SpaceInvader has completed a radical refurb of the Wimbledon HQ of Domestic & General - a major transformation that came about through the agile and WFH (working from home) revolution leading up to and resulting from the pandemic.
The workplace remodeling began very much from the ground up, with in-depth conversations with the internal team about how they might want to work in the future. CBRE, who manages the space for Domestic & General, subsequently brought in the SpaceInvader team to interpret the wealth of employee data that had been generated to envisage and space-plan a new workplace interior within the existing building.
"In fact, the client team gave us the most brilliant brief, asking us to demonstrate 'the art of the possible,'" commented Sarah Dabbs, Associate at SpaceInvader. "Not only that, but the form of the building - full of curves and soft shapes - was a perfect starting canvas for a scheme that promised to embody real imagination and possibility."
As the programming was very tight, the creative process took place at unusual speed, with a highly-experienced core team at SpaceInvader working hard to design a new interior signaling a complete change of culture for Domestic & General, with the company moving from a fairly rigid traditional office set-up to not only agile and flexible working with fewer desk spaces, but also away from a white interior towards a bold and colorful hospitality sensibility, featuring new tones, textures, and materials.
"Both Domestic & General and CBRE were exceptionally brave and decisive on this project," John Williams, Founder of SpaceInvader added. "They embraced the moment and the whole vision, just as proposed."
The brief to SpaceInvader was to adapt and refurbish the workplace to support a new hybrid working approach, with team members spending 2-3 days per week in the office post-pandemic and the rest of the week either WFH or remote-working. There was a strong HR focus in the brief, with the new scheme helping retain existing staff, who would feel well-supported - and be equally attractive to new, potential candidates.
A major driver for the refurbishment was to create reasons for people to want to return to the office. This meant uplifting the facilities both practically and aesthetically, as well as increasing collaboration space and integrating those who might be working remotely. Investment in good collaboration technologies became key. To support the hybrid approach, SpaceInvader appointed an AV specialist early on, so that workspaces could be booked either via an App or a desktop-based booking system. The boundaries of workstations vs alternative work settings were also pushed further, with a generous 1:10 average NIA (net internal area) ratio. The previous 1:1 ratio of desks to full-time employees was also replaced by a new 1:1.6 ratio.
To help develop the collaborative culture outlined in the brief, SpaceInvader created neighborhood typologies inspired by three concept threads - Societal, Analog, and Principle.
Societal referred to 'coming together,' whether for a meeting, event, training, or even just lunch. Such spaces would be collaborative with a strong focus on wellbeing.
Analog referred to the way the floor is designed, with interchangeable settings. These are agile spaces and can be configured in many different ways.
Principle settings, meanwhile, whilst typical in terms of function, were not to be viewed as lesser, but as a solid base upon which to build. These would be designed using classic work settings with a more timeless feel.
Getting the color scheme right was a priority at the outset. SpaceInvader didn't want to replicate the brand identity colors too aggressively in a non-retail environment, preferring to celebrate the company identity instead through its values and ethos. The final palette was therefore a new and bespoke creation, employing and blending a color band of mint, emerald, and sea foam green. The palette still loosely refers to Domestic & General's brand colors, but uses a more subtle and timeless palette, with bolder tones to highlight and accentuate certain areas.
"The scheme's material selection was influenced by the three neighbourhood concepts, so that materiality became one way to help create a separate identity for each area, whilst common principles also ensured consistency," explained Dabbs. "'Societal' and 'Principle' areas feature texture, bold color, light, and pattern, for example, to create visual stimulation and buzz. 'Analog' areas, meanwhile, are more understated with subtle pops of color and bold planting forms. Decorative wallpapers, screens, drapes, and voiles were then added to the mix to create interesting textures and layers, without being overwhelming."
Another challenge was how to create a distinct area for the digital team, whilst still maintaining a cohesive design language and encouraging interaction with the rest of the company. The digital team operates like an independent tech company, in the sense that new project groups are established every few weeks/months, and relevant experts are brought in to work closely within each team. To service this working methodology, SpaceInvader grouped banks of desks next to 'squad meet' rooms, providing the same number of seats, so that team members could move easily between individual working and brainstorming sessions. These were located in the center of the floorplate, with lounge and breakout settings to either side, to encourage employees from other floors to use the space and interact with the digital teams. The styling of this space is a nod to the way Silicon Valley tech companies organize spaces for teams. Even the look and feel including the planting have been designed to be subtly different from that of the other floors whilst staying within the material palette of the overall scheme. Biophilia was a huge part of the overall scheme, with specialists Plant Plan integrating over 400 different plant types throughout the workspace.
The lighting scheme featured a mix of focused light to create the feeling of natural daylight. For the tech department, it was important for the lighting not to feel too high-tech or like a light-box, so track lighting was used instead with diffusers and spots, whilst the surrounding spaces were subtly-lit. Pendants were chosen for the meeting rooms, which highlight faces but not the surrounds, including lights just above screens for remote calls, so that the resulting light is flattering, professional and frames faces well.
The final scheme is a well-considered office for agile working with spaces to suit all team members' differing needs, including separate set-ups for the digital teams' alternative ways of working; a fully flexible conference space to adapt to endless combinations of people, and a dedicated meeting floor equipped with touchdown desks to allow areas for employees to use between meetings.
Photography: Gary Britton