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The thinking behind Orms’ own new office

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At our office we have created a studio designed by the collective, says John McRae

Our House, the working title for the project to design our own studio, is the culmination of a wider initiative, begun five years ago, to transform the practice.

Our ambitions extended from a succession plan through to the rebranding and repositioning of the firm, creating a new platform from which our inherent creativity could flourish, and securing a sustainable, progressive future for the practice.

Our brief evolved over two years through extensive consultation, research and analysis both internally and externally with partners and clients.  This included design charrettes, client interviews, workshops and questionnaires as well as pilot studies on different ways of working. The aim was to design a studio that was created by the collective in order to harness and support our shared talent.

The feedback from the consultations and research gave us a very rich picture of how the practice is perceived and the impact different ways of working have on our design output.  We married these findings with a detailed analysis of our previous workplace which uncovered the lack of physical interaction between teams, certain spaces that were unoccupied for a large part of the day, the absence of permanent areas to leave work pinned up, and that visitors were disconnected from the studio.

The key objectives we concluded from this were: to create an architectural and design studio experience that expresses our belief in design and craft; to showcase our creativity and skill and that of others in the wider community; and to implement the project with minimum disruption to staff.

The concept is ‘120 opportunities for collaboration’.  The principle is that the space should be transparent, free-flowing and flexible, accommodating various modes of working and ‘playing’.  This includes quiet task work, group design reviews and crits, informal meetings, exhibitions, talks and events, alongside the potential to close down different spaces for more formal meetings, private conversations or reviews.

This ability to open and close spaces without losing transparency creates a diverse range of working environments thereby supporting collaborative ways of working.  Transparency is key to the transformation as it enables better communication and knowledge-sharing. The ability to see each other’s work in progress has led to more impromptu peer design reviews, and layout areas for materials selection has meant other teams can share in the research.

The gallery display panels act as a subtle screen to the main workspace, creating a degree of separation while enjoying the energy of the studio. This gallery not only acts as a place for displaying working drawings, photographs, models and material samples, it has also been detailed to allow for exhibitions. 

Intelligent clients will inevitably draw conclusions from the space that we inhabit

Our team found that the previous office lacked quiet space and many felt it was too noisy.  Therefore we developed a simple wall cladding that runs around the studio’s perimeter.  The perforated milled aluminium sheets have a 20mm-thick black acoustic panel behind them and significantly reduce the reverberation of the space.  The wall lining runs into the spaces that can be used for formal meetings to create a much calmer and quieter environment, and the use of cork flooring throughout has added to this.

As architects, we are our own worse critics, and perhaps the only hard evidence of the success of Our House will be in the work that we create in the studio over the longer term. It is the physical embodiment of our brand values, our aesthetic approach and our design philosophy. If we are designing high-quality workplaces for intelligent, informed clients, then they will inevitably draw conclusions from the space that we inhabit.  We have created a space that truly lifts the spirits, and reinforces our clients’ confidence that we will be able to do the same for them.

John McRae is a director of  Orms

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