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Ekho Studio crafts the future of workplace for AstraZeneca UK

A progressive and flexible new office space reflects a change in gear for the biotechnology giants.

12/07/2022 4 min read
This article first appeared in Mix Interiors Issue 220

Words: Chloe Petersen Snell
Photography: Billy Bolton

With an eclectic mix of art students and tech workers, retail and hospitality, King’s Cross is London’s fastest growing district – outperforming all other London Opportunity Areas for employment and population growth in the last 10 years, with predictions of 30,000+ people working in the area by 2023.

A new addition to the energetic district is AstraZeneca UK’s new workspace, taking over 22,000 sq ft across two floors at 2 Pancras Square – in addition to the 15,000 sq ft it has occupied since 2019.

In good company, in the shadow of the growing skeleton of Google’s monolithic ‘Landscraper’ and a neighbour to Universal Music, TOG and YouTube (to name but a few), the new HQ will become home to staff working across the medical, marketing, digital, communications, finance and HR functions, which support the UK biopharmaceutical and oncology business teams.

King’s Cross is Ekho Studio’s first major project – no mean feat for a studio that is a little more than a year old. Founded by Rachel Withey and Sarah Dodsworth, Ekho Studio describes its approach to design and strategy as ‘all ears’ – and with this energy and passion, they completed the scheme over the pandemic, moving the company from Luton to an entirely new way of working in Central London.

“Having worked with AstraZeneca as a design consultant for nearing 10 years, it has been a formative journey, and it goes without saying that within that time we’ve collectively seen big changes within the landscape of their workplace design,” says Founding Partner Sarah Dodsworth.

It has certainly been a bitter-sweet few years for the company, which has become a household name, having played a pivotal part in the UK’s fight against COVID-19. Now, AstraZeneca UK will use its new King’s Cross HQ to drive collaboration and innovation both internally and with the diverse ecosystem of companies on the estate and in the area. This workplace culture reflects a change in gear and mindset within AstraZeneca UK which, through its relocation to London’s Knowledge Quarter, is committed to a more open, inclusive and participative business operation.

Moving inside from the hustle and bustle of the external square, the reception space is bright and comforting – not quite what one would expect from a biopharmaceutical company; warm neutrals, soft zoning curtains and modern details nod to residential design. A bright, open-plan office stretches around meeting rooms set into the middle of the space, allowing staff to be close to the full-height windows and natural light.

Each variation of meeting room has its own look and feel – from private quiet spaces to two, four and eight person rooms, and a larger flexible event space with bi-folding doors. Warm shades of burgundy and grey sit against timber panelling and textured carpet: “We put a lot of effort into making sure the meeting rooms didn’t feel too corporate,” says Interior Designer Ellie McCrum. “It doesn’t necessarily have to shout, but it all hangs together really well. We wanted to bring that same love [to the meeting rooms] that you’d give to a café or tea point.”

In the main office space, suspended ceiling systems have been cleverly modified and designed by Ekho Studio to mimic mesh, offering an impactful finish within a strict budget. Timber flooring from Tedd Todd sits alongside carpet from Milliken and Shaw, guiding visitors and staff throughout the main flow of the space. A breakout space acts as a transition between more traditional workstations. A bespoke ribbed wood and marble coffee bar sits under a curved frame with integrated illumination – the lighting and materials within this more relaxed space offering a distinct hospitality feel that the client was keen to explore.

“Our client had a vision for a ‘third space’ which, as they conceptualised it, is an environment that sits between a typical corporate office space and a boutique hotel,” Dodsworth explains. “The design scheme reflects the best learnings from each end of the spectrum and sector specifics – the challenge of the brief was to carefully balance a supremely functional workplace whilst creating a sense of aspiration.”

Smaller, intimate settings with soft seating are scattered thoughtfully around the more traditional desk spaces, with luxe finishes, soft lighting and warm timber continuing the hospitality feel. Surreal landscape photography by Tom Hegen was chosen to reflect the client’s vision, and touch on issues of sustainability. All wayfinding and branding implementation was designed by Ekho Studio, and live planting throughout the interior and terrace was integral to creating the atmosphere and wellbeing ethos AstraZeneca was keen to promote.

“As part of our early visioning process we managed to find a precious slot in-between lockdowns and spent a day benchmarking in London,” Dodsworth adds. “The places we visited included boutique hotel lounges and amenity spaces, coworking spaces and high concept retail experience stores. The idea being that we could take influences and ideas from each of these to weave into the office design brief, with the latter the most familiar to the project team.”

The commitment to ensuring the right product was delivered meant that every piece of furniture was trialled and tested before orders were placed, so the commitment to supreme functionality with beautiful aesthetics was delivered upon – from Senator desks with a slight mid-century feel to custom upholstery from Textile Mania. There’s nothing gimmicky here, Dodsworth notes. “Nothing just for the sake of it – everything is here for a reason.”

In the large café and social area, a mix of soft and wooden furniture is complemented by mobile planters on castors, tying in with the material language of the workspace and allowing the space to be fully flexible for the various town halls and client events. Huge bifolding doors open out to a large balcony, with plenty of outdoor and transitional furniture and incredible panoramic views of the capital.

The new workplace nurtures an easy and informal atmosphere which in turn fosters chance collaborations, Dodsworth explains – as work and social behaviours are no longer siloed and instead mix very naturally. And just like that, by building an impressive relationship with their client and designing with an open mind, Ekho Studio has redefined how AstraZeneca works and engages with the outside world.

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