As the team at Cox Architecture met to commence planning and design on the practice’s new workplace, this was the question that cut across the usual concerns of how many offices will be needed, where will individuals sit and how teams will be configured.
This question underscored the practice’s primary intention for the new office, to develop and invigorate its core activity of bringing together professionals across various fields of practice to collaborate and create contemporary architecture informed by the values and principles central to the practice’s approach.
In essence, the project was undertaken as an opportunity to rethink the company’s approach to ‘design’ and the process of creating contemporary architecture across a portfolio of local, national and international projects ranging from large residential and commercial clients, Higher Education and schools, public sector facilities and major sports stadia.
The process was driven by the following questions: How do we want to work together? How do we balance the needs of individuals and the desire to generate a more social, collective work experience? How can we create a workplace that enables individuals to develop professionally and extend their skills and knowledge? How can we create a ‘learning organisation’ that is reflective and forward-thinking? How can we create a setting that values the input and participation of invited collaborators and occasional guests, and which also welcomes clients and visitors?
Like any design practice or business, Cox has fundamental accommodation needs and functional requirements to meet in relocating its staff of 75 into its new premises, as well as the ever present demands imposed by a project budget. Informed by Cox’s active role in shaping progressive workplaces and public settings over a number of years, the critical issue was to strike a balance between dedicated, specialist functional areas - such as areas assigned for model-making, desktop publishing, administrative staff, IT support and formal meetings – and the need to create a sense of common, public space that could meet a mix of professional and personal needs.
A marked departure from the practice’s previous premises, where discrete entrances over four levels meant that staff rarely enjoyed the chance meetings so beneficial to creative office environments, the entrance to the new office has been forged as a celebration, an arrival which immediately immerses staff and guests alike in the heart of office activities. Set within the practice’s professional library to showcase past projects, the entrance then opens directly to the core hospitality and social spaces, giving staff and visitors an appreciation of the full office space from this single vantage point.
A feature of the project is the creation of a wide variety of settings in a relatively modest floor space in order to present individuals with options about where, and how, they work or socialize within the new workplace. Whilst staff are assigned an allocated workplace, there has already been much greater physical movement by individuals choosing to relocate according to need or preference across the course of a day or a working week than previously experienced.
The ethos underpinning the project is best represented in the creation of a central ‘events space’ for key activity. Located in the centre of the plan, this open yet partially obscured space was created by cutting a large void in the upper floor and folding the new floor plate down to the lower level in a series of tiered platforms. This open ‘box’ creates an internal connection between floors and reflects the intention to promote curiosity and increase the opportunity for staff to come together. The ‘events space’ serves as a venue for major presentations, meetings and for social events. It also serves as a project space where groups of various sizes can choose to occupy the tiered seating and utilize the setting’s IT and AV functionality. Informal seating options dot the perimeter of the events space, which can be used for smaller meetings or by staff seeking a more secluded zone in which to complete a task.
By creating this plethora of nooks and crannies that offer a variety of work and social settings, there has been a marked impact on the two open plan ‘formal’ work zones located at the rear of the floor on both levels. With staff able to relocate and exercise choice over their place across either floor, the open-plan work-desks, where a majority of the architects are situated, are much less frenetic for the absence of competing demands and distracting activity.
A significant outcome of the project has similarly been the increase in communication across project teams and the heightened awareness of individuals about the full extent of activity being undertaken within the practice. Lunch and coffee breaks have become more social occasions due to the priority given to the creation of a communal café and dining setting adjacent to the entrance. Sited at the front of the building, this space offers attractive views over Flinders Lane and has become a focal point for discussion as well as a preferred place to convene impromptu work meetings and host clients. Conceived as a ‘third space’ and as an atypical workspace, this zone is characterized by the use of robust industrial materials and fittings.
Perched at the imposingly long kitchen bench fashioned from steel beams and Oregon floor joists reclaimed from the cutting of the central void, and looking back across the office, the impact of the project on the nature of the practice is evident. Whether it’s the ‘public’ library at the entrance, the beating heart of the tiered ‘events space’ or the thread of creative enterprise tying it all together, it is obvious that this is an environment focused on the act of creation and is exactly what the practice set out to achieve.