1+4_ CORRS CHAMBERS WESTGARTH IN SYDNEY BY BATES SMART. 2_ WORKPLACE FOR THE BARBARIAN GROUP IN NEW YORK BY CLIVE WILKINSON ARCHITECTS. 3_ MEDIBANK PLACE IN MELBOURNE BY HASSELL. PHOTOGRAPHY: 1+4_ SHANNON MCGRATH 2_ MICHAE L MORAN 3_ EARL CARTER
Robert Backhouse I want to kick off w'ith a question to Clive about the concrete and fixed "big table" in workplace design- and being very literal about concrete in the sense of the people connection -versus the use of more flexible and moveable elements, such as trestle tables. It's almost from one extreme to the other -from concrete to the ramshackle loose fit. How do you get the same cultural spirit out of these scenarios, despite the scale or the different approach? Clive Wilkinson Well, I think the big table
notion was [at f irst] rega rded as ridiculous by pretty much everyone. And I think the surprise was that it actually worked, which is what we saw at The Barbarian Group table (a New York project completed by the practice in 2014). But it's not very complicated and actually one of the things that is interesting is that the occupants of [Barbarian] have a lot of technology, so they're all very tethered. There's so many different devices, but they can't actually be mobile. But I think the thing that's powerful in something like that is the extent to which it provokes you into thinking of more crazy ideas about the work that you're doing. I do believe that as designers we have a kind of responsibility to inspire and challenge people in the workplace. That's so important. I think that's the fundamental thing about engagement and creating some dialogue between people and architecture. And we're in the same boat. I don't think it's adequate, even though a client may think it is, to simply service a brief, to simply provide the basic checklist. These aren't things that are part of a basic checklist.
Robert And then also trying to achieve something similar in the identity or the spirit of it must be so different . Clive A lot of companies like Wired at the time
in the 1990s were just saying, "We don't want a corporate office. There is no way we're going to go and buy this stupid heavy furniture, which costs a lot of money and actually defeats the purpose of flexibility, so we're just going to have doors and trestles". I think some decisions are reactive and they're not designed, they're not architectural ...
you've got Google looking around Sydney for somewhere for their headquarters, and it's easy to accommodate, but they're looking for something that's absolutely unique and interesting. I think we've seen enough companies saying, "Let's have massive floor plates" ... and I think we've explored the limits of massive generic spaces and at what scale people feel they're part of an organization and the culture. We're starting to see the beginning of a trend back to smaller floor plates, to create community in something that's less generic and something more creative and individual.
Robert ... anti-design . Clive Anti-design, yeah, and a lot of good
things happened through that, because that's also what provoked us to look at how we can have maximum flexibility, which they were illustrating [at Wired] but also a sense of neighbourhood and of spatial definition and all that kind of thing. Robert Philip, do you have a viewpoint on concrete versus flexible; loose versus concrete? I sometimes think [that] when our clients ask for flexibility, it can take the life out of something- it almost becomes overly flexib le and loses character and identity. Philip Vivian What we hear of more and
more are clients heading away from the generic and looking for more interesting spaces. Buildings [became] very generic when everyone had the same criteria ... and I think people are now looking for much more unique custom design; interesting spaces that foster creativity. I think it's interesting
Robert Is that forced by the nature of the cities you're working in or is it again a reaction? If we can only have small floor plates, is that what is pushing us into that? I agree with you that there's a bit more flexibility around the requ irement of having 3000-square-metre-plus floor plates. But then, I think tenants start talking about the old issue of being siloed across floors and issues with connectivity and movement. Philip I'm not sure it's forced. Obviously in some cases it's forced, but I think 8 Chifley in Sydney is an interesting example. It's a very small floo r plate ... just under 1000 square metres net on the floor and there was really a worry about whether that would be the sort of office building that you want in this day and age. The solution by Rogers Stirk Harbour and Partners with Lippmann Partnership created a series of vertical villages and showed that even on small floor plates you can get connectivity and a series of villages up the building. And so I think
people are seeing more innovative ways of creating connectivity, not just by having a single large floor plate. On top of that, we're seeing clients say they don't want generic floor space, even if they've got a site that can have an 8000-square-metre floor plate. They're looking at smaller buildings, more flexible, more creative spaces that can be incrementally built and that they can contract out, which gives them the flexibility in their leasing. One of the big things a lot of ou r clients are saying is, "We just don't know how big we're going to be in five to ten years." But you go back ten to f ifteen years and clients literally could say, "We've been growing at this rate and we expect to keep on growing." It was a fairly linear trajectory, subject to economic downturns, and I think now that's just been completely exploded and people do not know where they're going to be, where the tech nology might completely downsize them all of a sudden, or a disrupter can come in and collapse a business so that it no longer exists. They are some of the other th ings happening in the marketplace that are going to change what we've seen in the past ten to fifteen years. A
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