Leo Burnett
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Leo Burnett

Interior Designer:
WHO design
Marcus Clinton

futuristic vision of a subterranean worker's city in his 1926 film Metropolis. Here at Leo Burnett Conaghan & May's new Sydney headquarters on McMahons Point's bustling Blues Point Road, however, the fantasy is not so dark. In these interiors, by Whittaker Hadenham Openshaw, there is no division between the elite and the workers as depicted in Lang's film. Instead, there is continuity and connectedness - a vision of a more enlightened working future.

In a bid to move away from its existing corporate image, the advertising heavy weights took W.H.0 on board to infuse its creative think-tank with energy. Enhancing staff communication and interaction, while accommodating private work areas for different teams, were high on the list of priorities.

W.H.0, established eight years ago, has thus far completed 500,000m2 of commercial fit-outs, including the foreign exchange services store for American Express at the Museum of Contemporary Art and The Healthclub at No. 1 Martin Place. For this project, W.H.0 responded by taking into consideration changes in technology, strategies to enhance productivity in the workplace and the need for space and light. Three key areas were identified and defined within the project: namely entry, common areas and workstations.

"The project is not just a pretty thing to look at, it's functioning effectively for the company - which is not an easy thing to achieve," says David Whittaker, creative partner at W.H.O. "It helps them maintain their creativity and, as a result, we feel we've got it right."

The factory shell of a 1970s three-floor concrete-framed prosthetic (artificial limb) factory provided the basis for the 15OOm2 open office layout. The building, which had minimal light penetration, was gutted, cleaned and stripped to its industrial core. The facade was deliberately opened to the street to connect the building with the activity of the outside world. A wall of glass at reception level allows passersby to look in and visitors out. Up here, the feeling is of being suspended in mid-air. The high-ceiling reception area, with a wall dedicated to ever-changing art or photography, is lined with snowy leather ottomans. Upon entry, there's a palpable buzz in the air. One gets the impression employees are an integral part of the building rather than being starchily removed from it.

The original warehouse layout of the shell directly influenced W.H.Os decision to expose and centralise, rather than conceal, office services such as stairwells, tearooms and bathrooms. In turn, the building's core 11UW dL;Ls as an activity hub, filled with casual meeting places and constant movement, Overhead skylights and voids cut through the centre of the building to bring in natural light.

According to Whittaker: "The layout is deliberately low-key, the people provide the chaos."

The result is a commercial space which is human, alive and materially honest - a simple layout with some quirky twists (no pun intended regarding the "dip").

Two open staircases, one at each end of the building, facilitate movement between the three floors, with the slippery dip as design feat and novel descent in between. Along the corridors, which follow a "street grid" layout, graphic panels bearing designs by employees provide visual stimulation, yet don't interfere. They are changed intermittently.

"We wanted to make it look like the clients and workers could move stuff around and not let it be too controlled. Changing the graphic panels changes the whole look of the fit-out and we're excited by that," says Whittaker, "We like to have fun with our work, but we're also serious about it."

Throughout, raw materials such as waste timber, steel, goat's hair carpet, natural linen, black cork and glass further preserve the building's integrity, Plants in planter boxes peep over the top of the graphic panels.

Floor finishes rather than walls help define the different zones: a new colour carpet for each work zone and polished concrete for all common corridors clearly assists way-finding through the office. Similarly, existing concrete support columns are uplit, enhancing the walkway around the internal void and again defining the work areas. The columns also serve to provide a point for power, communications access and as "bookends" for the workplace furniture.

The more formal glass box meeting rooms with massive steel-framed sliding doors borrow from the simplicity of Japanese architecture. Having the rooms below full height maintains spatial continuity, preserving the warehouse qualities of the building.

Upstairs, the top bar which doubles as break-out room has views of the Harbour Bridge and Anzac Bridge - a view surely lost on the arms and legs of the prosthetic factory. If you peer down the side of the building, a glass panel both moves the facade out slightly and creates a tunnel of light which, like the slippery dip, creates a connectedness and breathes life into the building.

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