade. The company is now doing some more work for McCann Erickson Riga as it is expanding into other areas of the building. “We hope this isn’t the end of working with workplaces for us,” says Tetere. “Latvia, which became independent 20 years ago, is ahead of Russia and Ukraine in terms of architecture; it’s an exciting time to be in design.”