Perched above the attention-seeking brashness of Nike Town and Topshop, lies an oasis of refined good taste.HOK's new Oxford Circus offices have a chequered history. Designed in 1912 by Sir Henry Tanner as a department store, the building was used as a recording studio by George Martin and the Beatles in the 1960s.
During its department store days, murals of operas, including Carmen and Rigoletto, were painted on the vast vaulted ceiling. When HOK came on site, it found that huge strips of the murals had been torn away from the ceiling. The signatures of the Beatles and Elton John had been emblazoned on the missing pieces, and it seems someone had got there first to do a spot of autograph hunting.
In view of the huge cost of the operation, HOK decided to limit mural restoration to pieces smaller than one square metre, and to block in larger areas with solid colour. Fortunately for HOK, the artist who was commissioned for the project was unusually dedicated, choosing to complete the work in his own time and the mural is now fully restored.
Uplighters illuminate the 9m-high ceiling, picking out the gold leaf and richness of the murals. There are no light switches. The entire system operates from a timer control and is adjusted from a panel no bigger than an inkpad - a showcase element for clients.
The entire project has been conceived as a marketing tool.When HOK viewed the area, it was undergoing a standard fit-out by the base architects to include 3m suspended ceilings and walls finished to a height of 3m, but work halted as soon as HOK accepted the space. As Derrick Bock of HOK Interiors division puts it: 'We wanted to take it naked.Our offices have to be a blueprint for what HOK does, and show our clients that we practice what we preach.'
The aim was to provide a space for divisions from three separate buildings in a light, open space with defined individual working areas, while allowing free-flowing traffic around the 25,000m 2.The irregularity of the spaces and huge variants in ceiling heights, ranging between 2.8m and 9m, provided a challenge. Nonetheless, the finished scheme has worked these irregular spaces to its advantage, creating unique and individually defined spaces to house each of HOK's focus groups.
With such a large footprint, natural light was at a premium. Two existing rooflights and a lightwell bring light into the centre of the space. Large rectangles have been punched through the internal walls to allow daylight to filter into the surrounding work studios.
Throughout the studios, wires, air conditioning and computer cables are concealed beneath the floor, but huge pipes have been left exposed in the reception. This, says Derek Bock, 'serves a reminder to staff of what we have to work with, as well as keeping a slightly raw, warehouse-type feel'.
CLIENT HOK International
ARCHITECT HOK International: Ralph Courtenay, Larry Malcic, Mike O'Con, Stephen McGrane, Derrick Bock, Simon Bone
CONSTRUCTION MANAGER AND COST CONTROL Interior
STRUCTURAL ENGINEER Alan Baxter & Associates
SERVICES ENGINEER Lehr Associates
MURAL RESTORATION AND GOLD LEAF STENCILLING Campbell, Smith & Co
SUBCONTRACTORS AND SUPPLIERS drywall/partitions Kent & Roberts; electrical Trielectric; joinery Splinter group; work station furniture/carpets Tyndale Solutions