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Morrow + Lorraine brings a touch of Miami to Whitechapel

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Sickly sweet colours inspired by Art Deco Miami have brought light into this co-working space in Whitechapel, says Laura Mark

PLANSSECTIONDETAILCLIENT’S VIEWARCHITECT’S VIEWENGINEER’S VIEWPROJECT DATA

Across east London new workspaces are popping up designed to appeal to the hipsters who, if we read the media and take note of the hype of corporations such as Google and Facebook, no longer work in offices but work from anywhere and just need flexible spaces to touch down.

Morrow + Lorraine’s 133 Whitechapel High Street is a new space for The Office Group that responds to this changing nature of work – to those who want an office or desk space on flexible terms. There is everything from small offices to ones that span whole floor plates, as well as meeting rooms, terraces, co-working spaces and a café.

The old 1930s building on a prominent corner of Whitechapel High Street is large, and it could be easy to feel overwhelmed in such a space if you were only coming to work there on an ad-hoc basis. The spaces need to feel inviting and comfortable without being too cheesy or hip. Here, with a colour scheme of pastel hues inspired by Art Deco Miami, the architect has attempted to provide just that. Set against the vast white walls and rough marked floors, the sickly sweet colours add a freshness while also signalling every element the architect’s hand has touched, from the new plywood screens to desks and booths.

‘The theme throughout is one of lightness of touch; pure white raw spaces and exposed concrete adjoining the lovingly-restored parquet floor that celebrates the building’s original atmosphere,’ says associate Daniel Hall.

This is a light retrofit with much of the building’s shell left untouched. Where internal walls have been removed, their scars remain in the floors patched up with screed. It’s rough but actually feels right.

This is a light retrofit with much of the building’s shell left untouched

On some floors, cellular offices have been inserted to provide smaller spaces for start-ups and new companies. The walls of these use the same timber-framed screen system, that also divides the larger co-working spaces to create smaller meeting rooms.

Designed by the architect rather than using an off-the-shelf system, these walls are meticulously detailed and fit well into the space. Their mix of clear and semi-transparent polycarbonate glazing provides a sense of openness and a visual connection between office spaces. It means that in a building that is so large, users will still have an idea of what is going on in each of the spaces.

It was a tricky building form to work around – some spaces completely lacked windows and any daylight. The back of the building away from the street was a long expanse of dark, deep spaces.

To get around this, Morrow + Lorraine cut through the floor slab, inserting a lightwell into the plan. This is by far the most successful part of the building. The large two-storey co-working space spans around it on two floors connected by a spiral staircase that winds down through the lightwell.

Offices also overlook the area, with full-height glazed screens opening out on to the space and Juliet balconies allowing for interaction and enlivening the space. Were these offices windows not to open, the space could become quite stale but, when I visit, nearly all are open and you can hear the dull murmur of conversations. It means that, even when the co-working space is empty, there is some ambient noise in the building and you have the feeling that there is something going on.

Against one wall of this floor sits a line of booth-like desks which Morrow + Lorraine designed to match the building’s pastel colour scheme. They offer a different style of seating, where workers can sit on their own as opposed to the large shared table spaces that also sit in the centre of the space.

The building is kitsch – a feeling probably brought about more by the client’s choice of decoration than anything else – meaning it could date very quickly. This style of retrofit, however, with its small insertions rather than wholesale demolition and remodelling, means internally it can be easily changed again.

Whether we will still want vast spaces for co-working and shared offices in the future remains to be seen, but a building like this with its robust structure can bear many scars. It will no doubt be refit again, but until then Whitechapel has a little piece of colourful Miami.

133 Whitechapel High Street by Morrow + Lorraine

133 Whitechapel High Street by Morrow + Lorraine

Plans

133 Whitechapel High Street by Morrow + Lorraine

133 Whitechapel High Street by Morrow + Lorraine

133 Whitechapel High Street by Morrow + Lorraine

133 Whitechapel High Street by Morrow + Lorraine

133 Whitechapel High Street by Morrow + Lorraine

133 Whitechapel High Street by Morrow + Lorraine

Section 

133 Whitechapel High Street by Morrow + Lorraine

133 Whitechapel High Street by Morrow + Lorraine

Detail

133 Whitechapel High Street by Morrow + Lorraine

133 Whitechapel High Street by Morrow + Lorraine

133 Whitechapel High Street by Morrow + Lorraine

133 Whitechapel High Street by Morrow + Lorraine

The cellular nature of serviced offices meant that the space could have easily become a dark warren of corridors. The walls subdividing the office space also needed to respond to tenants’ ever-changing needs, allowing an expansion or reduction in workspace to suit varying business demands.

The design therefore focused on creating a light semi-transparent screen so as to encourage natural light into the corridors; promoting a sense of openness and visual connection by providing glimpses into the workspaces without compromising privacy. The walls also needed to be economical, bearing in mind their temporary nature.

