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We’ve reviewed a number of PwC’s forward-thinking workplaces in the past – and there’s a reason for that – the company has been at the vanguard of new ways of working for pretty much as long as this magazine has been around.
The leading multinational professional services firm has recently turned its attention to its Birmingham space. To create what is described as a new ‘work-home’, BDP used references from the second city’s rich heritage, together with evidence-based design, to provide a unique working home for PwC Birmingham.
Prior to the relocation to One Chamberlain Square, PwC was situated not far from the Paradise development at Cornwall Court. Constructed in the 1980s, Cornwall Court was home to PwC for over 20 years and, in 2004, the space scooped the BCO National award for best ‘Fit-Out of Workplace’ and ‘Best of the Best’. However, in recent years, the firm started to outgrow the space, and the building started lacking some of the key attributes the firm now looks for in its office space, including natural light and large contiguous floorplates.
So what were the chief hopes and aspirations when it came to the development of this new home? ‘At the onset of the project, the firm brought together a cross grade and multidisciplinary group who were tasked with preparing the aspirational brief for the project,’ Matthew Hammond, Partner, Midlands Region Chairman, explains. ‘The aspiration was to provide a distinctive destination for our people, clients and community, while ensuring it was a responsive and connected space.’
‘A place that is responsive to the needs of the firm, layout options with different types of spaces with the ability to quickly change to meet the evolving demands and needs of the business, both in terms of our own and our clients’ ways of working.
‘We wanted our space to be distinctive, an open and inviting visual environment that at its core promotes greater awareness, accessibility, interaction, collaboration, provides a strong platform for better decision making, better management and a real sense of community and a real sense of self.’
PwC wanted to connect people through their networks and through their technology, and create a connection to the workplace, a connection to their clients, a connection to the world and a connection to life.
‘It all started with a simple question; what makes Birmingham what it is today?’ Matthew tells us. ‘It has a rich history of progressive entrepreneurial sectors such as textiles, jewellery, manufacturing, printing, confectionary, art, literature and engineering. This really triggered the development of an intricate and functional canal network during the industrial revolution, connecting people from around the world within a cultural trade hub.’
It all started with a simple question; what makes Birmingham what it is today?
‘The development of One Chamberlain Square embodies a forward-thinking, aspirational workplace with interior design concepts that take inspiration from these sectors. The building purposefully embraces Birmingham’s diverse heritage with each of its seven floors taking on a unique theme, ambience and identity. Colour, texture, organic substrates and clever use of workspace settings will intrigue people’s curiosity and mobility, fostering a collaborative energy within the building.
‘Like the Birmingham canal network, the building provides elements of commonality, a thread of familiarity and connectivity throughout – intrinsic to business infrastructure, development and progression. A staircase connecting floors 3-5 further enhances mobility of people and provides a great connection for the business within the heart of the building.
‘In addition, the project team were able to develop their approach to evidencing the design through data and understanding the typical work styles of their people. This formed the foundation of the approach taken to create a functional workspace at One Chamberlain Square.’
The new staircase connects three of the floors, allowing users to easily seek out different places to work to suit their work tasks. Adjacent refreshment points assist in localising ambient noise enabling further areas to become quieter for focused working.
BDP’s focus was to use finishes and furniture linking back to the culture of the city to imbue a ‘homely’, less formal space culminating in the creation of a workplace more akin to a ‘workhome’. To achieve this BDP placed emphasis on the attention to details; from the timber grains used in the joinery, the textures, tones, colours and patterns of the tiles and fabrics used on the furniture including historical links within bespoke larger graphics, to the lighting and accessories used to dress the space. The challenge was to ensure they all complemented each other as one to present a coherent, tangible aesthetic without overpowering the space.
The building purposefully embraces Birmingham’s diverse heritage with each of its seven floors taking on a unique theme, ambience and identity
PwC wanted to challenge the status quo here, pushing the boundaries on how they designed, stacked, managed and worked within its buildings. Breaking down silos, creating spaces that are flexible, adaptable and encourage cross line of service interaction. The space had to provide a balanced mix of work settings to suit formal and informal working, with a variety and choice according to the task at hand.
Aesthetically, the firm wanted to create destinations – spaces where their people and clients would want to work; memorable spaces that are vibrant, welcoming and fun, with surprises along the way. ‘We wanted to provide spaces that inspire creativity, have a buzz about them and are injected with the PwC brand,’ Matthew says. ‘The office of the past is dead. The community thrives and a workplace is created. These workplaces then bring together people with shared values, ideas and potential, while expressing the spirit and purpose of the PwC community.’
While there are many aspects of this space that stand out, it’s the level 6 client collaboration suite that brings all the themes together into a ‘market’ floor, which – we’re told – created an unprecedented buzz on social media by PwC’s people.
Consistent with the local office’s desire to take the history of the City and Midlands as the inspiration for the design of One Chamberlain Square, the team used the motto ‘Everything is Possible’ in an endeavour to create an unrivalled environment for clients, colleagues and visitors. That motto itself is taken from graffiti art on the brutally angular aspects of the old library, created by the now exhibiting artist, Lucy McLauchlan.
Level 6 provides 20 collaboration settings aimed to invoke an experience for clients, colleagues and the communities PwC serves; from the ‘dark rooms’, which have a feel of entering a quiet and very focused environment, akin to entering a cinema, through to the light rooms, which are almost clinically white and bright. Two secret rooms, hidden behind bookcases, which are opulent environments, resembling relaxed 5-star hotel lounge spaces, have been particularly popular with PwC’s visitors and guests.
Finally, to recognise and celebrate the opening of One Chamberlain Square, PwC commissioned local spoken word artist, Casey Bailey, to write a narrative, telling his personal story of the Midlands. Casey is from inner city Birmingham, a mathematics and PE teacher, deputy headmaster and artist. With Casey’s kind permission, PwC re-created his work ‘Midlander’ on the level 6 client reception area. ‘This special and heart warming narrative is replicated to reach out to all our colleagues across the City, the Midlands and put Birmingham on the map nationally and internationally.’ Matthew says, ‘It tells everybody a story about our region, your place to make your mark.’
Overall, One Chamberlain Square has received an unprecedented level of positive feedback from both clients and staff, truly demonstrating that, in PwC’s words, ‘Everything really is Possible’
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