Gensler

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Readers who have followed Mix over a number of years will be all too aware that, if there’s one thing that really intrigues us, it’s taking a look at how the people who design workspaces for people actually work themselves.

We’re constantly amazed by the enormous variety of design firms’ homes we’ve looked at in the past – from the ‘mad professor’, cluttered yet clearly creative, through to the sleek, perfectly formed client showcase. And plenty that sit somewhere in the middle.

So, when Gensler got in touch with us regarding the immediate future of its own London home, of course we were interested!

In fact, when we chatted with the firm’s Design Director, Principal, Philippe Paré, last year, he whetted our appetites, giving us just a hint of the firm’s exciting plans for its own space in the capital. What Philippe did reveal was that there was to be an interim home – however there’s nothing ‘cobbled together’ or ‘we’ll make do for now’ about this scheme. Then again, what else would you expect from one of the leading global architecture and design firms?

The scheme in question is the (already) award-winning ‘Basecamp’ at Thomas More Square in Wapping, London. Gensler’s new practical and honest temporary office space will act as a ‘stepping stone’ until its new European headquarters are ready in 2019.

The firm recently unveiled the temporary office space, which will house its 220 London-based employees, with the project team having just six months to devise a solution before the firm moved from Aldgate to its new home at Resolution Property’s revitalised creative office campus at Thomas More Square.

The result is an impressive, forward-thinking space – which is affectionately known as ‘Basecamp’ – that delivers an intelligent, engaging and creative workplace on a modest budget.

Thomas More Square is the 560,000 sq ft redevelopment, recently purchased by Resolution Property, which is now being transformed into an inspiring design-led campus aimed at businesses operating in media, technology, finance and innovation.

Gensler signed a 15-year lease to take Building Six (30,000 sq ft) at Thomas More Square in December 2016, providing the firm with an unparalleled opportunity to reimagine and redesign an entire building.

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With the lease on its old Aldgate office expiring in July 2017, the firm faced the challenge of where to house its employees in the interim. Rising to the challenge, Gensler seized the opportunity to acclimatise to its new home by moving on-site – and hence Basecamp was born.

Basecamp has been formed from three distinct spaces split across two buildings – Two and Five – that total 36,000 sq ft. The ground floor of Building Two provides Basecamp with a natural hub and this area has been left open and undefined to evolve naturally as a space for co-working, collaboration or solo working in a more semi-public and social environment. It also presents an opportunity to invite people into Gensler by providing a space for seminars, exhibitions and product showcases through its Off Base events programme.

Ensuring equality for all employees was critical, so each team has been assigned a core work area, but there is ample flexible space alongside it that can be transformed to respond to individual requirements.

Personalisation is at the heart of Basecamp, so employees are encouraged to take ownership and make it a place where they want to be by bringing in plants, books, vinyl records or paintings, to truly make it their own.

A primary consideration was to avoid building any barriers, so the design team worked with the existing architecture of the buildings and its data provisions to identify the space where they could be most creative.

Gensler utilised standard sheet materials, such as plywood and rope, to divide and demarcate different areas without having to resort to physical barriers. As a result, the spaces are truly flexible and employees can reconfigure them at will to suit their immediate needs.

“We have an office full of talented people, so we can’t wait to see what ideas start to emerge”

‘We took a far from ideal circumstance and used it as an opportunity to try something completely different,’ Duncan Swinhoe, Managing Principal at Gensler, says. ‘Basecamp is a transitory space, so the design challenge was to create something cost-effective that is still appropriate to the Gensler brand.

‘It will allow us to use our time there to test innovative ways of working and liberate ourselves from the habitual behaviours picked up from working for 10 years in our old office. Basecamp is a fresh start, so we’ll be encouraging people to experiment and to identify innovations that can be incorporated into our permanent office space. We have an office full of talented people, so we can’t wait to see what ideas start to emerge.’

‘We wanted to demonstrate that a modest budget does not need to constrain you; it can actually make the creative process and outcomes much more interesting and innovative,’ Ross Burgoyne, Design Lead and Senior Associate at Gensler, considers.

‘We approached the design of our temporary space with a start-up mentality rather than that of a global firm. To be strategic about where and how we spent money, what elements we would need in the space initially and to avoid designing in any barriers that would hamper future change and experimentation. The interiors are utilitarian, but it does not feel cheap – we used simple, honest materials to create a functional environment that doesn’t take itself too seriously.

‘The result is a space that we can adapt and evolve during our time here. Basecamp is an actively developing concept that we will experiment with, rather than a final design. In fact, how it looks now should be very different from how it will look a few months down the line.’

Not only does Basecamp provide Gensler with a space befitting a leading global player, it also represents the serious talent the firm boasts in London. This might well be the least temporary looking temporary space we’ve ever seen.