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The Surrey building making a strong first impression

A showstopper reception by design studio O-negativ sets the tone for big business with a dramatic metallic reception desk

A modern business knows that a modern worker demands the exceptional. They hunt for a job they can be proud of and each box must be ticked: the work itself, the office culture and the workspace. Revealed in spring 2018, the new design for Unit 2 at Guildford Business Park is mighty, which seems appropriate as the space aims to attract the strong-willed and those who are not easily intimidated. The building stands to challenge the concept of a traditional office layout in a location that is already home to big names such as Philips, Ericsson and Colgate.

The original shell of the building was stripped back to the frame and remodelled by architect TP Bennett. As for the interior, Guildford Business Park was looking for something fresh so it picked London-based visualisation studio O-negativ to bring it to life. The studio’s managing director, Rati Supavasuth, led the project and added new depths using his experience in visualisation: “We didn’t see the space in person until after I designed it. I had five days to turn it around.”

Following the win, O-negativ was in charge of transforming the reception, mezzanine and show suite of the building – in other words the aspects that bear the important task of introducing the space to a visitor upon arrival. As Supavasuth explains, the essence of the place had to be encapsulated and presented within the first few steps of someone walking through the door: “The TP Bennett design was commercial but for the interior the client was looking for something sharper with a more boutique feel. We didn’t want it to even resemble an office space.”

For this particular project, the communal areas were of the highest priority. With the ever-increasing blurring of boundaries between work and life and the importance of soft furnishing in the workplace, these informal spaces were key to help teams relax, brainstorm and socialise. The first floor even boasts a roof terrace that overlooks the entire town – a perfect addition for those seeking a shot of inspiration during the working day in the grey suburbs of Surrey. For Supavasuth, this was important: “I spend around 70-80% of my life in the office. People want to feel proud of where they work. All companies need to attract young talent, so it’s important to have a cool office.”

The double ceiling space stands at 6.5m so there was plenty to play with above eye level. The large reception area sits under a balcony with a mezzanine overlooking the entrance. Those walking in feel on show, which seems apt for a space that demands immediate attention from the first glance.

“First impressions are important, so we made it striking with a lot of visible contrasts,” explains Supavasuth, whose carefully curated selection of materials is all about contrast. Indeed, the studio went for an off-white wall, black-stained timber and concrete floor, while the tan leather, copper and living wall were picked over manmade materials for a natural – and therefore timeless – finish.

Originally, the studio considered commissioning a piece of artwork, but to avoid dividing opinions, they chose an organic display of leaves instead. The plants themselves are not too dense so they don’t detract from the copper desk but gently contrast with it. Of course, many studies have shown that plants ease stress in the workplace and have become a sought-after interior accessory for many millennials.

Supavasuth decided to retain a lot of the old features such as the timber, which would also help with the acoustics. Instead of using an oak finish that would be drowned by the sheer size of the place, the designers stained the timber to give it a moody, sophisticated feel. Then a rich American walnut was chosen to bounce off the copper reception’s red hues.

An unusual curved capsule shape, the welcome desk turns heads immediately. “It started as round, then we dropped one side of it to make it work for wheelchairs,” he explains, an example of form and function that work in unison. As for colours, he states: “We didn’t want to inject strong colours to risk the palette looking dated, so we chose materials that hold colour in them naturally.”

The lighting, according to Supavasuth, was complex, as there were a lot of strip lights on the ceiling in random locations: “We wanted the ground floor to be powerful so we avoided making the lighting the centre of attention.” In order to implement this idea, the MD incorporated linear slots and pendant lights to draw the eye to the area: “Instead of making it complicated I decided to simplify it.” Through this, the warm light highlights the matt copper softly rather than causing harsh, flashing glare.

The tenant board signage was tricky, Supavasuth explains, as he wanted to experiment with the traditional format but still had to respect its purpose: “Instead of merely using a clear pane of glass with letters stuck on top, which would make the outside light reflect too much, we chose to use a polaris matt laminate.” The material is scratch proof, soft and has a leather feel, meaning it acts as a centrepiece that blends in with the overall sharp look of the space: “We wanted the signage to stand out without being garish. The slight difference in colour is subtle and is revealed between the slats. This way, as well as a sign, it also serves as a feature wall.”

According to Supavasuth, the project has been a huge success: “The client had faith in our vision, so they didn’t change anything.” Through his visualisation work, he could picture something loosely abstract and develop it into a solid, accurate framework: “It was easy for us to build something in 3D and imagine what it would look like. Apparently it was one of the few projects where the final product looked identical to the CGI.”

Most importantly, the whole space is centered around the communal. Seating areas encourage socialising, the balcony and roof terrace perhaps metaphors for the dizzying heights of success, while a concern for acoustics shows that teamwork is welcome in this open environment. Silence may be golden, but perhaps, for Guildford Business Park, collaboration is copper.

Credit: OnOffice Magazine