Deep in Thought
As big fans of Formula 1 we were more than slightly taken aback to find that the recent Grand Prix in Austin, Texas was so affected by adverse weather, thanks to the tail end of Hurricane Patricia. We might have expected torrential rain in England in October, but Texas?
Ironically, just a week or two earlier we were enjoying a shirtsleeves and sunglasses day as we made our way to Woking in Surrey – and more particularly McLaren Technology Group’s incredible new Thought Leadership Centre.
The McLaren brand is internationally synonymous with innovation. This enviable reputation, earned over the past 50 years, encompasses each of the McLaren Technology Group’s diverse businesses – McLaren (F1) Racing, McLaren Applied Technologies and McLaren Marketing, as well McLaren Automotive Limited, producer of some of the world’s most amazing super-cars.
The internationally award-winning McLaren Technology Centre campus, in Woking, was designed in collaboration with Foster + Partners back in 2004.
McLaren’s next architectural achievement was the McLaren Production Centre – a state-of-the-art super-car assembly facility, built adjacently on the same campus.
In 2012 McLaren undertook an in-depth strategic analysis of future, global communication behaviours and the manner in which thought leaders conceive, exchange and disseminate new thinking in the digital age.
Combining these insights with McLaren’s compulsion to innovate, a bold, new vision was conceived – a unique, experiential environment in which the world’s greatest thinkers could interact in a completely new way – in a physical space like no other.
That space is the McLaren Thought Leadership Centre – which is described as a cradle of innovation and new thinking, heralding an exciting new chapter in the constantly evolving story of this great British company, and is seen as an integral part of McLaren’s ongoing strategy to broaden the reach and reputation of its brand.
Unlike the main McLaren Technology Centre, with its breathtaking façade and lake, the Thought Leadership Centre is almost invisible amongst beautiful trees and greenery. Once you reach the entrance, however, things change very quickly.
As we headed downwards into this subterranean space, we couldn’t help but think James Bond baddie lair – in a really, really good way! The sweeping curves and monochromatic scheme are instantly recognizable from the original Technology Centre.
Although we had the Thought Leadership Centre to ourselves, our hosts for the morning, McLaren’s Adrian Brooks and Luke Auty, ensured we were treated to the full experience, guiding us into the spacious, open and surprisingly light reception space, where we are offered coffee and special McLaren cookies.
Before the great reveal of the space itself, we took the opportunity to ask Adrian and Luke about the function of this amazing facility. ‘This is a space where large-scale corporate events and conferences can be staged – but is in line with where the technology we deal with in the innovation part of the business can be displayed,’ Luke begins. ‘The vision comes from Ron Dennis – our Chairman and CEO. The facility is built on two tiers – so at the top you have the auditorium, which has the wraparound screen facility. The underneath you have the theatre space. The idea is that, whatever style of presentation you want, this has the ability to provide it. We are currently in the welcoming space which, as you can see is a cylindrical space next to the theatre, and around the edges of this facility you have different meeting and breakout spaces where you can hold meetings or discuss the corporate presentation you’ve just seen.’
The first high profile event to take place here, back in May, was hosted by McLaren’s broadcasting partners, CNN – the Deputy Leaders’ Debate prior to the election showing the true potential and dynamic abilities of the centre.
‘As Luke says, this is very much Ron’s vision,’ Adrian confirms.
‘The space never stands still, to be honest. As soon as we think we’re ‘finished’ someone comes up with a really great idea – and we think ‘We should do that!’
The original concept was developed a long time ago now. We were going to just have an open exhibition space, which could then be turned into a presentation arrangement. This was two or three years ago. We played with various options – looked at how we could make everything fit. Then the real vision came; let’s make it into a much more dynamic space – a space for interaction. Essentially, we’ve changed the entire philosophy.’
Walking up through to the auditorium, we’re immediately wowed by the futuristic design and sheer magnitude. Having recently hosted our first formal Mix seminars, we’re extremely keen to see the facility in action. ‘The original design was more of a cockpit arrangement – so guests would literally be cocooned inside their own bubble,’ Adrian tells us as he guides us into a smart Interstuhl Silver chair. ‘It looked really smart, but you could only fit 60 or 70 people into the space. That wasn’t enough. We wanted to get people into their own environment – but also to be able to interact with one another and the stage. This arrangement works really well – and allows us to get 150 people in here. I think what we’ve ended up with is a much better space.’
It appears that others agree with Adrian. Luke tells us that CNN have two further events scheduled over the next couple of months, while several major blue chip companies from a variety of sectors have also bought into the space.
Although there is no cocoon or bubble surrounding guests, the smart lighting levels, clever desktop delineation in front of you and generosity of space certainly help create an ‘own environment’ feel. And, as the incredible sweeping screen and sound system burst into life, you quickly become lost in the content. This really is advanced stuff.
Interaction comes from the hi-tech desktop, complete with more gadgetry than you’d find on Fernando Alonso’s F1 steering wheel!
‘Our proximity to Heathrow really helps attract major international businesses,’ Luke explains. ‘I don’t think it’s an understatement to say that this is a long way from the presentation and meeting facilities you’d find at those airport hotels.’
One of the major considerations, of course, is the seating. After all, high profile organisations and their guests are likely to be sat down for hours at a time here. No £100 banqueting chairs for McLaren then!
‘We evaluated a number of potential partners, but it was Interstuhl who best shared our vision for a unique product, as a cornerstone of a unique environment,’ Ron Dennis, McLaren CEO and Chairman says. ‘Interstuhl well understood the importance of the final product containing the best of both the McLaren brand DNA, as well as their own…this has been a true partnership.
‘We interrogated all of the seat’s functions until we were happy with the height, movement and the manner in which it self-centred and levelled. We put these seats through the same level of evaluation that we use in testing our cars: Interstuhl’s product more than stood up to that challenge.
‘We felt that even in their standard form, Interstuhl’s seats were exceptionally well engineered and consistent with our desire to meld cutting edge technology with high end style and comfort. The sophisticated integration of the McLaren brand into the leather seat, and the laser engraving on the aluminium frame really elevates this product to ‘best in class’.
‘We wanted the seats to incorporate the same leather and detailing as those used in our iconic McLaren sports cars. Interstuhl’s open and flexible approach, in working with our own fabric designers, was fundamental to the creation of a final product that surpassed all our expectations.’
Heading back down to the theatre space, we find that (to be honest we never doubted it!) the same high standards of advanced technology, lighting and furnishing have been employed (instead of Silver chairs, McLaren has chosen beautiful Poltrona Frau sofas throughout). Our hosts tell us that the space can even receive live broadcasts from upstairs.
Before we have to take our leave, Adrian and Luke are happy to show us a little more of the campus – including a peek at some of the seminal F1 cars of the past. Even the ‘car park’ here takes your breath away.