Vertical Take-Off

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It would remiss of us not to use Mixology as an opportunity to connect with the night’s award winners – and to attempt to accumulate a great story or two.

Hence, following MCM’s Mixology Design Practice of the Year award and subsequent stage invasion (a real highlight for us), we had to go find the jubilant team and ask if we couldn’t get ourselves into the very projects that had so impressed our judges.

One such project – for Havas, one of the world’s largest global advertising and communications groups – has already scooped numerous design awards and, thankfully for us, both client and design team are more than happy to show it off.

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Founded in 1835 in Paris, the Havas Group currently employs 20,000 people in over 100 countries. Havas is committed to being the world’s best company at creating meaningful connections between people and brands through creativity, media and innovation. It is this ethos that was the driver for Havas to consolidate all of their London offices in to one central London location.

With 26 brands and 1,800 staff spread across 15 London sites, the overall brief was to bring a disparate organisation from various sites together into a new 160,000 sq ft headquarters building, situated at the heart of the King’s Cross development, whilst still retaining brand identity. MCM developed a workplace strategy to inspire creativity within the workforce and unleash the full potential of its people. Through extensive consultation with all of the individual company and brand Chief Executives, core themes were established, which were then used to form the concept of a ‘Vertical Village’. Sean Hatcher, Design Director at MCM, is on hand to give us a tour of this amazing space and to tell us more about the design process and concept. ‘Those 26 brands were all separate businesses essentially,’ Sean begins. ‘They didn’t really work together at all. They were all over London – some in pretty good buildings and some in not so great buildings, so really different qualities. Throughout the briefing process we had to almost act like a marriage counsellor! We had all these different leaders who had all these different ideas of what their business was all about – so to start with we had to find some commonality. We had to find something that would bring them together.

‘This wasn’t about lowering overheads – it was about joining up all these agencies and being able to have a more holistic sales approach and offer.

‘They took the building as a pre-let – so this was essentially a big hole in the ground. In parallel with the briefing process, we studied the building’s plans and started to come up with some big strategic ideas. We started talking about pouring all these brands into this ‘container’ and about bringing the energy of King’s Cross into the building.

‘There were two principle drivers behind the choice of King’s Cross. The first was the communications – and this was not just about London. The owners of Havas are a French company and therefore need to get between London and Paris easily. They are a huge group who also own Universal Music – who have moved in next door. The second reason was that Central Saint Martins is on the doorstep. They wanted to go somewhere the next generation of creative talent will emerge from. They wanted to be in the thick of that – and this is rapidly becoming the new creative village of London.

‘As it was a pre-let, we had an amazing opportunity to change a huge amount of this building – which we did, as it was being built. So there was zero waste. We effectively cancelled everything. Theoretically, there were a whole series of finishes and services that the developer was going to provide – but we were able to change all that so that they only provided the building in its raw state; no M&E, no finishes, no flooring…’

Set over 10 floors, the Havas experience as imagined and created by MCM starts from the moment you enter the dramatic reception space. Sean points out the fantastic reclaimed timber flooring, which came from Moorfields Eye Hospital, the dramatic low-level lighting and the eye-catching steel staircase. The look and feel is more high-end members club than corporate office building.

Working closely with Havas and the developer, Argent, MCM implemented this extensive series of modifications to the base-build to facilitate, amongst other changes, 14 additional flights of stairs to encourage collaboration and movement around the building. These staircases create intersections throughout the whole building, natural in-between spaces for chance encounters, deliberately causing conflict and disruption to enhance interaction, creativity and collaboration between brands.

Speaking of brands, Sean tells us that Havas work alongside some of the world’s leading companies and brands. ‘That is a large part of why we wanted this to look and feel the way it does – more like a members club, more informal. There are also no security barriers here. We’ve shown developers around this space, who have palpitations about the lack of barriers! This is a serious business that deals with serious businesses.

‘They have the whole of this building – this is not a multi-tenanted space – and at the same time they have all these separate brands working here, so we’ve introduced more subtle security thresholds rather than barriers.

