'Advertising agencies are at the forefront of changes in the patterns and nature of officebased work, ' Keith Priest once wrote. Now that everyone talks about creativity and wants looser hierarchies, group-based taskorientated work, a variety of private and open spaces and, above all, ease of communication, it is hard to remember that ad agencies have trumpeted these values for at least 25 years.
For much of that time Fletcher Priest has been designing offices for the leading agencies.
One of the industry's gurus, Frank Lowe, was the first advertising client. Then followed a fit-out for Leagas Delaney, offices for Doyle Dane Bernbach, and more recently for J Walter Thompson, Bartle Bogle Hegarty, Leo Burnett - whose Sloane Avenue offices won its architect a second pair of awards - and the justcompleted offices of Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO. In between FPA created an office for advertising film director Paul Weiland.
But offices are offices. As the revolution in office work gathered pace, the skills which FPA had honed for innovative companies who were not afraid to break convention began to have wider application. Powergen, for example, liked the rapid communications which existed in earlier FPA office designs, thinking they would help its aim of bringing dispersed departments together. Other clients like IBM and UNUM drew on FPA's skill in office design and in masterplanning for parkland estates around existing country houses, as well as the ability to use a budget creatively. And when Sony Pictures wanted a European headquarters, FPA's track record in designing for imaging and screening technologies meshed neatly with the need for fostering creativity and interaction. But it is hidden behind a retained facade.
Several stores for Tower Records introduced the idea of the facade not as a screen but a sign of what happens behind. That is taken to the extreme in a large retail, offices, studios and residential scheme fronting Oxford Street, ironically by using devices from corporate office design. It is as if the street line were a section through an office atrium: a glazed wall revealing lifts, escalators, floors and movement. If it were an office, eyebrows might be raised, but it is a flagship store. The same need for visual interaction is there, but the interaction is with consumers in Europe's premier shopping street, rather than with another department.
BBHBartle Bogle Hegarty, the company behind the Levi's ads, saw accommodation strategy as an integral part of its development plans. It asked Fletcher Priest to advise on accommodation, intially to re-order existing premises to bring departments together wihout changing the fabric. That grew into a forecast of the agency's future needs and advice on selecting a new 5000m 2office in Soho. The move was a spur to a more radical rethink about space and organisational structure. Now openplan working areas, shared quiet booths and casual social spaces support non-departmental team working. The aim was to facilitate comfortable working procedures and to encourage casual interaction and social activities to maintain the agency's creative impetus.
MPCAn important current project which brings together the needs of entertainment industries within a creative office environment is the headquarters of the Moving Picture Company in an existing building in Wardour Street. As one of Europe's largest post-production houses working across advertising, broadcast television and feature film, MPC is a major force in producing the ephemeral images of the modern world. The office will be far from ephemeral, but a dynamic interior to stimulate concrete results for MPC Facilities, Production, and special effects, as well as a small cinema and studio.
Leo Burnett has a fine tradition of well-designed offices.
Kevin Roche designed its 100,000, m2 Chicago building. At the depth of the recession it appointed FPA to advise on its London relocation. An investigation of available buildings led to an elegant hybrid building on Sloane Avenue, a new steel and glass office by Stanton Williams and YRM, rising from a retained Edwardian terracotta facade. It seemed to offer the right size floor plates, flexibility and image to overcome the sentimental attachment which staff felt to their previous location in Covent Garden, if not their inadequate offices. The only problem was that the new building did not exist. Using Stanton Williams' data, Fletcher Priest built up a computer model of it, enabling it to test different configurations and to discuss them with Leo Burnett. The dovetailing of shell and fit-out design made it possible to incorporate many of the client's requirements in the building shell, for instance translucent blinds in the curtain-walling system. Over 300 people are located in the 6300m2 building. The interior aesthetic works with the exterior: a crisp, neatly aligned environment, but where casual contact - in specially designed metal tea-making pods - communication, storage and all the other demands of modern office life are satisfied within a building whose image speaks of forward-thinking modernity.
After PowerGen was privatised, the company decided to bring together all headquarters functions in one specially designed building outside Coventry. The idea was to mark the transition with a move to new premises which would effect cultural change by reinforcing new working patterns and enhancing communication. PowerGen commissioned Bennetts Associates to design the building and Fletcher Priest for the interiors. FPA complemented the strengths of Bennetts' design, with small communal areas for casual meetings, and by enhancing the atrium's potential for social interaction. The design's rigour carried through even to the direction of the filing cabinets, positioned to work with the cross-flow of air for natural ventilation. Fletcher Priest is working on the fit-out of the second phase of the headquarters complex, and replanning PowerGen's London office.
For BOC, Fletcher and Priest designed an elegant glass box, which appears to rise directly out of the earth, and where inclined walls avoid undue solar gain and allow views out to the surrounding woods.
Sony Pictures' European headquarters in Soho's Golden Square shows how the themes of creative offices and entertainment might overlap. This 7000m2 building houses the European end of Columbia Tristar (one of Hollywood's major studios) and Sony Computer Entertainment, which gave Playstation to the world, with a state-of-theart preview theatre and the most sophisticated imaging equipment. Fletcher Priest's design is an essay in the relationship between the real and virtual, balancing the power of moving images (and the technology needed to produce and communicate them around the world) with the physical realities of office users' needs. The atrium is permanently alive with lifts and staircases, so office workers also make a moving spectacle, and the crisp, metallic detailing adds to the sense of dynamic efficiency.
Wolff Olins had numerous major industrial clients in the 1970s who commissioned a host of design tasks. One which required architectural input from Fletcher and Priest was a study of working conditions in Unilever's production plant in Lille, which supplies the entire French market. They focused on the works canteen as something which would improve conditions for the who le work force . It was 'a collection of industrial spaces': a large volume with clerestory light, hard surfaces, and short periods of intensive use during the day.
Their proposal was to introduce a fabric roof - Europe's first tensioned fibreglass structure, engineered by Happold - which lets light through, conceals acoustic absorption panels, and reduces the volume, making rapid cooling easier.