One of the very best things about what we do as an editorial team is being able to find those absolute ‘wow’ moments. These rarest of beasts can, of course, come in all shapes and sizes. What we weren’t quite expecting (apart from the fact that we’d be pre-warned that we were about to experience something quite special) was that we’d encounter a genuine ‘wow’ from what is essentially, on the face of it at least, a nondescript white room. But more about that a bit later. In the meantime, let us set the scene for you. We’re in west London, just a couple of minutes’ walk from Paddington station. Our destination is the remodelled working home of global brand experience agency, Geometry.
The Westbourne Terrace space sits within smart ‘Georgian’ townhouses, which from the leafy street, could be home to, well, pretty much anything and anyone. It is only as we enter the shared reception space, which is currently being refurbished by BDG architecture + design, that we get a real sense of business activity. Heading up to the third floor, we immediately get a glimpse into the world of Geometry.
Working in collaboration with Geometry’s Executive Creative Director, Elspeth Lynn, BDG architecture + design has developed a workspace befitting a cutting-edge, forward-thinking agency – and Director, Tony Knight, is on hand to introduce us to both the scheme and to Elspeth.
‘The old workspace here failed to provide a brand relevant experience for the Geometry team or their clients,’ Tony explains as we admire the bright and brilliant mix of digital marketing and glazing that forms the entrance here. ‘Originally, this was a solid wall with horrible double doors here, a very narrow corridor and another set of double doors – which is typical of most of the building.’
‘This has been designed to look and feel like a classic storefront,’ Elspeth tells us. ‘We wanted the visibility of the glass, along with the digital panels, which allow us to contextualise and personalise when someone enters. It’s a real welcome for our clients.
‘We did spend a good deal of time thinking about how we could make our clients feel what it is we do when they walk in. I’ve worked with agencies where the clients walk in, you take them through to the boardroom and then you switch on a powerpoint – and the clients have no idea what it is you do until they see the powerpoint. We wanted our clients to understand what we do as soon as they walk in – hence the digital panels, the lit cabinets, the point of sale material etc. Companies often underestimate the power of the three dimensional space.
‘This has been quite a journey for us. We’ve had a really good working relationship with BDG – it’s been full disclosure, open and honest all the way.’
‘We first looked at this space in 2014, before Elspeth worked at Geometry,’ Tony reveals. ‘The premise, with Geometry only planning to be here for 18 months, was to undertake a light refurbishment relevant to their short-term requirement.
‘In response to this, we had designed what would have been a great space but, due to the building being Grade II listed, in a conservation area, we couldn’t be cutting slabs (even though we wanted to). However, for a variety of reasons, this scheme never happened.
‘Fast forward a couple of years, the opportunity to refurbish this space came about once again. This time we worked alongside Elspeth – their ECD – who was a great advocate in driving forward the refurbishment.
‘We all knew that, with the number of people here, connectivity across the floors was the key driver for Geometry, who had been working in a space that didn’t support what they do.
‘So when this came live again, we knew we had to react really quickly. We really didn’t want to miss another opportunity with Geometry.’
‘We went from three floors to two floors,’ Elspeth takes over. ‘The senior management was sat on the 5th floor – it was all very Mad Men, with big glass offices. We really felt a loss of culture through that.
‘So even though we’ve effectively reduced our space by a third, people actually feel as though we have more space now – thanks to the way it has been configured. Furthermore, the management team is now very much a part of the wider team culture – and our clients really want to come in here now.
‘That is a big part of the transformation for us. Our clients want to host their meetings here and it’s simply a great space for our people to work in. I think it also says a lot about who we are – previously clients might have doubted our ability to use technology and do great work in the modern retail arena. They certainly don’t doubt us any longer.
‘I don’t think many companies necessarily know how to brief architects well. They don’t understand how space works. I think we were really lucky in that this is a perfect example of chemistry overriding process. Tony and the team were great to work with – and I couldn’t imagine working with many other architects in the way that we were able to with Tony.’
One of the key focuses for the team, we’re told, was to bring together the elements of a revitalised workspace with a new brand, artwork and innovative business offer of ‘The Flagship’.
The new space certainly allows visitors to feel a sense of what Geometry actually does, and for the staff to feel proud to come to work (and, as our hosts said a little earlier, to invite those clients to come and see and experience the space).
Experience is quite an important word when talking about the new Geometry home. At the heart of the third floor is the aforementioned ‘white room’. Obviously, it is an awful lot more than that. The Flagship is an innovative retail environment. This immersive space allows brands and retailers to prototype, test and trial technology that influences shopper behaviour and purchase decisions.
Featuring over 15 types of technology inside a unique 3D, floor-to-ceiling projection space, The Flagship can recreate no less than 140 immersive shopping environments and experiences. If you need to navigate supermarket aisles, browse in a corner shop, a DIY store or even a petrol station forecourt, you can do so, all from the comfort of this incredible space.
Geometry CEO, Michelle Whelan, says of the facility: ‘The best way to innovate for growth is to experiment. The Flagship brings us unique insights into fast-changing customer behaviour, helping us deliver stronger creative, effective business solutions for our clients. It’s the closest thing to reality that exists today.’
The Flagship focuses on crafting seamless digital and physical shopper experiences for the new retail landscape, currently being shaped by the likes of digital-first companies such as Amazon. Debbie Ellison, Head of Digital and Flagship champion, observes that, according to Google, the omnichannel shopper is worth at least three times that of the single channel shopper, so the ability to seamlessly merge physical and digital retail is critical if brands are to differentiate and drive growth. ’Our tech partnerships will constantly evolve to make sure that agency insight, creativity and capability all remain future-focused,’ she reveals.
This really is innovative, fascinating stuff – and most definitely provides that ’wow’.
There is also plenty to turn the head outside of The Flagship. We’re still trying to work out how, despite losing effectively a third of the space here and being assured that nothing has been taken out or reduced in terms of meeting or working space, so much has been integrated. Tony simply smiles when we suggest it must be incredibly smart planning.
‘Our new café space has been incredibly popular,’ Elspeth points out. ‘People weren’t used to having a café space before – and we’re finding that more and more people are using that as place to go and work. They don’t want to feel as though they are chained to their desks – and we don’t want them to feel that way either. People do want a space that belongs to them – a place to put their stuff and know that it’s safe – but everyone should have at least one alternative work setting as well.
We’ve configured this so that everyone has access to those alternative settings – there’s always somewhere else for you to go and work here, taking in consideration for different personalities and different types of work. We’ve made sure that people can go to quiet spaces when they need them or can simply sit on a sofa or go to the café to work. This is a company of 240 people – and not everyone wants to work in the same way.’
These alternative settings – be it banquette seating, sofas, booths etc – are cleverly appointed alongside the smart, open working floors. There has also been a great deal of biophilic design added to the two working floors, as well as elegant finishing and eye-catching decoration. Then we wander past a couple of beacon-enabled mannequins, which are designed for visual merchandising, enabling customers to receive details of the clothes displayed on the mannequins through their smartphones. Smart mannequins!
The Geometry scheme has now been shortlisted for a BCO award. We can absolutely see why.
BDG architecture + design
BDG architecture + design/Elspeth Lynn
The Furniture Practice
Albion, Brunner, Icons of Denmark, Kartell, La Palma, Modus, Morgan, Muuto, USM, Vitra
FUTURE Designs (lighting), Buzzispace (BuzziFelt), Rawside (Metalwork)