The American "culture of connectivity" crosses the pond to Cisco Systems in suburban London
Craig Kellogg -- Interior Design, 11/1/2004 12:00:00 AM
Cisco Systems employees in London have desktops on their laptop screens—and nowhere else. In the age of the Internet, who needs permanently assigned workstations? The company's itinerant staff spends only a few days at a time in the office, and salespeople even digitize their family photos to display on-screen. "Cisco has a clean-desk policy," explains Aileen Asher, vice president and head of European interiors at Hellmuth, Obata + Kassabaum in London.
Asher's team had completed schemes for Cisco in Paris and Brussels before designing this 250,000-square-foot headquarters for the company's U.K. sales and marketing staff. Located at Bedfont Lakes, a high-tech complex conveniently close to Heathrow Airport, the offices occupy three mid-rise spec buildings, each with a central atrium; they're set in a leafy park that was once a brownfield.
Employees shuttling in for several days find facilities that are rigorously organized and meticulously maintained. (The building managers have hotel experience.) But efficiency and comfort are only part of the story. As an international leader in computer hardware, software, and services, Cisco obviously valued connectivity. "The whole building is wireless," Asher notes. "It was a test-bed for technology."
Virtual Desk Technology functions everywhere, allowing employees to route calls to ring at the nearest of many Internet-protocol telephones. In a conference room, Smart Boards combine a dry-erase surface with digital projection, so the musings accumulated over the course of a meeting can be printed out afterward. A waiting area offers Barcelona chairs alongside bar-height "touchdown" consoles for e-mail checking and Web surfing.
Starting here, an interior promenade known as the Cisco Story is designed to impress potential clients as it circles around a product-exhibition space. The path's perimeter is lined by glass graphic panels, a 16-screen media wall, and interactive "totems," all reinforcing the marketing message. Display fixtures of glass and maple allow demonstrations for groups.
The Cisco Story promenade and the spaces off it—a flexible conference suite as well as four demonstration labs—are collectively known as the executive briefing center. This cluster of spaces is located to the left of main reception. Behind reception is a grouping known as the technical briefing center, its waiting area a-swivel with a flock of Swan chairs by Arne Jacobsen. Associate designer Tim Eavis, one of the project's two lead designers, describes the overall layout as "like a web" of spaces, both networked and networking.
Some employees settle at conventional open-plan workstations on the three buildings' upper floors. Other staffers, perching on Stefano Giovannoni's swoopy bar stools, plug into the power and data ports embedded in the three-sided red-lacquered tops of custom tables, adapted from the Cisco fit-out in Brussels.
Because these tables also repeat on all office floors at Bedfont Lakes—as do the stools and workstations—elevator lobbies employ several strategies to keep employees oriented. The floor-to-ceiling enameled steel tubes that make up dividers are actually interactive information stations, integrating a keyboard and a flat screen that displays digitized floor plans. Walls painted pink, turquoise, or mauve furthermore display identifying graphics and shapes since, as Eavis notes, "Men seem to be more color-blind than ladies."
Mounted in rows and backlit, these spun-steel shapes include crosses, triangles, and squares. The convex circular ones could just possibly be overstock from a Chinese-restaurant supplier, but associate designer Simon Bone— the other lead designer on the project—quickly corrects any misimpression about the metal emblems: They're a lot more substantial than woks.