Open Society Foundations
Interface, In Situ, Tai Ping, Microscreed, Fenix Laminate, Clayworks, Dulux, Autex, Kvadrat, SAS Ceilings
Senator, Ocee, Raw Workshop, KI, Vitra, Moroso, Naughtone, Jennifer Newman, Icons of Denmark, Orangebox, New Design Group
Open Society Foundations’ move across London gave tp bennett the opportunity to dive into the organisation’s values to design a bespoke workspace, with a focus on wellness and comfort, that benefits its employees, visitors and grantees. Founded by George Soros, Open Society Foundations is the world’s largest private funder of independent groups working for justice, democratic governance, and human rights.
The scheme offers a ‘home from home’ for users of the space, providing a human-centric environment with a clear brand identity and inviting character. Having moved from a more corporate setting, Open Society Foundations now has a warm and agile workplace that challenges the conventions of a traditional office to emphasise people and wellbeing.
tp bennett’s design reflects Open Society Foundations’ values of accountability, humility, integrity, trust and respect. ‘It was really important that the design concept aligned with Open Society Foundations’ values,’ says tp bennett Director, Christina Christou, who together with Principal Director, Mark Davies, is happy to answer our questions.
‘By providing them with an office to be proud of, designed with elegance and simplicity in mind, we have been able to achieve this on behalf of not only the organisation, but also their grantees. With an emphasis on achieving a holistic approach to wellbeing and creating an empathetic working environment, the space offers the choice and connections that allow people to be themselves.
‘The design stemmed from our engagement with the client; they are fighting a lot of great causes for other people, but their own working environment didn’t support that. It was very siloed and there was little collaboration space between the teams. We wanted to bring back to life the vision and the people of their organisation – reminding them of what they do and love doing.
‘They have to cope with a lot of difficult and stressful situations within their work so the office environment needs to be a ‘home away from home’.’
Entering at the upper level, a public-facing reception and coworking space creates a large social hub for staff use and events, as well as being open to the organisation’s community of grantees, who can use the space to grab a coffee or touch base with Open Society Foundations’ colleagues. The muted tones, ambient lighting and biophilic design are immediately inviting and create a characterful welcome to the space.
The lower level is deliberately more subdued, providing a calming environment for focused and individual work, with access to a private library. This is supported by a wellbeing suite comprising a parenting room, no-tech sanctuary space, sleep pods and flexible contemplation rooms for private or group prayer, meditation and low-energy wellbeing activities, such as yoga. Focus rooms and unassigned ‘home office’ pods in the deepest part of the floorplate form ‘in between’ spaces used as touchdown ‘nooks’ to support wellbeing.
Fluid, flexible workspace across two levels is linked by a feature staircase, which encourages connectivity and casual interactions – increasing productivity and a sense of community. Open plan hotspot desks are located near windows to maximise daylight and views, with soft screens between desks, personalised bookcases and planting used to create a homely atmosphere where workers feel comfortable.
A large wall-to-wall library, packed full of books, creates a significant focal point whilst providing a useful resource. A propagation wall encourages colleagues to grow their own plants from cuttings; once matured, plants are transferred into pots and moved into the main working areas.
‘We wanted very tactile finishes inspired by locations Open Society Foundations has worked with around the world – like the mud-huts – and we brought that into the interior by working with Clayworks,’ we’re told. ‘It’s made out of 100% clay, sourced locally, making it low-carbon, sustainable and it has a warm and tactile feel in rich tones (like dark charcoals, earthy greens, terracotta). There are also health/wellness benefits to clay – it’s antibacterial and it helps to regulate the internal microclimate. We used it throughout – particularly as feature walls in the entrance and the transition areas.
‘Lots of timber is used to complement the clay work (natural materials), while the bespoke rug, designed in collaboration with Tai Ping, is really heavily textured and tactile; it is inspired by a bird’s-eye view of the English countryside to bring in the local identity of being a UK-based HQ. This is in the sanctuary space and it encourages people to take off their shoes and walk barefoot.’
Furniture-wise, tp bennett went for pieces with character and personality, using suppliers such as Moroso (arrival/lounge seating) and bespoke bookcases act as dividers between the desks and neighbourhoods. They are made out of raw steel, which ties into the natural/industrial feel of the existing building. This also gives staff the opportunity to customise their own work areas with books etc.
‘The materials and finishes were specified to enhance the variety and user experience. For example, mood lighting is used throughout to reflect a more domesticated ambience, providing space that feels like home but also provides sufficient working levels.
‘The colours were chosen to evoke different emotional responses – people react to certain colours in different ways, so we used muted tones of colours to make people feel comfortable.’
‘The space works wonderfully for us, not only as a place to work but as a communal hub for connection between our peers, colleagues, grantees and wider network,’ Open Society Foundations’ Barry Varcoe enthuses. ‘The range of spaces within the building now enables us to be as inclusive as possible, and at our most productive and creative, supporting the preferences and needs of each individual. It has become our home, also allowing us to come together for social events or larger meetings as a whole organisation. We’re proud to welcome our grantees to make the space their own as well, and enjoy a piece of our home away from their home.’