Velimira Drummer, Interiors Lead at Stantec’s UK office discusses the importance of combining corporate identity and local workplace culture when designing for an international client.
As an interior architect, my role is not only to consider how the space within a building looks, but what it’s used for and who will be using it.
In an office environment, that means ensuring the space delivers practically, aesthetically and holistically for the client, the workforce and visitors. For international companies with multiple sites, there are usually design guidelines in place, which offer varying degrees of flexibility. The base parameters are the number of workstations, sizes and layout of offices and meeting rooms, typology of furniture and colours combined with standardised technical requirements.
Wrapped around all of those deliverables is the holistic thinking that transforms a building into a workspace that not only supports improved efficiency and productivity, but also nurtures wellbeing, motivation and a sense of community.
These were all challenges that were inherent in a recent Stantec project for Iron Mountain; a global leader in records and information management with its headquarters in Boston, USA.
The company had secured a new London headquarters on the ground floor of a Foster+ Partners-designed building close to Tower Bridge. Our starting point for the interior design was to reflect the prestige of the corporate brand and the location and consider the practical requirements for fitting the head count into the available space, while transitioning the aesthetics and layout of the US offices to a more UK-oriented workplace culture.
A project of this kind not only draws on the architect’s design skills but also on their cultural awareness and understanding of how workplaces function in different contexts. My experience of living and working in various European locations and the Middle East, and of designing for international projects at Stantec, a global practice headquartered in Canada, means that I find weaving those cultural nuances into the design particularly fascinating and rewarding.
Embedding the User Experience
Like any architectural professional, the starting point for a project for me is a combination of the brief from the client and end-user engagement. It is very important to listen carefully to the client’s vision and to realise it in a flexible and creative way.
The data collected from the client, end-user engagement and branding guidance feeds into an understanding of what the space needs to be across a wide variety of hard parameters, such as the number of workstations, meeting room capacity and the brand footprint. Softer factors, such as workplace routines, the importance of social interaction (intended and accidental), connection with the outside world and perceptions of the brand and workplace culture should also be explored through user engagement, in order to influence the design.
The hard parameters for Iron Mountain’s new London headquarters were very specific and demanding. The scheme included remodelling and interior fit-out of a 750 sqm ground floor, which. With its dark carpet and old, yellowish ceiling had a dated appearance. The challenge was to bring light and openness into this space and transform it into a modern and vibrant workplace environment.
The client’s plan to downsize and optimize the facility required a very efficient test-fit plan. Spaces include a stylish reception, 81 workstations, individual offices, three conference rooms, a boardroom, huddle spaces, informal working areas, and a tea point. The Stantec team worked closely with Sarah Abrams, Senior Vice President Global Real Estate at Iron Mountain, her team and CBRE project management, to develop the optimum plan layout, without losing sight of project costs.
Despite the spatial challenges, we were very keen to include an informal area that allows staff to take a step back from the work environment without leaving the office. This lifestyle element addresses the norms of contemporary office cultures worldwide and supports corporate goals for attracting and retaining talented people.
Meanwhile, considerations of how the Iron Mountain brand and the template of the company’s Boston HQ could be layered within the UK office design were also fundamental to the success of the project. This element was introduced in the layout, the palette of colours and materials and the artwork used.
Balancing the Brand for the London Office
To create the balance between Iron Mountain’s corporate style and London workplace trends, the workstations follow a traditional layout but have been designed as more open units, contrasting with the Boston office. The blue of the corporate palette and acoustic screening make the workstations instantly ‘on brand’, and corporate blue accents are supported by photo walls using marketing images that have also been used on the walls of Iron Mountain’s Boston office and in the company’s brochure.
The brand is most impactful in the London office’s reception area, where an almost exact copy of the reception desk in Boston takes centre stage. There are subtle changes however, such as incorporating oak, in line with London corporate trends, and the introduction of art and a large statement wall.
Evolving further away from the Boston office template, a heart space has been introduced with an oak timber ‘cube’ to create a feature wall, and ceiling area. Bistro-style seating and lighting provide an informal setting for social interaction or ‘break out’ space. This introduces variety and a sense of openness within the workspace so that people don’t have to leave the office for an alternative environment.
Further humanisation of the work environment has been achieved with biophilic elements, which not only include living plants but also greens in the colour palette and the use of timber. An illuminated statement moss wall enhances the centre of the heart space. The artwork was carefully selected in a close cooperation with Sarah Adams and an US art consultant and incorporates both green and blue hues, tying together the natural and corporate colour themes.
The 100%-recyclable carpet has also been chosen to create a sense of the natural world, with a pebble motif giving an optical illusion of texture. Glazed partitions, reminiscent of Iron Mountain’s Boston HQ, offer privacy in the offices and conference rooms, with fretted glass that creates the impression of rainfall to reinforce the connection with the outdoors.
The Human Factor
In any workplace, the company’s culture and brand need to sit comfortably in the same space as the tastes, feelings and working practices of individuals. Good design must work on a human level, as well as a corporate level, and that principle is fundamental to any project that involves transposing a workplace environment across international boundaries.
This project has created a sense of a space that’s unique to London while optimizing the layout and keeping the Iron Mountain brand alive. As Sarah Abrams commented: “the design aesthetic and advice were impeccable and the space is beautiful. We have been hearing such great things from all the employees about the design.” This was only achieved thanks to the very efficient and inspiring collaboration between all parties involved in the project.