You wouldn’t want to walk into Burberry’s new HQ underdressed, this building would show you up. Corinthian grey marble floors, dark oak panelling and polished black chrome all spell out classic, unbudging style.
The new global headquarters brings together 850 staff, which previously worked across disjointed locations, under one roof. Christopher Bailey, Burberry’s creative director led the interior design of the new building, with architects Gensler, whose previous key projects include the New York Times Building, London’s Regent Street Apple Store and the London Stock Exchange.
A British establishment that gave birth to the trench coat, the trademark Burberry Check, and now a worldwide luxury brand, it does not seem out of place that the new global HQ is in a 1930s listed building at the end of Horseferry Road on the verge of Lambeth Bridge, next to MI5 and a stone’s throw from the Ministry of Justice.
Previously used as government offices, Burberry’s glamorous advertising campaign that runs around the ground floor glass windows is the giveaway this is no longer the realm of civil servants. The new reception foyer is cut out more for rock stars than ministers: large screens run catwalk shows to indie backing tracks and an automatic mirrored door next to luxury leather couches gives way to guest washrooms. With the likes of Kings of Leon, Orlando Bloom and Johnny Borrell passing through to be styled by the label, it’s a fitting entrance.
But Burberry is not an outfit that takes place behind closed doors. A full height central atrium running through the seven floors of the building gives visibility to glass-sided offices, depending which floor you are on, offering views into the directors’ rooms.
Decorative traditional window frames that reflect those on the outside of the building, and give a nod to the signature Burberry Check, bring a domestic slant to the workspace. From the protruding bubble-like glass vantage points dotted around each atrium floor, each wall of offices appears like a cross section of a Manhattan apartment block, with activity taking place on every level.
Inside the office spaces white benches stretch out across neutral carpets and workstations are lined up in an uncluttered, functional rows, giving way to a clean, pristine aesthetic. The industrial, traditional building is luxurious yet functional.
Gensler quickly learned that the word “trench” was not only a contracted noun for the garment invented by the fashion house, but that it had also became an adjective to describe a colour, explains Enrico Caruso, principle architect on the project. ‘The ‘trench’ colour palette was used as a base in particular for floor coverings and wall surfaces’.
Halide lighting inside the building automatically adjusts to outside light, and motion detectors mean that when entering an empty room, a series of lights blink on in response. Due to the roof light and atrium, natural light floods through the build.
On the top level, where designing and pattern making takes place, long cutting benches under suspended lamps run along the long narrow floor, leading up to the creative director’s office at the end.
Bailey is responsible for everything visual that Burberry does, in a hands-on way, from the design of all Burberry collections and product lines, to corporate art direction, to picking One Night Only band member George Craig for the new Spring 09 ad campaign, to store design and visuals. For the new HQ he wanted to mirror the quintessentially British values that Burberry represents.
To tie in with the new Burberry store concept, a consistency in materials, textures and colours was employed Caruso explains. ‘Bailey’s vision was clear: that the experience for staff and visitors should be the same for each.’ You should have the same expectations of the brand walking into the HQ as you would entering one of the new revamped Burberry stores – currently limited to Knightsbridge, Berlin and Beverly Hills.
Bailey’s office overlooks the Thames and there are two roof terraces leading off the top floor giving views over London including Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, although, due to the nature of national security, Burberry has to clear it with MI5 before they stroll out there.
On the lower ground floor the different Burberry collections, Burberry Prorsum and Burberry London are on show, with meeting tables and computers on hand for buyers and business meetings. There are also rooms for promotional and brochure shoots, and VIP fitting rooms and celebrity waiting areas; everything really does happen under one roof. And whereas consolidating efforts and resources and bringing everyone together seems to be the key qualifier for the move, the new HQ will also ‘unite the culture’ and ‘purify the brand’ claims Burberry chief executive Angela Ahrendts.
Communication is a key contributor to the operational excellence it now boasts, and the downstairs dining and canteen area, and in-house catering facilitates this, giving flexible and informal space for briefings, meetings, and company collaborations.
State of the art video conferencing facilities on every level means that when global company updates are given, Burberry offices in Hong Kong, Japan and New York can be included. The CEO gives frequent company addresses in a ground floor open-plan hub space.
With its IT and AV solutions, and visually communicative atrium core, the building does not serve to split up employees so much as keep everyone in the loop.