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Photography: Gary Britton
align has completed the design of a 25,000 sq ft space for The Economist Group, enabling all the group’s London staff to be integrated into the same office for the first time in several years. The Economist newspaper’s editorial team first moved to the John Adam Street building five years ago, its commercial teams and the group’s other businesses – around 530 people in total – continued to be housed in a separate office in Canary Wharf.
The opportunity to integrate the teams came about partly because of the pandemic and the subsequent openness to new and different ways of working. The only potential issue with the move was that the new floorplate at the Adelphi Building was almost 20,000 sq ft less than that of the existing Canary Wharf offices. A period of concentrated consultation and testing followed therefore, in order to ensure the new office would accommodate a hybrid working scenario, which had been piloted in Canary Wharf.
“The Canary Wharf set-up was very much a traditional fixed-desk office,” explains align director Nigel Tresise. “Agile working principles, neighbourhood desking and meeting zones, as well as breakout areas for colleagues, were all introduced. The Economist CEO insisted on undergoing this trial period with great wisdom, because this move entailed a radical change, both in terms of location and new working practices. The team had to be onside for it to work – and luckily that’s exactly what happened.”
Once the new location and the hybrid/agile set-up had been approved, the next element of the project was to make the integration an exemplar scheme in terms of re-engineering and circularity.
“align are members of the Sustainable Design Collective and are dedicated to carbon reduction in all our projects,” Tresise continues. ‘We also have a dedicated Sustainability Researcher on our internal team, so this directive was music to our ears. The approach ended up being so successful that we reduced the embodied carbon of the project by a massive 82% when compared to a traditional procurement route.”
The design ethos was all about minimum intervention with maximum impact. The team at align were faced with a major logistical challenge when it came to furnishing the new office space – with not only a huge inventory of inherited furniture to work with from the Group’s Canary Wharf offices, but from the new space’s previous tenant too, who’d chosen to leave all furniture and desking in situ.
There was also scope for new furniture, but not only did the designers have to choose judiciously in terms of what worked functionally, as well as considering furniture that could be made to work with re-upholstery, but they had to ensure that the entirety also worked aesthetically not only within its own parameters on the 4th floor, but with the existing Economist Group editorial offices – a directive achieved through a clear visual and material connection and through the eventual choice of finishes.
“In the end, the vast majority of the furniture we selected for the new scheme consisted of existing furniture from either the previous tenant or from The Economist Group’s previous offices,” comments associate Haroulla Georgiou. “The re-pholstery route was particularly relevant to the new scheme’s sofas and armchairs, whilst the brand-new elements were those that fulfilled the most modern working practices. These included phone booths, booth seating, bleachers and breakout tables. We worked closely with a company called Rype Office on the furniture remit and anything that turned out to be unusable for the new scheme was sold, so that there was zero landfill waste as a result.”
The zonal brief was to create discrete neighbourhoods for each business unit, separated and linked by collaborative areas, with other common areas chosen in order to make the best use of natural light. The footplate of the building lent itself quite happily to the creation of discrete pockets of space, and a lot of time was spent working out the optimum space plan in terms of each work function not only according to location but adjacency.
Additionally, a soft-seating collaborative space or town hall was requested in the brief, along with flexible accommodation for informal meetings and a library / quiet reflective space. The lobby areas are situated around the two circulation cores, whilst the library is at the bottom left of the space plan. To the rear of the footplate is the new town hall space or Plaza, with the word referencing The Economist Group’s original headquarters building around the corner from The Ritz. The old red steel naming block for ‘The Economist Plaza’ has even been reinstalled here as a seat.
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