Welcome to Office 04, Dutch architects i29’s latest work. It’s in Amsterdam, designed for global advertisers Tribal DDB, which describes itself as “the greatest digitally-centric agency in the world.” With statements like this one might expect an uber-tech workplace that comes complete with hoverbike rack and teleporter pads. Not so. In reality the client restrained itself to a simple monochrome palette that prioritises functionality, chiming with the project’s understated sequential moniker.
i29 is a practice big on materiality, but small on colour, as demonstrated in their work for another Amsterdam ad agency, Gummo, where the architects reanimated second-hand furniture with spray-on black rubber paint. As i29 partner Jeroen Dellensen explains, the two-tone approach that served them so well for Gummo led Tribal DDB to invite the practice to pitch for their new fit-out.
Tribal DDB are part of global giants DDB, but with the insatiable market for all things digital, the techie wing spread into its own floor of the Amsterdam office. The trick for i29 was how to create a different (but not too different) identity for Tribal DDB. Where paint held the key for Gummo, here the architects went for wool felt – a material they had no experience working with. Dellensen explains how the concept came about: “We had to remove a lot of walls so we came up with this concept of wrapping the building up in fabric to cover all the scars we would make.” Impressed with
this surgical metaphor, i29 got the job, edging out two rival practices in the process.
The architects had to work around certain elements of the building. The floorplate is L-shaped with a spiral staircase at its corner, so i29 decided to incorporate the staircase into the social space. Mimicking its curves, the practice also created a pair of small semi-circular seats, one sited around a table for small collaborative meetings or work, the other larger space in front of a digital screen. “We tried to use the staircase to our advantage and it became like a landscape,” says Dellensen. “It works in an abstract way.” This being a company of young creatives, staff often use the larger space for gaming, Dellensen adds.
Branching off this hub to make the bottom of the L-shape are open-plan workspaces with a salubrious view over a nearby golf course. Attending to Tribal’s tendency to work in small teams, the desks are broken into modules of six and four. In these spaces the acoustic properties of felt come into their own. “Everyone wants an open-plan office, but they can be really noisy. The fabric makes it almost completely silent,” says Dellensen. Aside from soundproofing, the felt counterbalances the project’s rigid lines, adding a softness to the monochrome palette. This came from the company’s identity, which i29 interpreted as friendly, but super-professional.
With no previous experience, felt proved a tricky material to get to grips with, making the execution of the design the toughest aspect of the project. Felt tends to bubble up, according to Dellensen, which meant difficulties achieving the requisite tautness. And there’s so much felt that there was a danger that the walls would end up getting used as a pinboard. Predicting this, the practice made the majority of white walls magnetic.
i29 designed what they describe as telephone booths – smaller one- or two-person boxes that hang from the ceiling. As the nickname suggests these pods are intended for phone calls or solitary working. For intense strategising, i29 included three “war rooms”, a euphemism that tells you all you need to know about the advertising biz. There were supposed to be six of them – which could probably constitute a war cabinet – but in the time between design and construction, Tribal recruited another 20 tribesmen, upping the need for desk space. Luckily, i29 designed the project with plenty of room for expansion.
Because of the project’s size (650sq m) the budget was a healthy one, just as well considering Tribal’s desire to inhabit the best office in Amsterdam. But its pockets were not bottomless. “It wasn’t like they said ‘do what you like.’ We had to fight for things,” says Dellensen.
i29 are not great believers in loud splashes of colour, because they think that too much visual noise distracts from the finer points of the design. But there is another layer to this project. It is not an architect seeking to define its client; rather an architect putting things in place so the client can grow and explore its own identity.