Designers: Clive Wilkinson Architects
Balancing perceptions is vital to the financial industry, particularly in light of the sluggish economy. In London’s City district, one Australian trading firm has restructured its own working practice by balancing a laissez-faire ethos with the more traditional approach to banking that is typical in Britain. Designed by West Hollywood–based Clive Wilkinson Architects (CWA), Macquarie’s European headquarters, spread over six floors in the recently opened Ropemaker Place, embodies a new working environment that ties both aspects of business together.
“There were two main drivers in the design,” said project architect Sam Farhang. “The first was to balance the client experience with the brand and the second was to unify the businesses’ ten separate groups.” In order to achieve both of these ambitions, Clive Wilson Architects first scooped out the core of the office space and spun a fire-engine red steel staircase between the six floors. The client soon dubbed the staircase, “The Ribbon of Connectivity.” “We wanted to create opportunities for people to bump into each other,” he said, “and make a bold statement about the brand.” The objective was to create two distinct paths through the office. Greeted on the first floor, the visitor experiences a striped lowered ceiling, which mimics the historic pin-stripe banker uniform. Riding the elevator to Guest Relations on the eleventh level, clients view the internal workings and activity along the spine of the office and arrive at another linear graphic formed by refashioned exterior louvres on the ceiling. Here, the selected materials of leather and wood reflect a more established tone with high-end furniture by Tom Dixon and Knoll.
The second path uses the atrium as a link to the floors below and above level eight, where staff alight in the mornings to find amenities including a shower, changing facilities, and fully stocked pantry. Set midway up, the eighth level is in close proximity to the other business groups, and zoned areas fold outward from the atrium above and below. Offering a diverse mix of break-out spaces and flexible working environments, the zones are defined by a landscape of high-backed furniture from Bene and Vitra and colorful textiles from Quadrat. On level six, for example, a lounge space includes another pantry that serves the entire trader floor and sports a domestic atmosphere with modern Chesterfield-style sofas like a classic English gentlemen’s club. The collaboration levels—seven and nine—are furnished with new, semi-enclosed arrangements of casual workspaces where gatherings of four to eight people can form around tables or in alcoves. The impression is of a “home away from home,” said Farhang. “People had to buy into collaborative spaces around the atrium,” he said. “As you can imagine, with a banking institution there is a concern for return on investment.” The atrium, for example, represents a huge loss of rentable space, and the addition of lounge areas could be seen as wasteful. However, CWA took on the role of more than just an architect with Ropemaker Place and developed a design that reflected the way business has evolved.
Though the client experience gives a unique insight behind the workings of the firm, typically hidden away, concerns about compromising security also informed the design. “The finance industry is heavily regulated and made up of Chinese walls,” said Farhang, but for the physical space “we tried to tear down these barriers.” Heavily etched glass panels have been installed in meeting rooms to offer a sense of transparency but also maintain privacy, while workstations have been positioned perpendicular to glazed areas so as to screen computer monitors from the eyes of staff and clients moving up and down the connecting staircase. Although the red ribbon was devised to create a community, it also acts as a neutral zone, allowing clients to be a part of the office but separated from sensitive work areas, with glazing that acts as a security gate through which only authorized personnel can move.
The firm’s position at BREAM-rated Ropemaker Place (BREAM is the European equivalent of LEED) meant that sustainability was a top priority for both the firm and the architects. “It was a pleasure sourcing local materials because Europe is so close,” said Farhang. “But sustainable design was implicit from the offset, not just in terms of the architecture but the way the staff use the office too.” LED lighting has been used across the floors to reduce energy usage, and the leftover steel beams, severed to create the atrium, were reused, while the red heart of the space, the connecting staircase, was integral to fostering a mobile office. With Ropemaker Place, CWA has taken on an interesting challenge in office design: creating a progressive working environment while balancing perceptions of how a business should look and behave.