By our calculations it has to be the best part of four years since we last took a look around a major City-based law firm – in Mix terms, that’s a long, long time. It’s also around that long since we last met with KKS’ Katrina Kostic Samen, so when the opportunity arose to look around Katrina’s new scheme for leading law firm CMS we weren’t going to say no!
Situated above Cannon Street station, the new CMS home is reached via a long and impressive escalator, which takes you up the building’s first floor shared reception to the left, while the CMS entrance is opposite. We’re pleasantly surprised that there are no over-complicated security card systems, nor a lengthy signing-in procedure. Instead, we simply head to the shared reception desk, state there son for our visit and then are directed towards the bright and brilliant CMS entrance, where we are met by a delightful lady who – so Katrina later informs us – already knows who we are, why we’re here and who we are due to meet via comms from the receptionist outside. It all feels both slick and beautifully personable.
There is a genuine buzz to the space, with clients constantly being greeted, seated and then led into the client meeting suites. Katrina joins us and takes us through to the cool technology hub where we can have a quick catch-up over a coffee. Before talking about all things CMS we ask, naturally, about KKS – well, it has been a while. ‘Over the last three years I’ve been quietly building my interiors team and growing the practice – winning key projects that are good for us. We’ve now got five projects shortlisted for the BCO awards, and they are all really different. They are in multiple sectors and show a variety of skills that we’ve contributed.’
One of those five, of course, is here at Cannon Street. ‘For me this was the dream project,’ Katrina smiles. ‘We designed absolutely everything in te client suite , alongside CMS Head of Comms, Victoria Sabin – right down to the coffee mugs and the integrated branding. We did the flowers – there are only certain colours they can use – we informed the uniforms. We contribute to pretty much everything in here!
So now we understand why the space looks so pristine. Not that pristine means clinical or impersonal – anything but. Without wishing to use too many design journalist clichés, there is a genuine sense of movement and energy throughout the floor.
We ask Katrina to tell us about the origins of the project. ‘CMS moved here in July last year,’ she tells us. ‘They were previously in Aldersgate Street and they’re lease was expiring at the end of 2015. Seven years prior to that, Duncan Weston, Managing Partner, started looking for sites around London. Initially they weren’t sure whether they should move or not, although they were quite keen on a few buildings, but Duncan decided to ride out the downturn in the market and eventually signed a lease in 2012 for 145,000 sq ft at Cannon Place. Duncan really drove the decision for something much more dynamic for a law firm and was convinced by the collaborative nature of open plan. This was back in 2008!
‘So we started looking at buildings with a view to securing a pre-let. We had a long-stop date to move by 2015 – so we did have a bit of a margin. There were some big buildings available back then, but this was when the market had collapsed. Duncan – rightly so – wanted to see what was going to happen. When Cannon Place became a contender, the partnership agreed that it was perfect as it centred on a major transport hub; CMS has 59 offices around the world, they are a global player in law & tax, based here in the UK. Penelope Warne, Senior Partner, wanted to further expand their global presence, so transport links were vital.
‘This building was vacant for two years before it was signed and Hines were keen to do a deal on the space. ‘To start with, it was somewhat shocking, to think that a law firm would be on a 50,000sq ft floorplate – that’s just something you wouldn’t normally choose – but Duncan’s vision was to re-define his lawyers into sector-based teams, not by traditional departments.
He also decided that he wanted a real ‘wow’ factor for the client spaces, so KKS was brought on board to work alongside MCM – who designed the workspaces on levels two and three. It was a great relationship. We worked really well hand-in-hand. I think what could have been an awkward situation turned into a great collaboration. Everyone really rallied to give Duncan and Penelope their vision.’
