Creative Conservation

Published in Contract magazine, July/August 2018

Well before companies like WeWork and Industrious popularized design-driven, amenity-packed co-working spaces, Charlie Green and Olly Olsen observed and anticipated global work patterns, and "set out to challenge the very corporate and stale serviced office product," according to Green. Together they founded London-based workplace brand The Office Group in 2003 with the goal of providing beautiful and inspired community-like offices for companies of every size. "We've always been driven by creating spaces that smaller businesses and individuals can operate from and call their own," explains Green, "and to work in a way that only larger corporations had previously been able to offer."

Fifteen years later, this concept of sharing well-appointed workspaces is ubiquitous in most metropolitan cities around the world. Many offer posh or edgy design that highlights regional context, fosters socialization between tenants, and provides flexibility as tenants' need change. But what sets The Office Group (TOG) apart from the rest is its curatorial approach to selecting locations: Green and Olsen look not only at the space and neighborhood potential, but also the bones and heritage of the site—and how these can inform the design scheme. Such was the case with Tintagel House, the largest TOG location to date. 

Extending the footprint
Situated on the River Thames in London's Vauxhall district, the 19600erected building boasted skyline and river views, ample daylight, and an intact structure. But it also had a tantalizing past as the former home of the Metropolitan Police—most notably a branch of the Serious and Organised Crime Command—many interrogation cells, and the nation's first police computer. The history played a major role in the interiors by Universal Design Studio. But first, some architectural issues had to be addressed to accommodate the client's mandates. Typically attracting workers from creative, media, and digital industries, but also the occasional corporate firm, TOG required varying levels of privacy and openness, from open-plan co-working zones and shared hospitality spaces to quiet work corners and private offices.

Architecture firm Stanton Williams gutted the 12-story building back to its bones—retaining much of the original windows and parquet floors—and oversaw two substantial interventions to fit all the programming needs and redirect flow: a new ground-floor extension and a new top floor with rooftop garden. The former is a two-story appendage with a frontal colonnade clad in facing brick that matches the original facade, and glazed tiles that recall the neighborhood's 17th-to-19th-century reputation as a producer of ceramics. Giving the building a civic character, the extension demarcates the main entrance, visually connects the exterior and interior, and increases the floor plates for the aforementioned space and amenity requests. The overhauled top floor, meanwhile, now holds additional meeting rooms, a bar, terrace, garden, and even a rentable luxury apartment.

An alluring past
Tapped for the interiors, Universal Design Studio (an offshoot of industrial-design duo Barber & Osgerby) took inspiration from Tintagel House's 1960s roots as well as "the building's past life and our imagining of the rich stories and events it must have witnessed," explains Hannah Carter Owers, co-director at the studio. At the client's request, the designers avoided clichés when exploring these characteristics. For example, they incorporated a small selection of iconic furnishings from the era, such as Verner Panton's flowerpot pendant and Vitsoe shelving by Dieter Rams, and mingled these with modern pieces that inject a fresh, contemporary feel.

The new technologies of that era associated with espionage and data processing for investigative purposes have been widely fetishized in film and TV," says Carter Owers, "along with the materiality and feel of the spaces used to accommodate them." This inspired the creation of playful features such as the "Secret Room," a speakeasy-style members bar accessed through a cleaner's cupboard door, and the reception desk's traditional split-flap timetable board, which displays witty or inspirational messages programmed via mobile app.

Intrigue and the massive ICT 1301 mainframe—which was a state-of-the-art system of the period that became the nation's first police computer—informed some of the material and color choices as well. The designers subtly referenced these by implementing a strong graphic quality formed with contrasting finishes, textures, and hues. Bespoke pink terrazzo and polished concrete are juxtaposed with swaths of restored original wood flooring and accent colors found in cabinet fronts, curtains, and upholstery. Tech-evoking brushed stainless steel lines an oculus that the designers punched in the new extension; the metallic finish also helped direct and diffuse natural light from the aperture's skylight and first floor down into the ground level. And black tones of some furnishings, lighting, and surfaces throughout add both a touch of mystery and modernity.

Anticipating the future
"While the heritage of the building and the history of the area have informed our design for the interior, the heart of this project is very much in the future," adds Carter Owers, alluding to the client's goals of revitalizing this community. For instance, TOG created a dedicated pro-bono incubator space on the ground floor for select startups. 

"Vauxhall is not an established business location. However, it has a strong residential presence," Green says. "We know that the trends driven by technology include mobility of work and people reducing their commute time." This prediction of nomadic work influenced another aspect that sets TOG apart from other co-working brands: Members have access to all 41 TOG locations. Tintagel House may very well lure innovative tenants from the other offices, especially as the location is easily accessible via public transportation and bicycle. "For the first time, we can really see one of our buildings contributing to an area, generating employment, and improving a vacant and neglected site," Green says.

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