Is it an art gallery? Is it an office? According to Matt Keeler of ksk, there needn't be any distinction between the two. The creatives at bddp.ggt Advertising - known for innovative campaigns such as fcuk, Holsten, Red Rock, Cadbury's, and Imperial Leather - are in need of constant inspiration, and what better way to provide it than to bring the artwork into the office?
The most striking elements are in the reception area, where the major pieces of furniture have been conceived as examples of installation art. The desk, called 'trapeze', is a 5m-long heavy stainless steel slab, supported at one end by a stainless steel block at right angles to the slab, and at the other end suspended just centimetres above the floor.
'Can-can', the name given to the cappuccino/internet bar, is a vertical slab built entirely from crushed aluminium cans bought from a recycling plant for £20 a block. Initially the recycling plant delivered blocks of cans from Boots diet products - 'the most boring packaging in the world', according to Keeler. 'They thought they were doing us a favour because they were all the same.' A replacement consignment of random cans arrived - wonderfully multi-coloured, but a little sticky. ksk experimented with various cleaning techniques - the dishwasher worked well, but in the end the blocks were simply rinsed in the bath.
The result is that what was a cramped and gloomy reception space has been given the ambience of a gallery in keeping with the client's desire for 'warm minimalism' - cool, but liveable with, and with a sense of drama. A 15m-long blue, polished Venetian-plaster 'Mondrianesque' wall with punched slots of acid-etched glass acts as a backdrop to the reception desk, and a screen behind which staff and clients enter or exit from the wings like actors in a play.
The effect is intentionally theatrical, and designed to catch the eye of passers-by. Previously the shop-window frontage on two sides was wasted - a lamentable missed opportunity given the company's prime location in Soho's Dean Street. ksk's main task was to help relaunch the agency during a period of cultural reorganisation, and changing the impression given to outsiders was crucial.
But there were also more practical issues to address. bddp.ggt's offices are housed in two neighbouring buildings, yet before the revamp there was virtually no physical link between the two: if the chairman wanted to get from his office in the next-door building to the main reception area or meeting room, he either had to go outside and back in through the front door, or sneak in through the car park. As Keeler puts it, 'It didn't matter that it was just next door. It could have been Manchester or Liverpool.'
Keeler's solution was to create a secret passageway to provide staff with a clandestine route to the conference rooms. It also doubles as a fire corridor, although every effort has been made to elevate it from the humdrum aesthetic generally associated with means of escape. It is generous in width, and the walls are adorned with pictures and glazed slots giving views on to the conference rooms.
Meeting rooms are separated from the reception area by etched glazed screens making the reception area - in any case twice its previous size - seem even larger. The screens mean that the meeting rooms can either be cellular or part of a larger space. This comes in handy for exhibitions and parties, and also gives sufficient flexibility to create imaginative set-ups for unusual pitches - the space was transformed into a suburban living room for a pitch for Blockbuster Videos.
A bank of bottled mineral water has been used in two of the meeting rooms to screen views of a grotty lightwell - on a limited budget (£286,000) revamping the lightwell was out of the question - and, back-lit by the windows, it forms a stunning backdrop for meetings. The system also solves a storage problem. It takes a lot of mineral water to get those creative juices flowing - the 1000 bottles in the rack represent around two months' supply.