“To start with, it was somewhat shocking to think that a law firm would be on a 50,000 sq ft floorplate…”
Incidentally, we are planning to look at floors two and three with MCM in the very near future, but for now we have plenty to see here on the first floor. We move back to the entrance where Katrina explains a little more about the client’s vision and how it has been realised by KKS. ‘The goal was that when you saw CMS from outside in the main reception you would think ‘Wow – what is that? Who works there?’ We didn’t want it to feel like another law firm. We really wanted it to stand out. We designed the space to leave a dramatic impression. Winding down the length of the large business lounge area is a sculptural, complex wave of curves, dividing the space and providing seating along both sides of its length. Manufactured by a Corian specialist, it also disguises the power point for devices as well as concealing a servery and print/copy facilities.
‘We wanted to marry the dark wood of the main reception with the white, bright, funkier feel which is taken from the ground floor. There is a vocabulary that comes from that journey into the space. We also took hints of orange (even the jelly beans are colour coordinated) and curves and circles – all of this has been translated so that it feels as though this is different, this is CMS, but it is still connected to the base build journey.’
We ask Katrina to tell us a little more about the welcome experience. ‘We worked really hard on the arrival experience and technology integration with both CMS Head of Operations Barbara Mendler and Head of IT Razvan Cretu,’ she continues. ‘We did not want to have a traditional reception desk. When you are checked in at the main reception desk, you are automatically fed into the system here. Both Hines and CMS have terrific front-of-house service teams. We worked closely with the CMS operations group to make sure everything is connected – from the printing through to the wireless network. There are all kinds of goodies here – iPads for visitors to use, charging stations built in to everything, and we have UK, European and US power.
‘We also designed an interactive table, which is amazing. Duncan’s view was ‘Give me something I’ve never seen’. I hope we’ve achieved that.’
Katrina patiently allows us to play with the aforementioned interactive table, where we catch-up on the latest news, sports, views on the European referendum and even check out a couple of social media sites (we so want one of these!), before guiding us through to the first of the meeting suites. ‘We used the moving global art piece in the entrance area to reflect the light – remember this is a first floor space above a railway station with very little light, so we designed with a lot of reflective materials.
“Essentially we’ve created four hubs – which are like neighbourhoods. Each has its own identity…”
‘Everything we put in had to be weight-tested because of the train station below. We couldn’t go up and we couldn’t go down, so it was a really complicated build for us. There were a lot of restrictions.
‘When it came to the stairs (manufactured by EeStairs), for example, there were only two structural columns, one at each end of the floor, that we were allowed to take down onto the platform of the station below – and that really set the whole ethos of the design. We used a mirrored wall to shield the stair and it also became the back wall to the technology hub. That left us with a very narrow space, so we added the curve to throw your eye off and made sure you’re constantly looking elsewhere – further into the space, at a variety of views.’
Another key consideration was the meeting facilities. ‘KKS prepared a comprehensive analysis on the number, size and location of all meeting rooms and support spaces,’ Katrina continues. ‘We tried really hard to locate all meeting rooms alongside the windows. The space-planning was really the backbone of what this floor is all about – to ensure the client feels welcome, special and well-taken care of – true customer service.
‘Essentially we’ve created four hubs – which are like neighbourhoods. Each has its own identity, but we wanted every space to be incredibly flexible and work at least twice as hard as what it was originally designed for.’
To illustrate this fact, Katrina shows us an amazing credenza which can be pulled away from the wall to form an instant bar, while the impressive row of meeting rooms in this hub can be opened-up to create a 100-person function suite.
Moving back past the entrance to the other end of the floor, we can’t help but notice the brilliant artwork, finishes, rugs, joinery and furniture throughout each of the hubs. The detailing here is immaculate, with clever touches everywhere we look.
It is only as we continue to tour each of the meeting hubs that the true scale of the floor becomes evident. Indeed, it is only having walked through the (once again) perfectly curated client meeting suite and impressive training facilities (to seat 200) that we first notice the incredible staff restaurant. Yet again, there is a real buzz here, with staff using it as impromptu meeting and breakout space.
Things have certainly come a long way in four short years for both lawyers and KKS.