The newly designed dMFK office in Fitzrovia hails the post-pandemic return to work in London. The architecture studio, headed by partners Julian de Metz, Paul Forbes and Ben Knight, recently launched its Charlotte Street headquarters, co-created with interiors practice Sher + White. As the team explain, the space exemplifies a fresh take on office interiors, one that draws on the learnings of the global pandemic and addresses the needs of today in the UK capital.
The dMFK office at 76 Charlotte Street
‘Remote working was fraying our nerves, and making us more transactional and less accommodating. Prepandemic, we were social and collaborative. The new office has restored our sense of collaboration, strengthened our teams, and reminded everyone of the pleasure of physically working together. The new design hasn’t so much changed the way we work, rather it’s accommodated the way we want to work, breaking down traditional fixed-desk arrangements and reminding us to engage,’ says de Metz.
The dMFK office’s carefully laid-out open plan, and its glass enclosed former-showroom unit on the ground level of what used to be the home of TV broadcaster Channel 4, is all about openness and interaction – as much as it is about personality. ‘People recognition and value distinctiveness in office design. As designers, nothing is more important than creating the kind of place that, whilst being appropriate to the place and the business, can’t be found anywhere else,’ the architect continues.
Designing the new post-pandemic London office
Working with Sher + White, the architects employed an approach with a residential tinge that balances domestic comfort with the sharpness and conveniences of an office. The goal was to craft an interior that everyone wants to use – an asset aimed at ‘staff wellbeing, retention and attraction of the finest talent’. Solid French oak, bespoke timber joinery, and rusty Corten steel wall panels compose a tactile interior wrapped in warm, calming colors and natural materials. The flowing interior follows a U-shape, and what starts off as an open boardroom-style space effortlessly transforms into rows of hot desks, and a kitchen/dining communal area. There’s visual openness but appropriate separation using clever but simple techniques – smart acoustics, screens, a handful of private booths and a winding floorplan that naturally creates smaller, contained pockets of space.
The team’s secret? We asked dMFK’s Julian de Metz and Sher + White director and architect Gemma White to identify the key elements used in the new dMFK office design that are crucial to consider today, but which were not as prevalent in workspace interiors before the pandemic. Here’s what they said…
Julian deMetz: ‘We’re now used to moving around within our working week, both in and out of the office and through our day. Within the office, options for places to work, from communal tables to private booths, encourage us to vary our environment through the day, depending on our task, maximizing contact with others instead of taking root in one place. We want to maximize contact and collaboration through design. Tech is also an important factor with design businesses running powerful software that often implies fixed desk positions with unsightly computers. We’ve invested in a cloud-based processing solution called ‘Inevidesk’ which allows us to sit wherever, whenever and use discrete, low-powered, local machines.’
Gemma White: ‘The pandemic showed us that the world of work could function online if necessary but also made us miss the valuable and joyful things about face-to-face working. As such, offices need to work hard to compete with home comforts. Individual workspaces and desktop technology need to be adaptable for many different users throughout a given workday. ‘
JdM: ‘In our homes, we’re used to a comfortable, soft, private acoustic quality. This came into sharp focus when we came back to the office. Working near other people, you want acoustically absorbent space where conversations don’t carry. We design and select soft, absorbent surfaces and furnishings aiming to avoid flat, sheet materials and to use specialist products such as SonaSpray on ceilings, which give spaces a soft acoustic quality that significantly improves concentration and productivity.’
GW: ‘The pandemic necessitated at-distance communication and in order to maintain visual contact, video calling was the only option. The impact [of video calling] on acoustics can be dramatic and an office environment can become tiring and distracting. Greater prevalence of video communication has been a real cue for workspace design acoustics to be improved, resulting in a real sense of calm in the office. In addition, specific acoustically deadened areas have been designed to encourage people to move from their desks while making video calls.’
GW: ‘Warm, non-commercial feeling finishes that focus on comfort and approachability are more important than ever.’
JdM: ‘Offices with fantastic amenities, great bike storage, showers, changing, social space, and great local options for eating and socializing are the ones that are attracting people back. We have more staff cycling, visiting local gyms, [and] eating out well than ever before.’
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