This is our kind of story: major global brand, leading interior design firm, fantastic, forward-thinking new City scheme – all wrapped up in a Foster building.
We’re walking through the brilliant new London home of leading global insurance firm Arthur J Gallagher (AJG) with Scott Brownrigg Interior design team, Ken Giannini and Renata Sa, and Jerry Williams from Reps Ltd, who acted as client representative here, from acquisition through to project completion on site.
AJG is the first major tenant to move into the Foster designed Walbrook Building on Cannon Street, consolidating 640 staff from three separate locations into leasehold floorplates of 60,000 sq ft on the ground and 7th floor.
In July 2012, Scott Brownrigg won the project in a design competition – Ken can tell us more. ‘The great thing is that the ‘as built’ design is so close to the pitch we did for the competition. The building had been empty for some time, and when we first viewed the building it was in a shell and core state. There was very little natural light through the ground floor and it was a real challenge to make the ground floor space usable. AJG had requirements for a reception, meeting room space and brokers’ lounge – things that were client facing – and logically they should be on the ground floor, but how could we make these spaces inspiring and welcoming in such a deep plan dark space?
‘Going up to the 7th floor, the windows slope in, the façade ‘wiggles’ and curves in and out and the mullions not only slope inwards but also tilt, posing a real design challenge…
‘In saying that, it is a beautifully detailed building – it’s spectacular from a base build point of view. There are two crystal-like and oculus shaped atria spaces at the heart of the building and these for us were the big wow factors. This is one of the few projects I can honestly say that the architecture of the base building had as much an influence on our interior design concept as our occupier client’s own brief. We realised the atria had amazing potential and really inspired us. We almost worked back to front – with these central areas becoming the focus of the space. A further complexity is that these atria don’t actually stretch down all the way to the ground floor.
‘Renata, our senior interior designer, came up with a clever idea which develops the oculus shape (now known as the oculus room), with its sloping blue tinted glazed walls which mirror the location, shape and size of one of the atriums above and gives the ground floor the appearance that the atrium has connected with the ground. This visual illusion introduces bright light via a barisol ceiling detail and is a real wow factor as well as being a practical meeting space divided by a vertical Skyfolding wall.’
‘The cool thing is that you feel as though you are walking into a new bright dynamic space,’ Renata tells us. ‘We also incorporated a brokers’ lounge and coffee bar for informal business meetings between brokers and underwriters, as well as a selection of enclosed meeting rooms throughout the ground floor.’
It is only as we walk through the ground floor space that we truly appreciate the scale, the design skill and the attention to detail. Each piece of glass used throughout the incredible oculus room is individually crafted, Renata tells us, whilst a clever lighting design enhances the space and totally belies the lack of windows.
Moving through we come to the brokers’ lounge. ‘They’ve never had anything like this before,’ Ken points out. ‘The idea for this was that the brokers could meet with their underwriters in their own environment in a casual, professional setting. They don’t have to make all the trips out to Lloyds they used to.
‘It’s always busy – and everyone in the organisation uses it,’ Jerry enthuses. ‘It’s such an easy space for people to use and to work.’
‘We wanted to keep the lounge interesting yet formal. It needed to be relatively serious rather than just a funky space,’ Renata explains.
As we admire the busy lounge, we ask Jerry to tell us a little about AJG’s former facilities. ‘This is light years away from what we did have,’ he admits. ‘It really wasn’t very good – our CEO David Ross referred to it as the Eastern Block! A lot of our leases were up and we’d been wanting to do something for years. When I came on board two years ago we looked at options for a good six months until this came to us. It’s not that close to Lloyds – but it’s referred to as the right side of different!’
‘The floorplates here are huge as well,’ Ken adds. ‘We’ve got about 440 staff on the 7th floor.’
‘The CEO’s ambition was to get all the production teams working together on one floor, synergizing – and that’s exactly what we’ve got here,’ Jerry explains. ‘To be honest, not everyone likes the building itself, but the thing that really sells it is the size of the floorplates.’
The 7th floor presented further design challenges and Renata’s innovative space plan solution was to radiate the open plan desks from the centre of the main oculus atrium. ‘This unique space plan solution gave us great light and views as well as the opportunity to retain other space for a variety of special work settings, such as a staff lounge, quiet booths, and breakout spaces,’ she explains.
Despite the sizeable floorplates, Renata informs us that there are just 11 cellular offices throughout the scheme – again, a huge change from the former AJG layout and culture.
The subtle colour palette and high quality finishes we found on the ground floor are continued on the 7th. ‘The boardroom was another particular challenge,’ Renata admits. ‘It is not a regular space at all and trying to meet the requirements to make this a modern, impressive boardroom was a challenge.’
Despite this, the sleek boardroom now features state-of-the-art technology and is accompanied by an equally impressive client lounge facility. ‘I’m sure AJG spent their money well on these spaces’, Renata says, as we marvel at the mix of furniture and technical equipment.
We wander past facilities for fine dining and an impressive meeting suite before reaching the heart of the 7th floor space. A ‘starburst’ of desks from the oculus works brilliantly here, drawing the eye to the centre of the floor. Each department is subtly delineated by the use of different coloured tops on the storage units, with phone booths, breakout areas and teapoints smartly positioned to allow those adjacent groups to meet informally and interact.
‘We were slightly concerned that the main floor might be a little too white, so we used bright colours in areas such as the breakout zones – which I think works really well,’ Jerry tells us.
‘In the last building they had absolutely no breakout areas – so people really love these. They’re so well used,’ Renata adds.
We come back to the central atria and simply gawp at the brilliant detailing. There are few office interior elements that can be described as dazzling – but these truly are. Then again, the rest of the scheme is not too far behind.
We’ve even heard rumours that AJG is already fitting out extra space on the 1st floor here. We do hope so – that means we might get invited back for another visit.