For their second project for an Australian financial services group, align was briefed to design 13,745 sq ft of new working, meeting, presentation and break-out space across 1.5 stories at their client's City of London offices in order to meet a period of sustained growth and house three divisions of the company, totaling around 150-170 people.
align had previously worked on an office interiors scheme in Reading for the same client, before being instructed to create this new Cat A and Cat B scheme, where the brief was to include integrated, but differentiated, zones that worked within the overall building environment with a pronounced accent on biophilia, agile working and staff wellbeing.
The scope of work mostly covered the building's 8th floor, where general workspaces are located, along with a staff kitchen/pantry; a large presentation and townhall space (which can also be used for other purposes, eg yoga classes); five meeting rooms and a large breakout area with an indoor-outdoor feel ('The Terrace'). The multi-use presentation area was deemed particularly important to the success of the project and is able to be combined with The Terrace area, with a folding wall between the two, in order to allow large-scale events to be held there. The scheme also encompassed a number of private working booths, as well as a more relaxed work/meeting area on the storey above, on the building's 9th floor.
"The 8th floor space really was a blank canvas when we took the project on, in spite of most of the building having been fitted out for several years already," Gurvinder Khurana, align Director and Co-founder, commented. "The spaces were effectively concrete shells and so could be designed to serve the required functions perfectly."
The existing building has a strong statement core, including a red feature staircase created by the scheme's original architects. This new design project needed to acknowledge and talk to this dominant feature. This was achieved via the occasional and well-judged uses of red throughout - from red lines, for example, within a grey carpet from Shaws Carpets used in corridor areas, that also echo the staircase's angled geometry, with Fegerhold lights directly above further matching the carpet insert angle.
A striking red feature was also used on the building's 9th floor, in the form of a rectangular feature wall area, which is clad in individual, red Muratto tiles in 3D off-centre pyramid shapes, angled once again to mimic the stair. This idea is continued along a narrow galleried seating area on the same floor, where the tiles this time are arranged as wall art in a series of alternating 4 or 6-tile portrait-format rectangles, accompanying a 6-person meeting space.
The client brief also requested the use of glass to maximise natural light and the scheme therefore features fire-rated glass for dividing walls wherever possible. As the more traditional working zones for the teams also require privacy and security for FCA compliance, privacy manifestations are used for some of the glazed partitions. Further light was created via white-painted ceilings, deliberately exposed, allowing for a very generous 3m ceiling height - almost a metre more than the average office interior - whilst at the same time ensuring a less corporate feel.
From an energy perspective, the large elements of glazing pull in as much natural daylight as possible, with cellular spaces confined to inner core areas and the lighting scheme is entirely LED-driven, with suspended up and down-lighting to limit glare to work surfaces. Floor finishes, meanwhile, feature a high degree of recycled content, as do the slatted timber acoustic panels in the presentation space, made from off-cuts of Australian red cedar.
"When it came to designing the workspaces themselves, we knew that our client has a strong collaborative relationship with its staff and engages in a number of programmes promoting health, wellbeing and balance within the workplace," Gurvinder Khurana explained. "This project therefore represents the continued evolution of the Group's people-centred working environments, which support the development of agile, activity-based working practices. A high level of trust is placed in the teams to choose the appropriate spaces in which to work - whether traditionally desk-based, buzzy-and-collaborative or quiet and reflective, with an overall workplace technology infrastructure which allows these to work seamlessly."
Workspace furniture includes sit-stand desks from Hayworth, along with a mixture of desks and seating by Naughtone, Orangebox and Brunner. Whilst the scheme created a suite of varied workplace environments for an agile workforce, each work zone also encompassed small meeting spaces and work areas, screened with combinations of furniture elements, hanging planting and open Abstracta frameworks, to create more intimate neighbourhoods within larger zones, along with jump-in jump-out phone booths to provide local quiet spaces. Each area very much has its own character and this approach can also be seen in the different meeting room design treatments, with carpets in two rooms in turquoise, two in green and one in yellow, for example.
A commitment to creating a biophilic environment meant an extensive planting strategy for the space too, creating a natural connection via externally-planted roof terraces, which also improve internal air quality and help mitigate the breakout of sound into the building's shared atrium space.
A communal pantry area on the 8th floor is surrounded by glass dividing walls, made more dynamic via a film manifestation in a highly-contemporary geometric pattern, applied on two walls in black and white and one in colour. The pattern reflects the geometry of the corridors beyond, with the colours forming a subtle reference to the company's Australian origins and in particular to the earthy tones of Aboriginal art. Rubber flooring is the pantry area is from Nora with a raised disc pattern.
The multi-functional/presentation area also has completely moveable furniture in the form of stacking chairs, along with folding Torino tables from Brunner, that can be wheeled to one side. The space includes a lectern that can be used in different locations and a large screen at one end. A hexagonal-design carpet here is from Shaws Carpets, whilst the rear wall features a stack-panel cladding system using recycled timber. The carpet continues into The Terrace beyond to link the spaces when the requirement is for a unified, larger space.
"The Terrace design was in fact a revamp of an existing space, but the client was very keen to have something more contemporary here and also lighter, brighter and more connected in feel," Khurana explained. "This space also needed to act as an overspill area, whilst also being connected to the rest of the business and the building's exterior."
The feel of The Terrace was to be homely, cosy and intimate. The manifestation on the folding glass wall linking it to the presentation space is a pointillist take on a field of bluebells, in a further biophilic-inspired element bespoke-designed by align.
Furniture here includes a row of bleachers, a form of mobile storage with the appearance of wooden trunks, whilst loose furniture includes striking red and blue hexagonal stools with white tables and green and ocean-blue chairs with angled backs. A planted mullion detail creates a more domestic, conservatory style to a otherwise corporate London Wall system - a first for this manufacturer.
Alongside the circulation void at the centre of the building and demarcating the edge of The Terrace is a row of high-back booth seats from Icons of Denmark, specially adapted for this scheme with castors, so that they can be moved, if necessary, in case of large-scale townhall meet-ups, with a contiguous AV solution also integrated between the two spaces.
"The Terrace is a communal space with major biophilic impetus and the planting strategy for it has had a very positive reception from staff," Khurana said. "align worked together with Plant Plan, as we did on the client's earlier offices in Reading, to achieve this. Other planting includes a series of eight hanging terraria set within glass globes, which are visible from other parts of the office through the glass walls. There is also an indoor garden alongside two phone booths, a meeting table and chairs and shelves where awards the company has won are displayed, along with inverted sky plants by Boskke, used both within The Terrace and on the 9th floor."
The Terrace area is also home to a Tech Assist help desk that provides local IT support that staff can engage with informally as they go about their day, sorting email queries, phone issues and offering hardware support as needed.
On the 9th floor, a series of felt-walled phone and single-working booths are by Buzzispace, whilst a previously under-used corridor area has been made much more dynamic through connecting it to the rest of the building to create a new semi-formal meeting space. "Previously, this area had both quiet booths and lounging sofas, so it had proved confusing to members of the team in terms of proposed usage," Khurana added.
The sofas were therefore removed and the space made more logical and connecting, adjacent to the series of private phone booths. A dynamic square light fitting from ALW mimics the table shape below and attracts users' attention. The addition of greenery and planting creates an indoor-outdoor feel and also connects the space to the floor below, via the same 'upside-down' planting detail from Boskke.
Photography: Adam Woodward