Ogilvy Group UK headquarters

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Whilst walking through many a new workplace project we often think to ourselves that our greatest challenge is going to be how we do real justice to the scheme in what is a relatively short number of words. And size really doesn’t matter with the smallest of projects also bringing  innovation and interest.

However, today we’re visiting a project that is as big as it is impressive, full of innovation and interest. The new landmark headquarters for Ogilvy Group UK has been designed, in a collaborative venture between BDG and Matheson Whiteley, to deliver a truly unique response to the client brief.

The end result is a fresh vision for workplace architecture of the future. The 20,000 sq m workplace, located within Sea Containers, occupies a prominent location on the river Thames, between the iconic Tate Modern and the Oxo Tower.

Armed with future-proof technologies, the workplace delivers a cultural shift for the 1,700 Ogilvy staff and 700 people working for WPP sister company MEC, who are co-located within the building. To create  a dramatic flexible working space to encourage  collaboration between different parts of the organisation.

The building itself is complex, presenting significant space-planning challenges. The result – a successful collaboration between landlord, client, design team, contractor and other consultants – is an inspirational workplace that makes maximum use of London’s best views while providing the perfect environment to support Ogilvy’s future growth and success.

The space is arranged around a series of structural interventions within the existing building. These have been smartly organised to create vistas, platforms and connections between different groups and departments, while providing alternative places to work. Nearly half the usable floor area is given over to shared space and facilities, supporting work that is increasingly informal, flexible and connected.

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By concentrating workspace on the lower parts of the building, the upper two floors are dedicated to shared and hospitality functions, including a cafe/bar, bistro, private dining, k 200-person double-height amphitheater and spectacular new roof terrace.

Such is the scale and complexity of this project, we’re more than slightly relieved that BDG’s Toby Neilson is on hand (we ‘knocked on’ for him from BDG HQ next door) to guide us.

‘Ogilvy was previously based in Canary Wharf and also had an office in Paddington,’ Toby tells us as we walk across to Sea Containers’ main entrance. ‘It was time to make a move both geographically and culturally, and they looked at a few different places and this one came to the top of the pile about three or four years ago.

‘This building had been developed as a fairly typical Cat A fit-out, designed to be let out to a number of tenants Ogilvy and WPP then came along and said that they’d take the whole lot. By the time we came on board they had started the Cat A fit-out, fortunately we were able to stop that on some floors and implement our own designs, although the ground floor had already been developed. Floors 1 and 2 were just shell and core, the middle floors were Cat A – and the top floors were shell and core. Ideally we would have like all floors shell and core.

‘It was great that we were on the doorstep, as it were – it was really beneficial. It enabled us to build a tight relationship with the contractor and oversee all aspects of construction.’

Toby tells us that the complexity of the space here is heightened by the Mondrian hotel – which has a large number of floors in the middle of the building on certain floors. Furthermore, radical remodelling was required to the middle zone floors, 6 to 11, to alleviate the effects of low ceiling heights and deep floorplates. In the final design, Ogilvy took the uppermost three floors in this block (levels 9, 10 and 11) while WPP sister company MEC occupies the lower three floors (6, 7 and 8).

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BDG and MW appreciated that cutting large openings into the concrete floor slabs within this middle zone of floors would open up spaces and alleviate the oppressive atmosphere created by the low ceilings. Ogilvy agreed, and fortunately could see past the slight loss in floor area that would lead to the environmental benefits of quality space and daylight.

These openings would also create much-needed new opportunities for vertical circulation within this dynamic building. A critical initiative was to divide the three storey zone from floors 9 to 11 into three distinct vertical ‘stacks’, each occupying one-third of the width of the building, known as the west, central and east stacks. This created a grid of nine spaces, creating a series of manageable ‘humanised’ volumes of space.

Two types of new connections between floors were conceived – ‘fast’ connections are simple staircases aimed at providing rapid access, while ‘slow’ connections meander between floors, encouraging interaction and chance encounters.

