Clarion Housing

We’ve been to the More London complex a number of times in the past – and yet we’re still wowed by this vibrant, modern business neighbourhood. The chief reason for this is that we have to admit that we’re of a certain age and can still remember how this area of the South Bank once looked and felt. There can be few greater transformations in the heart of the capital over the past couple of decades.

Speaking of transformations, the new 24,000 sq ft head office of Clarion Housing Group at More London – designed and curated by 3equals1 Design and BEH – provides a professional, sophisticated and homely workspace for Clarion’s agile workforce, whilst also boasting iconic views across the Thames towards the City of London.

Formed in 2016, following the merger of Affinity Sutton and Circle Housing Group, Clarion Housing Group is the UK’s largest housing association. Shortly after the merger, the company was presented with an opportunity to expand their established offices at 6 More London, thereby consolidating disparate offices into a single landmark location.

This expansion provided a convenient opportunity to refurbish the entire floor to reflect the new company identity and culture, whilst also taking advantage of the building’s generous glazing and natural light, which the previous internal architecture had compromised.

“This is designed to really work for Clarion’s people – the layout, fittings and furniture all respond to their staff’s needs”

Having already worked on numerous sites across the country for Clarion, Maz Mahmoudi of 3equals1 Design and Malcolm Harris from BEH Interiors shared a thorough understanding of the company’s ambitions and workplace strategy.

To create a timeless, adaptable, modern space, Maz tells us that she avoided fads and trends in favour of classic and homely interiors that could be easily modified in the future. ‘I really don’t like reception spaces where they are just waiting areas – we really wanted this to feel more like a hotel lobby. Clarion is in this space for the next 14 years. They don’t want to have to refurbish this space in five years’ time – they want it to be grown up and look timeless.

23-F_MG_0638

‘One of the greatest challenges was that Affinity were here and then merged with Circle – and they wanted this to be the head office for the group. Affinity were very much fixed desk users, whereas Circle were really agile. Culturally, to mix those two extremes was both challenging and interesting. As they are a housing association, the idea of creating neighbourhoods really fitted in.

‘I was really keen to work closely with the client. I said to them that this is their office – not mine. They’re the ones who have to live in the space.’

As Maz has said, Clarion expects to complete its lease here in 2030, an unusually long period for corporate offices, which meant the futureproofing of furniture, fittings and finishes was particularly pertinent. Selecting products to give the client a diverse range of meeting room chairs, light fittings, flooring, workstations and finishes allows for great flexibility. ‘This is designed to really work for Clarion’s people – the layout, fittings and furniture all respond to their staff’s needs,’ Maz continues. ‘Our unique inclusive methodology allowed us to create a working environment that people will love operating in. We also wanted to give the staff the amazing views – and nobody felt that they were missing out or in a ‘bad’ seat.’

Another advantage of diversifying the types of products used was that Maz was able to create neighbourhoods with distinct characters across the floor – thus eliminating that dreaded call centre feel. The floor features three main open-plan, agile working zones with no assigned desks. Large banks of RFID-enabled lockers line the core walls. To further prevent these large areas from feeling like a call centre environment, they have been interspersed with soft seating and collaborative work settings. Delineated by contrasting carpet colours and drop pendant feature lighting, these areas give workers variety and choice beyond their desks or meeting rooms.
As Maz mentioned a little earlier, breakout areas have deliberately been specified without power facilities to ensure that staff don’t use them as
mid- to long-term workpoints.

Walking through to the open workspace, we can’t help but notice something a little different when it comes to the workstations. Selected for their simple engineering, robustness and value for money, KI’s Connect3 workstations have been specified with a light grey worktop.

These grey worktops appear almost white at first glance, but reduce the cold, stark and sterile appearance of more commonly selected bright whites. We like! The workstations also feature inset D Series Screens, upholstered in three colours. Rather than being grouped together in each zone, these three colours have been scattered throughout, enhancing the vibrant aesthetic. The screens can be easily replaced with different fabric options in the future at minimal disruption, downtime and redundant cost.

Rather than being clustered in one area, amenities and a total of 16 meeting rooms have been distributed throughout the expansive floorspace.

Workers and visitors alike are able to easily access breakout, meeting and dining areas – and will no doubt find their personal favourites. Each of these spaces has been fitted with a variety of seating and table options, whilst each of the rooms features different floor, wall and lighting finishes. The executive suites mirror the domestic style seen elsewhere across the office landscape, and transform to flexible meeting spaces when required.

As we continue to walk around the floor, we are quite suddenly struck by a considerable increase in noise. This is coming from the staff kitchen/canteen – although the word canteen certainly doesn’t do this chic and stylish facility justice.

Cleverly appointed so that the noise (of happy chatter, by the sound of things) is very much contained within the canteen space, attractive finishes, such as beautiful ceramic tiles and faded timbers, work to help produce a different look and feel – and ultimately a vibrant place for staff to chat, eat and drink.

While admiring the decor here, we ask Maz to tell us more about the overall design process and the team behind the project. ‘It was quite a team effort,’ she recalls. ‘Me and my team did all the design, working directly with Clarion, and BEH did the fit-out. We had to make sure that what we were specifying wasn’t too crazy for BEH as this was a three-month project, which is quite quick for a project of this scale. It has also been SKA rated, so we had to be careful when it came to what materials we used.’

We have (literally) come full circle as we arrive back at the impressive reception area, which not only makes a striking first impression, it also acts as an informal meeting space and breakout area for staff and visitors – and is positively buzzing on this particular late morning.

Featuring soft lighting and wood accents, the environment creates a warm and inviting atmosphere for staff and visitors alike.

Throughout the scheme, the overall feel is professional and practical – but not rigid and cold in any way. Quite the opposite, in fact.

Clarion has successfully created a home away from home for its staff – with more than a little help from 3equals1 Design and BEH. What’s more, they have created an apt brand statement very much befitting this leading association.