Please Don't Feed The Animals
Richard Hywel Evans treated London ad agency DFGW as a study on the concept of enclosure
Ian Phillips -- Interior Design, 5/1/2006 12:00:00 AM
No stodgy conference rooms. Especially not those run-of-the-mill glass boxes. When Richard Hywel Evans's namesake architecture and design firm was commissioned to outfit a London headquarters for the advertising agency DFGW, that was a major requirement. Evans would just have to find another way to provide the staff with semiprivate areas for strategy sessions and other meetings related to campaigns for the BBC, Expedia, Toshiba Corporation, and the British government.
The result is a number of partial enclosures that offer significant views of what's going on inside them. A tubular-steel structure called the Birdcage is where the staff creates mood boards and pictographs for client pitches. Then there's the Forest, a small meeting room screened by higgledy-piggledy pine planks on which cuddly stuffed monkeys are perched. (They're souvenirs of a DFGW TV campaign for the BBC.) "We were playing with the idea of introducing a really rough-sawn material into a high-tech environment," Evans says. Large gaps between the planks let visitors and other staff members observe the creative process in action.
Finally, there's the Ribbon Room—an experiment in providing a sense of confidentiality with as little enclosure as possible. To do this, Evans wrapped an acrylic cube with four strips of colorfully painted MDF. "The bands are at the eye level of different people seated inside, so visibility out is restricted," the architect explains. "People outside, however, can see in quite clearly."
Sounds quirky and fun? Well, that's because it is. It's certainly a great improvement on DFGW's former headquarters, full of '80's black leather and chrome. What's more, the small, separate offices there were spread over three floors, not exactly conducive to good communication.
Openness is at the heart of Evans's concept for the new 8,000-square-foot space—which occupies the 11th and 12th levels at Berkshire House, one of the tallest buildings in central London. After knocking out the upper floor, Evans replaced it with a considerably smaller mezzanine, now the home of DFGW's management-consulting offshoot, the Foundation. The ad agency's own 35 employees are downstairs. Everyone sits at egalitarian, open-plan workstations along one long window wall.
To get to work in the morning, employees have to walk through the Squeeze, Evans's name for the curved entry corridor. It was constructed by warping sheets of plasterboard over a plywood frame—for a "funnel effect before you're thrust out into the reception area," he says.
Once employees emerge into the light, they encounter the office's most popular attraction, the Kitchen Table—which isn't for dining. Equipped with two leather-upholstered benches, each long enough for 15, the 25-foot-long bead-blasted ash table is fully wired for laptops to encourage the staff to break away from their desks for pitches and informal presentations. "The best meetings are always over the kitchen table," Evans points out. DFGW even invites clients to hang out here. "We really encourage them to use it as their own," DFGW joint managing director Tom Vick explains. "They love it."
If they're feeling a little hungry, they can always get a bite from the Burger Bar, a pantry designed to look like the sort of fast-food trailers found along British highways. A red vinyl band wraps the Burger Bar's white exterior—interrupted by a hatch through which food can be passed. Above that is a glowing neon version of the DFGW logo, said to be visible from streets half a mile away.
The view is still more impressive in the reverse direction. "When you walk in, you can see the whole city in front of you," Evans says. To the east, Canary Wharf rises in the distance. Due south is the slowly rotating London Eye—indisputably its own best advertisement.