The wall structure is a traditional timber stud, set out on a regular grid. The structure is clad with a click-fix polycarbonate sheet and, periodically, a clear glazed panel is fitted to break up the regularity and bring vibrant splashes of pastel colour to the otherwise clean, crisp, white interior. The screen height is set to leave a service void through the bulkhead, filling the gap to the existing soffits and beams.

What appears a simple, elegant and unusual wall system took an intensive period of design development, site mock ups and refinements, to ensure the performance of the screen met its structural and acoustic requirements. Details were scrutinised to ensure they were as simple as possible in order to produce a high-quality, bespoke system that could be installed successfully by the site tradesmen.

Daniel Hall, associate, Morrow + Lorraine

133 Whitechapel High Street by Morrow + Lorraine

133 Whitechapel High Street by Morrow + Lorraine

Client’s view

The spaces we aim to create are all about community; allowing people to work together with other like-minded individuals. 133 Whitechapel High Street presented us with the opportunity to deliver a simple, design-led and valuable addition to the local environment, and what we have achieved working with architect Morrow + Lorraine realises this ideal seamlessly. We have created the right office environment on the right terms, allowing individuals and companies to focus on just their business.

The way people work is changing. Not everyone wants or needs a permanent office all of the time. In the Whitechapel building we have created a space that works for our clients, whichever way they like to work: offices, meeting rooms, co-working space, study carriages for quiet work and stand-up desks for different types of focus. Facilities also include bike racks, showers and a stunning roof garden, perfect for events, parties or just hanging out.

We are extremely pleased with how the Whitechapel project has unfolded, and the feedback from everyone has been incredible. Working collaboratively with Morrow + Lorraine brought enthusiasm and imagination to each phase of the building’s refurbishment. However, the building’s popularity is the true testimony to its success.

Phil Parry, projects director, The Office Group

133 Whitechapel High Street by Morrow + Lorraine

133 Whitechapel High Street by Morrow + Lorraine

Architect’s view

The building required a substantial rejuvenation in order to deliver the high quality office accommodation that has become expected of the Shoreditch area, however we wanted to bring something unique to the neighbourhood.

The theme throughout is one of lightness of touch - pure white raw spaces and exposed concrete adjoining the lovingly-restored parquet floor that celebrates the building’s original atmosphere. We created distinguished activities and zones throughout the building, resulting in a clean, crisp setting characterised by the iconic pastel hues of Art Deco Miami that form a more intimate series of zones within the club spaces.

We understood that the flexibility of the space would determine its success. A dramatic top-lit volume carved into the social centre of the building encourages and promotes connections amongst the community of co-workers. New openings that feature throughout the building, including the removal of a central slab, have significantly improved circulation, connecting the first, ground and basement and activated the lower levels which previously suffered from poor daylight levels. Unlocking the building in this way will encourage both the smaller and larger businesses, who are typically from the creative, media and digital sectors to interact and network within the buildings ‘breakout spaces’ and communal areas.

Daniel Hall, associate, Morrow + Lorraine

133 Whitechapel High Street by Morrow + Lorraine

133 Whitechapel High Street by Morrow + Lorraine

Engineer’s view

Environmental Engineering Partnership worked as part of a design team tasked with providing flexible work space for The Office Group. Working with Morrow Lorraine Architects, the object of the project was to provide a design solution incorporating exposed services, which remain flexible for ever changing serviced office requirements. 

One of the principle challenges within the building was to provide a design solution incorporating a combination of new and retained services and integrating these into the new design philosophy which resulted in exposed services, requiring a high level of co-ordination with both new and existing structures. By providing a new BMS control strategy, the new philosophy enabled the Client to automatically control the Mechanical and Electrical systems to suit the buildings multi tenancy use and significantly reducing carbon emissions as a result. 

Additional energy consumption and carbon emission savings were also achieved by utilisation of LED lighting and incorporating occupancy control, air source heat pump technology to meet cooling demands and the installation of high efficiency gas fired boilers to replace the existing inefficient primary heating system.

The construction team which also consisted of Maze Engineering Limited and CAG Electrical Limited who were responsible for the Mechanical and Electrical final detailed designs respectively, which by close collaboration with the rest of the design team provided a successful co-ordinated installation for the end users. 

Neil Reynolds, director, Environmental Engineering Partnership

133 Whitechapel High Street by Morrow + Lorraine

133 Whitechapel High Street by Morrow + Lorraine

Project data

Start on site May 2015
Completion August 2016
Gross internal floor area 3,924m²
Form of contract Design and Build
Construction cost Confidential
Architect Morrow + Lorraine Architects
Client The Office Group
Structural engineer Engineering Design and Analysis
M&E consultant Environmental Engineering Partnership
Quantity surveyor Quantem Consulting
Planning consultant DP9
Project manager Quantem Consulting
Approved building inspector MLM
Main contractor Parkeray
CAD software used MicroStation 

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