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Wednesday30 July 2014

What girls really, really want

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With 70% of the staff women — and with Marie Claire and Chat among its titles — IPC Media’s fit-out of its new headquarters inevitably involved a bias towards female tastes

If men are from Mars, women are from IPC Media, according to the company’s facilities director Jenny Noon. When the huge media company decided to move its headquarters from London’s King’s Reach Tower down the road into Allies & Morrison’s new development for Land Securities on Southwark Street, its principal challenge was to imbue a shell-and-core base build with its own corporate identity. But with about 70% of its 2,500 employees women, the gender weighting was always going to merit serious consideration from the interior designer. The firm awarded the challenge of a female-friendly fit-out was Bennett Interior Design, part of TP Bennett.

IPC Media publishes around 60 magazines, ranging from household names such as Marie Claire, Chat and TV Times to more specialist titles like Horse & Hound and Wallpaper*. With the emphasis on home, lifestyle and fashion, the gender disparity comes as no surprise. Looking down into the atrium from the 10th floor reception area in the newly occupied building, I can’t help wondering where Nuts and Loaded magazine sit in the scheme of things. It strikes me that IPC Media is either a hetero male’s dream workplace, or equivalent to being a test tube of testosterone suspended in a very large beaker of oestrogen.

IPC spent a long time searching for a space to buy and move into, looking at sites in King’s Cross and even as far afield as Paddington Basin. However, Noon says there was a general will to not disrupt the workforce with a dramatic change in location, and the vibrant South Bank arts scene was also a draw. But IPC was also attracted by the exterior look of the building, with its characteristic vertical fins, seeing its blueness and angularity as a strong masculine statement. Part of the remit that it set BID principal director Richard Beastall in 2004 was therefore to introduce a contrapuntal femininity and softness into its interiors.

That brief could also indirectly explain why BID got the commission. Asked why Allies & Morrison itself was not appointed, Noon is diplomatically vague on the point, saying: “No particular reason. Allies & Morrison are good with natural materials, and were keen on the use of marble, limestone and timber.” Looking around us, at 2,800sq m of shag-pile carpet and tinted glass, the question kind of answers itself.

According to Beastall, the firm’s starting point was the client’s wish to treat the building’s atrium as a focus or “heart”.

The exterior, with its characteristic vertical blue fins, is a strong masculine statement, so the interior remit was therefore to introduce a contrapuntal femininity and softness

 

“Our concept was to exploit it by turning it into primary circulation. This would be buffeted from the main open-plan office space by a ring of meeting, storage and cellular office spaces,” he says. Penetrating this ring of spaces are what BID terms gateways, a T-shape of informal meeting, kitchen and social spaces on each side of the atrium, which encourage staff to cross into the main working areas. “It’s a simple but effective device, and keeps the people traffic out of the main office space.”

From the 10th floor bridge, these gateways are self-evident zones where, looking down at the repeating rings of floors, you can see office staff moving silently around the atrium.

Once beyond the defining doughnut of meeting/storage/cellular office spaces and BID’s sociable gateways, the generic office space is well fitted out and considered, with banks of desks and flat-plan walls — where magazine staff plan each issue — running out perpendicular to the glass face.

Unlike the old place, the larger floor plates allowed IPC not only to bring magazines with common themes together but to integrate the office hierarchies horizontally, bringing deputy editors, editors and departmental heads together. The organisation of the floor plates is democratic, with an editorial assistant as likely to secure a window seat as a manager. It’s wall-to-wall carpet, with hard surfaces limited to the rows of white desks and the Corian and timber surfaces of the kitchen “breakout” spaces.

But the 10th floor breaks the pattern. “With a smaller footprint and access to the exterior terrace from this floor, we really saw the 10th and 11th floors as the social heart of the building, so it was here that we placed the reception, conference rooms and social/restaurant spaces,” says Beastall, adding that it was a natural design decision.

There’s a retro 1970s Austin Powers feel about the 10th floor fit-out, but it works

 

So visitors to the building arrive in Allies & Morrison’s Irish limestone ground floor foyer and are then whisked up in the elevator, past the tenanted first and second floors, to IPC Media’s 10th floor reception.

