Site Lines: Combining cultures


Velimira Drummer of Stantec UK looks at how to mesh corporate identity with a tailored workplace culture when designing spaces for an international client, particularly in the current crisis

As an interior architect, my role is not only to consider how the space within a building looks, but to closely interrogate what it’s going to be 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 the deliverables is the holistic thinking that transforms a building into a workspace that improves efficiency and productivity and nurtures wellbeing, motivation and a sense of community. These are things that are especially important considering the current pandemic.

These were all key challenges in a recent Stantec project for Iron Mountain; a global leader in records and information management based 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 location and corporate brand alongside the practicalities of fitting the headcount into the available space, while transitioning the aesthetics and layout of the firm’s US base to a more UK-oriented workplace culture.

A project of this kind draws on the architect’s design skills and on their cultural awareness and understanding of how workplaces function in different contexts. I have worked in many locations throughout Europe and the Middle East, and have designed for international projects at Stantec (a global practice headquartered in Canada), so I find weaving cultural nuances into the design particularly fascinating and rewarding.

Embedding the user experience
The starting point for any project 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 engagement – coupled with branding guidance – feeds an understanding of the hard parameters the space needs to deliver; number of workstations, meeting room capacity and the brand footprint. Softer factors, such as local workplace routines, should also be explored through user engagement, to influence the design.

The hard parameters for Iron Mountain’s new London HQ were very specific. The scheme included remodelling and interior fit-out of the dated 750 m² ground floor. The challenge was to bring light and openness into the space, and transform it into a modern and vibrant workplace environment.

The client’s plan to downsize and optimise the facility required a very efficient ‘test-fit’ plan. Spaces include a stylish reception, 81 workstations, individual offices, 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, plus her team and CBRE project management, to develop the optimum plan layout without losing sight of project costs.

Balancing the brand
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 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.

The brand is most impactful in the London office’s reception area. The reception desk follows the company’s brand design with subtle changes, such as incorporating oak – in line with London corporate trends – and the introduction of art and a large statement wall.

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.

Especially now, in a world that is ‘on pause’ due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the health and wellbeing of each employee have come to the forefront of everyone’s mind.

Development and implementation of biophilic design principles are proven to have an immediate, positive impact on both physical and mental health of each employee, from reduced blood pressure to improved cognitive functioning. Biophilia goes beyond the use of plants and green walls and focuses on holistic interior design – design which enables views to the outside, and good indoor air quality, plus a variety of lighting settings, and spaces that provide the opportunity for individual choices.

In Iron Mountain’s new London premises, all workstations are close to large windows, enabling views to greenery. Enclosed quiet huddle rooms and booths can be used for private focused work and collaboration.

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 and a break-out space. This introduces variety and a sense of openness within the workspace.

Further humanisation of the work environment has been achieved with the introduction of living plants, the use of natural materials and greens in the colour palette. An illuminated statement moss wall enhances the centre of the heart space. The abstract artwork, inspired by nature, was carefully selected and incorporates both green and blue hues, tying together the natural and corporate colour themes.

This project has created a sense of a space that’s unique for this context, while optimising the office layout for the client, and keeping the Iron Mountain brand to the fore.

Velimira Drummer is interiors lead at Stantec’s UK office