There was a time, in the not too distant past, when we’d alight the London train from Essex at Stratford – a bleak, grey and frankly depressing place – to head across to the equally bleak, grey and depressing Canary Wharf. Today, things couldn’t be more different. Stratford, of course, is completely unrecognisable since the 2012 London Olympic developments and the continued success and draw of Westfield shopping centre.
Canary Wharf’s own transformation, whilst on the face of it not quite so dramatic, is still remarkable. Vibrant, buzzing and full of life, it seems to us that the culture and the attitude of the place have changed as much as the landscape has. Cool bars, retailers and businesses have moved in, adding more and more to that vibrancy. Canary Wharf 2015 is a great place to work and play – and we’re extremely happy to be back here.
We’re also extremely happy to be meeting up once again with Harmsen Tilney Shane’s Andrew Bartlett, who is happy to show us around the new London office of energy company, GDF SUEZ, which sits within the impressive 25 Canada Square.
This office is the headquarters for the GDF SUEZ Energy International business, which is responsible for the Group’s energy activities in 27 countries across five regions worldwide. Together with power generation, it is active in
closely linked businesses including downstream LNG, gas distribution, desalination and retail. GDF SUEZ also has a long-standing presence in the UK with 19 businesses employing around 20,000 people across power, gas and services activities. This office will become the headquarters for GDF SUEZ’s UK operations by the end of 2015.
Andrew tells us that GDF SUEZ’s London operation previously occupied two buildings in Islington and the City and this is the first phase of an eighteen month programme to bring together some diverse parts of the GDF SUEZ business together into a single ‘campus’ building and benefit from economies of scale and increased collaboration between teams.
At the same time, it offered an opportunity for the firm to update its working environment from the dated, characterless space of its previous offices and introduce a new feel with personality and humanity.
The timescales of the deal meant there were only 16 weeks between the Canary Wharf office being selected and the deadline for the first 200 staff to move in, as Andrew can explain. ‘This really was a fast-track job. GDF SUEZ had some leases expiring and they had a strategic plan to consolidate areas of the business. They had selected Canary Wharf as an area – we looked at a couple of buildings for them – when the decision was made to push this through as quickly as was humanly possible. It would have actually been quite a bit less than 16 weeks had it not been for a delay with getting some of the mechanical units.
‘We had worked with GDF SUEZ previously – we’d recently completed a project for them in Leeds. I think they benefitted from that reference point because there was no time for a great deal of consultation and design re-iteration. There needed to be an element of trust between the two parties, as the turnaround time from drawing to construction was so tight.’
‘Notwithstanding that, there was a desire and a need for a long-term solution here – this is not a quick fix. This is actually only the first phase of a larger job – as part of the overall consolidation GDF SUEZ has already decided to take another floor here. So this couldn’t be just rushed through. It had to be quick – but it also had to be right.’
‘We do have certain high standards and this is the GDF SUEZ London office so we needed it to have a degree of ‘Wow’ factor about it,’ GDF SUEZ’s Denise Phillips explains, ‘and I believe that’s exactly what we’ve got.’
As Andrew says, Harmsen Tilney Shane’s experience of working with different parts of GDF SUEZ’s business over the last 15 years proved to be a major benefit in devising and delivering a solution that met the firm’s business objectives and which was realistic within the programme. In addition, Andrew highlights that a focused and enfranchised client team delivered clarity and speed on all necessary decisions in real time, and this high standard of client interface enabled Harmsen Tilney Shane to deliver the project within the necessary timescales.
Drawing on its in-depth knowledge of GDF SUEZ’s culture and working practices, gained from those earlier projects in London and Leeds, the firm was able to design a scheme which could be implemented quickly for the first phase move and refined and developed following further consultation for phase two – which is due for completion later this year.
‘This is the corporate floor, effectively – so all the corporate functions are based here,’ Andrew continues. ‘This is (and had to be) seen as something of a vanguard for the company – the first big step to Canary Wharf, blazing the trail, as it were…’
‘The others can’t wait to follow now,’ Denise adds. ‘To be honest, there was a little resistance at the start. Some people didn’t want to leave the City – and had been in our old building in Queen Victoria Street for the best part of 25 years!’
The ‘Wow’ continues throughout the brilliant, bright, open reception space, which can only be described as a mix of contemporary boutique hotel and modern art gallery
To ensure the initial programme was met, Andrew and the project team here limited the amount of building work by using high quality furniture in a palette of contemporary colours to create informal cellular meeting spaces and to soften the architecture. ‘We wanted to create a real impact here, but we simply couldn’t have anything that was on a long lead time,’ Andrew recalls. ‘We just didn’t have the time for it. Therefore a large proportion of the scheme is furniture led.
‘The space was previously occupied by the Citigroup, and they had stripped it back to Cat A. The nice thing about this building is that it is well serviced. We’ve got comms rooms in the core, so didn’t need to worry about creating anything like that – which would have been a lengthy exercise, of course. It is also well served in terms of underfloor power and data distribution, so we had a head start on our infrastructure works.’
The ‘Wow’ continues throughout the brilliant, bright, open reception space, which can only be described as a mix of contemporary boutique hotel and modern art gallery (and we’re sure our hosts won’t take offence at us saying the greatest canvas up here on this elevated level – level 20 to be precise – is the astonishing views out across London and beyond!). The theme continues through to the brilliant adjacent boardroom, where again the quality of finishes and furniture solutions alone erases any thoughts of fast track programme. What fast track programme?
Speaking of meeting rooms, we find a particularly impressive suite of three rooms, which can be opened into a single large function space.
As we walk through the front of house facility we ask whether there were GDF SUEZ global standards that needed to be implemented. ‘Not really,’ Denise tells us. ‘We do have a range of Pantone of colours which have been used. However, as you can see, the space is quite white and clean – and we’ve used the furniture to provide the colour throughout.’
The design team has played with the carpet and furniture to create softer lines (Andrew refers to them as ‘lay lines’) and to break up what is an otherwise quite angular space
We head through to the main office floorplate. ‘Traditionally our culture isn’t really open plan, but here in London we have been open plan from 2000,’ Denise continues. ‘When our new CEO started he really liked the open plan and he wanted us to continue with that here. We asked whether he wanted individual offices – and he said that’s the one thing he didn’t want. We were very much left to our own devices with everything.’
Whilst one-to-one meeting rooms, smart tea points and various utilities are wrapped around the core, the generous open office space benefits from the natural light and brilliant views the building offers – apart from one notable exception. ‘There is one side of the building which, at lower levels, is inter-connected to next door,’ Andrew explains. ‘Even here there is a solid wall, so this was a major issue. On all other sides we have natural light, so we had to really work with the lighting here and get those levels right – otherwise people would feel as though they were stuck in an inferior part of the office. We’ve placed a lot of the storage against that wall and then added light boxes and also lit the columns.’
The design team has played with the carpet and furniture to create softer lines (Andrew refers to them as ‘lay lines’) and to break up what is an otherwise quite angular space. The 120 degree desks (which are considerably smaller than the desks staff had been used to) allow not only for that break up of straight lines, but also the creation of teams. Domestic feeling breakout areas in corners add yet another layer of gentle informality.
This project could have been done and dusted in 12 weeks. We’re told the transition was incredibly smooth for GDF SUEZ and its staff and, walking through the space now, you couldn’t tell if it was 12, 16 or 60!
Like we said a little earlier, what fast track programme?