A plywood pod becomes the jewel of this office fitout, writes Stephen Crafti.
Advertising agency JWT converted part of its warehouse into an open-plan office a few years ago. Plywood and polycarbonate walls gave the Richmond office a certain identity. Occupying a relatively small portion of the heritage-listed warehouse, there were always plans to expand down the track.
"Our clients wanted us to come up with an industrial aesthetic. But that idea would have been incongruous with the previous fitout," says architect Melissa Bright, director of MAKE architecture, who worked closely with architect Bruce Rowe.
JWT's brief centred on a new presentation/social area where staff could meet informally. "They wanted a space that was flexible that could be used for more formal meetings," Bright says. A curvaceous passage wall, simply clad in painted boards, leads to the new "pod". Organic in shape, this pod has been wrapped in timber battens in almost every colour of the rainbow. And to let the scheme "breathe", some posts have been left unpainted. With more than 200 colours, this office pod is like a jewel at the end of the corridor. "Our office laid out all the sample colours on A3 sheets of paper, with clear instructions showing the order," Bright says. And to intensify this palette, many of the battens have been placed against charcoal-painted plywood and steel. "I was accused by one colleague of never doing projects with any colour. I wanted to show that the practice could. It just had to be the appropriate project," she adds.
In contrast to the pod's exterior, the interior palette is restrained. Grey felt walls line the space, doubling as a pin board to display work. Timber veneer joinery, including a continuous shelf, allows work to rest against walls. The joinery also conceals stackable veneer panels to divide the office pod into two, should smaller spaces be required. One of the driving forces in MAKE's design was setting this pod away from the building's large steel-framed windows. "One of the most beautiful aspects is of the plane trees, with their graceful trunks," says Bright, who also converted one of the original roller doors to glazing.
The interstitial area surrounding the pod is more subdued than the vibrant battened walls. Timber veneer bar tables and built-in seats wrap around the periphery. Designed for informal meetings or staff wanting down time, these areas can also be integrated into the larger pod when the sliding glass doors are left open. One of the most coveted spaces was previously used as the cleaner's cupboard. Benefiting from windows on two sides, it's a nook barely 1.5 metres wide. "It's an intimate space, but it's often these spaces which are most coveted. The same applies when these spaces appear in the homes we design," Bright says. "This is a creative industry and people require a certain amount of time to mull things over on their own," she says.
Those wanting a more communal experience gravitate to the larger space around the pod. Complete with table tennis and lounges, this space becomes an extension of the office, as well as a place to hang out at lunch. MAKE resisted going down the path of an industrial aesthetic, but it has paid homage to the building's original features, with steel trusses appearing in various modes in the black cutout ceiling. "We couldn't ignore these features. But an industrial look would have been at odds with the original fitout," Bright says.