As a point of first contact, BID pulled out all the stops for the main reception. A deep chocolate shag-pile carpet is as wide as it silent, lending the space grandeur. A champagne-coloured “etched” glass wall beyond the long reception desk lists the company titles as you are drawn past it along a generous corridor towards the light and an ultimate and unobstructed view of St Paul’s Cathedral. Yes, it’s a self-conscious piece of corporate theatre, but I am so there.

BID appointed Taylor Made Joinery as contractor for the 10th floor fit-out, and it’s been excellently carried out. BID director Vivien Fowler talks about “richness” and “understatement”, and they’re both here — along with a healthy dose of camp. Meeting rooms are built with substantial separating walls of top-hung MDF painted in high-gloss white lacquer, with heavy, generous white doors that close softly with a virtually inaudible click.

Brown-tinted glass is used to denote the separation of meeting spaces from the corridor without a sense of exclusion. The whole floor surfs the wave of chocolate shag-pile, except at the thresholds to the meeting rooms, where it’s interrupted with a momentary break of pure white Italian Thassos marble. Door handles are orbs of transparent pink resin. They’re oversized, impractical and over the top, but somehow perfectly appropriate.

On the same floor, Decanter magazine’s wine-tasting suite takes on the look of a laboratory, with white poured-resin floors, fitted white furniture, and a bespoke self-flushing communal spittoon of polished stainless steel and oak in the centre of the room. Further down the corridor there’s an 80-seat theatre, with red leather seats and faux suede walls. It’s revealed beyond a double-skin glass acoustic partition, which can be closed off with a silver curtain. Overall, there’s a retro seventies Austin Powers feel about the whole 10th floor fit-out, but it works.

Considerate touches make the difference between a useable and comfortable space

 

Above, on the 11th floor restaurant, the hardness of materials increases with the reconstituted stone floors and a European light oak timber ceiling that sweeps out towards the glazing, masking the ductwork bulkhead in the main refectory space. However, the main selling point of the whole room is the unrestricted views it commands of St Paul’s and the City. Banks of communal tables are offset with a dedicated space of small timber benches for “lone diners”. Touches like this make the difference between a useable and a comfortable space.

On colours and furnishings, BID presented options to employees via focus group meetings, which then chose by majority vote. Noon felt these meetings gave staff a sense of control and therefore ownership over the space. If the numbers of people holding meetings in the double-height “winter garden” off the restaurant is anything to go by, she’s right.

BID’s approach has been about softening the hard masculinity of conventional office fit-out and coupling it with some quirky specification choices rising out of employee involvement. It could have been a disaster, but IPC Media’s generous budget and BID’s tight control of the project has ensured a high-quality finish.

My last experience of a BID project was its compromised fit-out of Foster’s Swiss Re, where a limited budget and an orthogonal approach to the suspended ceilings tried to fit a square scheme into a round building. It’s good to see BID here doing what it does best — fitting a square peg in a square hole, and knocking it through firmly with a velvet mallet.

‘We displayed the name of every title’

Richard Beastall, director, Bennett Interior Design

IPC Media used the move as an opportunity to re-brand itself and launch a new corporate logo. Our design concept for the main office floors allowed for icons — signage or objects of some kind — as a way of denoting the individual titles.

So we recommended to our client that it appoint a specialist graphic design consultant, and put Agenda’s name forward.

We talked about totem poles, or objects growing from the floor, but there tends to be a lot of clutter at floor level, so IPC’s main board preferred the idea of icons suspended from the ceiling. As you walk around the floors, you can see all the titles exhibited. The idea is that the banners act as beacons to show visitors all the titles.

The wall directly behind the reception desk shows the new IPC logo. But IPC is really about its titles, so to illustrate that more subtly than displaying magazine covers we displayed the name of every title.

Designing the wine-tasting room was really good fun. The editor of Decanter came up with the idea of a white room with an “oak barrel” at the centre, and we worked closely with Taylor Made Joinery to realise it.

There was a huge amount of staff consultation — with the main board, divisional boards and the individual departments.

After all the major decisions had been taken, we made a final presentation to all the staff at the Imax cinema in Waterloo — they filled the place in five shifts.

Suppliers’ details

Glazed office partitions: Nordwall
Main open plan carpet: Axiom
Stone and ceramic tiling: Arena
Desks: Herman Miller from Workstation
Reception desks and credenzas: Benchmark
Flat-planning units: Triumph/Workstation
Meeting room chairs: Vitra
Tables and credenzas: Hali

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