Toby and the team then treated the workplace in terms of city planning, with a collection of neighbourhoods connected by common spaces. Each self-contained neighbourhood contains an Ogilvy Group company, while the common areas support flexible working, collaboration and circulation.

“It was great that we were on the doorstep, as it were – it was really beneficial. It enabled us to build a tight relationship with the contractor and oversee all aspects of construction”

Inspired by ideas of landscape and urban design, the central stack here is a series of gently cascading terraces, suspended platforms and wide stairways, creating an ‘undulating landscape’ that connects floors while creating a ‘collaborative nucleus’ for the building. This also creates a series of long diagonal vistas through the building and over the Thames, while generating double and triple-height volumes, completely obviating any sense of claustrophobia that may have been caused by the low ceiling heights. The long views through the space were also about encouraging people to adapt to flexible working by making the facilities highly visible.

‘The top two floors have this full height glazing and great views over the City,’ Toby points out, ‘and rather than give that over to the executives (as the developer envisaged) this is now a shared café, restaurant and conference space – facilities that everyone can use.

‘There are no private offices throughout,’ Toby points out.. ‘They did want space for as many different settings  so whatever your preference you can find a work setting to suit you and what you are doing. Ogilvy is made up of approximately 15 different brands, and each of those brands has its own separate area. Each floor also has what we call a ‘grab and go’ coffee bar.’

Although industrial finishes and exposed ceilings run throughout the majority of the floors here, there are subtle differences in each ‘neighbourhood’. ‘There is a slightly different feel between the brands,’ Toby confirms. ‘Each department was allowed to choose their own furniture and there is also a difference between how each of the brands work and how much noise they make – real cultural differences. Of course we were on hand to advise in keeping with their  individual budgets and their choices.

‘The space is completely flexible in nature. It started off being more fixed but as people became more comfortable with the idea the agility went up. Again, this is slightly different for each brand, who have their own separate requirements. In terms of flexibility, it’s about 1:3 throughout. Some of the workspaces might look quite densely occupied but then there are others which are quite ‘slack’, so there is actually plenty of space for future expansion. The shared spaces are also designed so that they can provide extra workspace if needed.’

The entire central stack of space on these three floors is designated as shared space, ‘common areas’ acting as the ‘slow’ connections between floors, as well as supporting various flexible working activities, ranging from solo touchdown spaces to large meeting rooms.

The East and West stacks provide the self-contained workspaces for the different brands, with their own ‘front doors’, buffered by the central stack. ‘Fast’ connections within these east and west stacks allow rapid access between floors and the possibility for an Ogilvy Group brand with greater spatial requirements to occupy more than one floor with its own internal vertical connections. This created a large variety of different spaces, which helped determine which company went where.

These ‘fast’ stairs were fabricated on-site from steel plates in a variety of configurations to add variety and character to the spaces, including spiral and scissor stairs. Timber treads provide a warm and natural feel.

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The overall result was the ability to create a large variety of spaces available for the different Ogilvy Group companies, which vary significantly in size and activity, all connected by a central shared zone.

A special mention must go to the amazing Acrylicize artworks we find throughout the building – we particularly like Soundskate, which is an amazing noise-activated display formed from skateboard wheels. We also really liked the elevated fully glazed meeting room towards the top of the building, which feels very Bond baddie – in a good way!

World-class catering and hospitality facilities, aimed at competing with London’s top bars and restaurants, are another standout feature of the project. Restaurant, bar and events operator Green & Fortune was commissioned to operate all facilities within the Ogilvy workplace, delivering a multitude of different food and beverage offers throughout the building.

The ground floor lobby features the Green & Fortune café, with homemade fresh produce. At sky terrace level, there are a number of options. The Sunset Bar serves as the main employee dining area, evening bar and terrace and the elegant ‘Cucumber’, which offers a more formal experience with full waiter service with a private dining room and two 12-seat terraces overlooking the river. It is a perfect setting for client dining and is every bit as impressive as the leading restaurants here on the South Bank.

We finish with a drink on the terrace overlooking the river. Brilliant – both outside and in.