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EBRD’s democratic workplace is designed for people and planet

Designed by Perkins&Will, EBRD’s London HQ is not just for employees but chosen by them.


4 min read

This article first appeared in Mix Interiors #226

Words: Dominic Lutyens
Photography: Hufton + Crow

In 2019, employees of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) were invited to view three proposed designs for the company’s new HQ. The bank, previously based for over 25 years in Bishopsgate in the City of London, was poised to move to a new high-rise building in the Canary Wharf area. Showing the competition entries to EBRD’s staff was democratic – giving them the opportunity to say which design they liked the most.

The winning entry was a design by Perkins&Will, the architecture practice co-founded in Chicago in 1935 by Lawrence Perkins and Philip Will, of course. The studio’s avowed goal is “To design places that make a positive difference in the world”, while its core values are “design excellence, diversity and inclusion, living design, research, resilience, social purpose, sustainability and wellbeing”.

EBRD was set up in 1991, two years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, to help countries of the former Soviet bloc and is now active in over 35 countries in Europe, Central Asia and the Middle East.

Potentially 2,600 staff – the number of employees at the London HQ of EBRD – could have expressed their views about how they envisioned their new office. In the event, around 900 employees assessed the designs, says Linzi Cassels, design director at Perkins&Will. “It was a demonstration of the bank’s commitment to inclusivity,” she says. “Co-creation” is her term to describe EBRD’s decision to encourage input from its staff when conceptualising the new office.

Moreover, EBRD’s staff were consulted at different stages of the design process, including remotely, when necessary, during the pandemic.

The new office is necessarily multifaceted, given that inclusivity is integral to its philosophy. Amenities include a double height auditorium lined with walnut panels featuring a frieze depicting an abstracted image of a forest. A multifunctional space, it’s used for presentations, panel discussions and as a cinema. Adjoining this is what Cassels calls an “ante space” – a more informal area for staff to gather, which is flexible enough to host exhibitions. There’s a boardroom above this; next to it is a large space boasting dual-functional planters on castors incorporating benches that can be moved to the edges of the room to create an entirely open-plan space.

A yoga studio, travel office, IT hub and health centre are just some facilities the office provides. The multicultural, multiracial nature of the office – given ERBD’s global presence – also necessitates translation booths used by simultaneous interpreters.

The new HQ can accommodate so many amenities thanks to its gargantuan scale: it occupies the top 13 floors of a 24-storey building. Its west-facing façade boasts uninterrupted views across the city, enhanced by floor-to-ceiling glazing.

“The staff were moving from a tired-looking office, characterised by more cellular spaces,” says Cassels. “Many employees requested more open-plan spaces. Shared desks were proposed although some employees, particularly lawyers, were resistant to this at first, fearing this would mean they wouldn’t have enough space to lay their papers out. But overall, the employees were excited about the new office.”

EBRD is also a strong advocate of sustainability and the new HQ provided an opportunity to raise the bar in this respect. EBRD achieved BREEAM Outstanding certification in 2020 and an Environmental Performance Certificate (EPC) A rating.

“The project allowed us to rethink what needed doing in a more circular way,” says Maria Papadopoulou, lead architect of the project. All timber – a material used extensively, both in a functional way and on an immense scale to make a major sculptural impact – is FSC-certified. Wooden features throughout the office comprise modular elements fixed together with screws, not toxic glues. These components can be easily disassembled and redeployed in other buildings. Much of the flooring is made of sustainable linoleum. Carpet maker Tarkett supplied fully recyclable carpets found in many parts of the office.

Just as employees were welcomed to the exhibition showcasing the competition entries, at the new office, which opened last year, a reception incorporating a café, wooden seating and plants greet staff as they enter it. At the top of the building, staff emerge in a restaurant affording 360° panoramic views.

“There are over 3,000 plants in the building,” says Papadopoulou, who stresses that the project endorsed a biophilic approach. The design features many extravagantly organic, wooden structures. One, for example, frames the entrance to a tea point.

The project also makes a feature of arresting artworks, from a sculpture of Pegasus to a wall in the space adjacent to the boardroom with shelves filled with bricks mimicking books. W hen expressing their thoughts about the new office design, EBRD’s employees might have deemed environmentalism and wellness highly desirable but the project has also made room for fantastical flourishes in the form of eye- catching installations and sculptures.

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