‘We wanted to create a really warm welcome. They know that this is a commercial building and that they are a commercial business – but they didn’t want this space to feel like it.’

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‘One of the other things we talked about was getting people to move, to walk, to bump into one another – hence all these interventions in the shape of stairs. There are a lot of people in here – and this is a real ‘lump’ of a building. One of the concepts that we came up with, with the client, was this idea of creating the Havas ‘village’, the idea of bringing people together and having a real community feel. One of the challenges was that we were bringing all these people together from all these different sites, but we’ve still got 10 storeys here. You could have someone on the 9th floor and someone on the 1st floor and they still won’t talk to each other – there’s no connection. If you look at villages, they’ve got a green or a square – a focus. So we started to talk about Greek villages set into hillsides or favelas in Rio. This is where the idea of staircases came up. We wanted people to explore the space and the staircases join up the building to create a vertical village. The major destinations and social spaces lie next to the staircases, so people are naturally drawn towards them.

These destination spaces have been created throughout the building to enhance interaction and collaboration between the brands. They also add an amazing buzz to the environment. In fact, there is a real energy throughout the entire building. The creative café on the 1st floor, civic spaces, various ‘secret’ meeting rooms and the quite brilliant Forum all help to ensure that the building helps unite all the agencies and brands, while still providing a showcase for Havas’ collaborators and clients. The fact that great coffee and food is provided only adds to the offering. The vibrant creative café is usually packed, with people using it to meet with clients, to work, to get away from their desks and to socialise, while the flexibility of the facility also means it can easily be transformed into an event space.

‘We took this from shell, did all the enabling works, we did Cat A, Cat B and Cat C,’ Sean tells us as we admire the variety of furniture and finishes in front of us. ‘We did all the furniture – there are 300 different brands in here! It’s an amazing eclectic mix – some new, some old.

‘There’s also a real mix of hard and soft finishes, spaces for artworks – such as local graffiti artists – and nods to King’s Cross throughout.’

Sean takes us up to the top of the building, where Havas’ brands can book the entire 10th floor for what they call the ‘mega-pitch’. With the amazing views, personal touches, immaculate service and beautifully designed spaces, they’d certainly win our business! Speaking of meetings, Sean reveals that there are a total of 122 meeting rooms in the building. The aforementioned Forum is yet another space where everyone can come together. Serviced by its own bar and a series of lounges, this event facility features dramatic bleacher-style seating and even more dramatic views over King’s Cross and beyond.

‘40% of the building is given over to collaborative space,’ Sean smiles. ‘We talked about settings – about choice. It’s all about choice. Some agencies like to keep themselves to themselves, but people are encouraged to interact and connect with other agencies.’

As we head back down the building, Sean points out one remarkable design feature that we have to admit we hadn’t noticed on our way in. The staircase itself, which we assumed boasted a random, intricate metalwork design, actually depicts the roadmap of London!

Havas now has a working home that has been embraced by everyone who uses it. Not only has it succeeded in bringing people together and giving them the opportunity to work more efficiently and creatively, the space is now used as a tool for Havas to win more business, celebrate creativity and engage with the wider King’s Cross community.

 

In Short

  • Havas SA is a French multinational advertising and public relations company, headquartered in Paris.
  • Operates in more than 100 countries, offering a broad range of communications services.
  • Major clients include Jeep, Durex and Lacoste.

Project Team

  • Client – Havas UK
  • Interior Design & Architecture – MCM Architecture
  • Project Manager – JLL
  • M&E Engineer – Troup Bywaters + Anders
  • Main Contractor – Structure Tone
  • Furniture Provider – Day 2
  • Furniture – La Palma, Spekva (via New Design Group), Ox, Howe, Dare Studio, Senator, Vitra, Maine, Montana Store, Bla Station, Moroso, & Tradition, Emeco, Naughtone, Modus, Walter Knoll, Hay, Radii Partitioning