BVN / Sydney Studio
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BVN / Sydney Studio

Design Studio
BVN Architecture
John Gollings

State Director, Bill Dowzer said, ‘This relocation has given us the opportunity to practice what we preach and implement many of the design ideas we have been developing with our workplace clients over recent years.’

The studio is a remarkable transformation from a typical grey carpeted and painted low ceilinged space, to an open floor with no solid internal walls, and a stripped back to concrete finish warmed by an internal timber deck along the Pitt Street windows forming what has been termed the studio ‘verandah’.

The ceiling has been removed and for the most part the services exposed providing an industrial aesthetic that is further enhanced by the large square building columns being stripped back to their original ‘as built’ concrete state, complete with builders pencilled notes.

‘Editing the building, removing what is not absolutely necessary has been the driver behind this design,’ said Mr. Dowzer.

Finally the lighting is a masterly mix of lots of daylight particularly when the sun floods the east facing verandah that is filled with different configurations of couches, small and large meeting tables and chairs as well as stools, whereas there is minimal downlighting in the main open workspace, with working light being provided by individual table lamps for each worker.

The BVN Sydney studio is a simple reworking of a typical 1970s commercial office-floor. It is a daring move to create an interior working space using only the bones of a high-rise concrete building.

Increasingly it is accepted that spaces conducive to productive activity are open and transparent with plenty of formal and informal meeting spaces, and shared facilities. However these are simply parts of a whole, it is how they are put together that determines the ultimate feel of the space and whether it makes people want to engage in useful activity.

When designing its own studio space in the Sydney Hilton Hotel complex, BVN had the added constraints imposed by a 70s floorplate containing a forest of supporting columns. By removing the cladding from the columns, their size was significantly reduced and the decision to leave the columns as built, even with builders’ penciled notes, provides an authentic level of ‘found’ detail.

The ceiling grid and tiles were removed to reveal all the services and new cable trays were inserted to carry computer and lighting cables, a bit like a large race-track, around the whole ceiling. Lighting is deliberately subdued with each work station having its own task lamp – this creates a softly dappled lighting effect throughout the studio. An elevated timber floor steps upfrom the concrete floor to form a ‘verandah’ along the Pitt Street edge, that includes a kitchen area, window benches, drop down screen and projector, television, free standing meeting tables and chairs, sofas and a Foosball table.

In a true democratization of space, BVN’s Sydney studio consists of one single open-plan floor, with a common “verandah” scoring the best views.

Having completed a trajectory of projects for clients that involved briefs directed at organizational change via spatial innovation – the Campus MLC project in the late 1990s and the Challenger workplace, for example – BVN gave itself the same makeover. As part of a more general shift within the practice toward a focus on innovation, the entire Sydney office finally finds itself on a single level – nirvana if one believes the rhetoric around sociality in the workplace and improved innovation and creative output via informal communication.

Originally set aside pre-GFC to be part of the Challenger fitout above, this entire floor is a skilfully adapted reused B-grade slab block. BVN has ripped the guts out of what was a very ordinary tenanted commercial office space: grey walls, grey ceiling panels, nasty carpet.

Within the remaining large single open space, structural columns – which have been left unclad, their raw concrete covered in a kind of pencil palimpsest of builder’s notes and figures – create smaller “neighbourhoods” out of the blocks of eight- and four-seat workstation clusters. These workstations are kept off the walls, allowing a democratic access to the narrow elegant windows inherited from the facade.

The ceiling has been removed, affording a small extension in height despite the complex of exposed cables. The lighting levels are comfortably low, with uplighting and desk-mounted task lighting. Contrasting with this is the presence of host institution the Hilton Hotel – not only the select views down into the theatre of the hotel lobby, but equally the plush five-star towels in the shower room.

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