New-look HQ has all bases covered

Aurecon, an international company with 7000 staff worldwide, recently moved its Melbourne headquarters. Its former premises, an early 1970s building accommodating 650 staff at Albert Road, South Melbourne, wasn't meeting the company's needs. Staff were on different floors, which were relatively small at 950 square metres.

Aurecon, an international company with 7000 staff worldwide, recently moved its Melbourne headquarters. Its former premises, an early 1970s building accommodating 650 staff at Albert Road, South Melbourne, wasn't meeting the company's needs. Staff were on different floors, which were relatively small at 950 square metres.

"Having the lifts cut into these spaces made it particularly awkward," says Peter Mathieson, technical director for Aurecon. "We also found that some staff had to be accommodated in nearby buildings."

Aurecon, an engineering, project management, design and planning consulting company, considered refurbishing the South Melbourne office, carrying out a cost-benefit analysis on the options. The analysis suggested it was more feasible to move to a new building customised for the company's needs.

A vacant site, at 850 Collins Street, Docklands, developed by Lend Lease, became available. Aurecon was able to customise the development, including generous floor areas, together with operable windows.

"We didn't want to be reliant on air-conditioning. With these windows, there's continual cross-ventilation," Mathieson says.

Occupying levels four through to eight, the brief to designers Geyer was to develop a model for staff to work in, as well as creating a brand identity that would provide a global context for the Melbourne headquarters.

"The previous work model was paper based, where staff were 'locked' to their desks. There were few places where people could meet, either formally or informally," says interior architect Sue Solly, an associate with Geyer. "Previously you would find people talking next to someone's desk until they were asked to move away."

At the six-star, green-star address, there is no hierarchical arrangement. The reception area is on level eight and there are open-plan offices on all levels. Even the CEO has his office in a corner of an open-plan area. But while the work stations are similar to those of other new offices, this design caters for specific needs.

Engineers have high benches between work stations to allow plans to be easily spread. And nearby are conference tables for informal meetings. Geyer also included breakout areas, some lounge-style, next to kitchens, one on each level. The transparency of Geyer's design extends to the Meridian Room (after the Meridian Line). But instead of timber-panelled walls and heavy doors, it's a glazed box encased in recycled ironbark walls. Elevated, this space has views of the Yarra.

"This room isn't for the exclusive use of the board. Anyone can use it, providing it is organised in advance," Mathieson says.

While the room is like a goldfish bowl, it can easily be privatised by lowering automatic blinds.

Creating a brand identity for staff and visitors was an important part of this project. As well as maps showing Aurecon's offices worldwide and innovation walls highlighting the company's achievements, there are subtle changes to the design on each level.

The kitchen and breakout area on level seven, for example, is suggestive of an African environment. As well as the banding of colours suggesting African mud huts, there is simple plywood joinery. Rattan chairs give this area a tropical feel, as does the overscaled image of a landscape in Botswana.

A level below, there's an Asian-inspired breakout area, with timber-slatted walls and Indian-inspired pendant lights.

Rather than gravitating towards the Yarra, the outdoor terrace was placed on level five, oriented to an adjacent park. And to ensure all the spaces are used by the various departments within Aurecon, Geyer located specific function areas throughout the building.

"This means you have to engage with everyone and are not bound to your work station," Solly says.

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