Second Law of Attraction

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You may recall that, back in April, we brought you the story of the amazing new Cannon Street home of leading law firm CMS. We said at the time that, despite going way over our own word count, there was far, far more to say – namely that we’d concentrated solely on the client-facing first floor space, and hadn’t even headed upstairs to the equally innovative second and third floors. Well, we’re now going to put that right. 

When we say upstairs, we mean upstairs, as the design and the placement of the signature staircases are a perfect place to begin the second part of our tour of the CMS space.

Despite being spread out over three large floors the office space has been brought together with the clever use of modern staircases from EeStairs. Rather than being enclosed in a stairwell, the staircases are as much of a feature of the office as the chairs and tables, positioned in plain sight and surrounded by a TransParancy glass balustrade for uninterrupted views of the interior.

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In contrast to the furniture, walls and floors, which are for the most part finished in modern block colours, ranging from muted greys to striking orange, the staircases have been constructed from steel and finished with timber treads, adding a natural element to the interior. The gentle rise of the straight staircases makes them appear longer and extremely inviting to walk up and down. The combination of straight flights of stairs and plateau areas add to the sense that the stairs wrap around the wall that they are positioned against.

In keeping with the way that CMS has embraced modern technology and working practices, the staircases have been fitted with LED lighting that trace the edges of each staircase. The light appears to flow  from the top to the bottom of the staircases and reflects the brief to create a mobile workspace.

‘Staircases are often overlooked as a necessary element of a building rather than an aspect of interior architecture that can reinforce a company’s ethos or values. We wanted to create something extraordinary that would add to the experience of staff and clients and found the ideal partner in EeStairs,’ MCM Managing Director Jon Race explains.

Whilst we were guided through the client suite by KKS’ Katrina Kostic Samen, the CMS space here is very much a design collaboration, with MCM responsible for taking the brief, developing the workplace strategy and the design of the majority of the spaces. KKS were responsible for the visitor experience, from the entrance through to the meeting room space, the sector hubs, the artwork, soft furnishings and general dressing of the spaces on level 1.

‘We integrated all the technical design and did the design for everything else in the building – including the restaurant, the working floors, the client meeting rooms…our respective teams worked together very closely to mesh to the two parts together.’ Jon adds ‘We worked very well together – we’ve known each other for a long time and we’re chums in the industry,’

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We ask Jon to tell us a bit more about the process itself. ‘We started working with CMS about five years ago, looking at their potential relocation. We looked at various buildings and we looked at the metrics of their business – so if you cut it one way it was this size and if you cut it another way it was that size. We had previously delivered some really new and cutting edge legal workplaces in London, taking nervous clients on rapid change journeys to embrace new workplace strategies and it was this previous experience which sparked CMS’s imagination. So from the outset we started looking at alternative working strategies and more radical ways of occupying space that would enable true agility and could lead to possible future of desk sharing (although that has not been adopted from day one). We also started looking at alternative client experiences at an early stage: traditionally with legal firms you get this layer cake – you find glossy client space which is typically quite separate from the working floors and rarely do you see into the mechanics of the whole organization.

‘One of the big advantages of Cannon Place which was eventually settled on, was that the floorplates were huge and the atrium allowed significant visibility through to the floor plates. The sheer scale meant that you could start to really look at unconventional ways of laying out space to support a different sort of working model. To reinforce visibility and to introduce direct connectivity we added the staircases as a conscious transversal link between the working floors and the client space – really breakdown the conventional layout of legal offices where client and working spaces are so often separated. To heighten the sense of fluid transition through all spaces there is no visible security between the base build reception and the reception at CMS.

‘On the fee earning floors the key criteria for the space was that it had to be a form of open plan to allow maximum flexibility over time but, principally to facilitate both team and cross sector collaboration. Quite early on we had a conversation about how they could mix the groups up into sector expertise rather than by practice groups – so the space would have to be very fluid and conducive to people being able to talk to one another, whilst at the same time being mindful of the fact that legal work can often be fairly solitary and private.

‘The space also need to be able to support agility over time to provide alternative places for different types of work. To support agility each floor has a wide variety of shared cellular spaces ranging from video conferencing and quiet rooms, to project and team rooms, breakout and informal meeting space as well as all the practical standard stuff like copy and tea points. Each space was conceived to support the different requirement, pace and rhythm of the work it is intended for and furnished accordingly – some spaces are for standing or informal meetings and others are more conventional and formal. In addition, some spaces are booked centrally whilst others are free to access on demand.’

Jon tells us that the integration of the right technology was also critical here. ‘The next piece of the jigsaw was to provide the right tools to enable the space to really work,’ he confirms. ‘CMS engaged with Microsoft to talk about the implementation of Surface Pro tablets for the fee earners – so the fee earners now work off Surface Pro tablets. The bandwidth of the WiFi is truly capable of enabling people to work unplugged – so they can genuinely move their stuff from one space to another. The telephony solutions are through Windows phones rather than landlines. It’s a fairly big leap – but technology moves all the time and each time we’ve helped legal clients embrace a big change in their workspace, they’ve been right at the cutting edge and CMS are not an exception.

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‘Tablet PC’s with the ability for manuscript drafting on screen is pretty advanced stuff, for example, but absolutely the sort of advancement that CMS wanted to embrace.’

We ask about document confidentiality, privacy and security. ‘That was absolutely sacrosanct,’ Jon explains. ‘Whether digital or paper. The reality is that the courts still require a certain amount of paper and we had to be aware of that provision right from the start.

‘Additionally, as this is a multi-tenanted building, you don’t want people to be able to see sensitive information from the floors above, so whilst you can clearly see into the heart of the practice, all of the desking areas are towards the perimeter of the building, there is no way you can see or read anything. We had to be very careful to provide visible security, whilst also making the space as open and as flexible as possible.’