There was more than the design of a single office at stake when Mead Johnson faced the task of relocating its Guangzhou headquarters to the Grade A HNA building in the city's CBD. As well as providing much-needed room for expansion and a more modern and capable engineering infrastructure, the new office would establish a design template for others in the region - including the firm's workplaces in Shenzhen and Taiwan - to follow.
Creating a brand-enhancing architecture
For the M Moser Guangzhou team, the irregular floor plate of the two-level, 1,020 sq-m space selected by the client called for some interesting challenges in efficiently planning the design. Of particular concern was the inadequate connection between the two floors - a problem solved by the designers punching through a substantial semi-circular full-height void containing a curved staircase.
The curves of this visual centrepiece would be very much in keeping with the aesthetic syntax which evolved for the space. "Working with Mead Johnson, we created a design theme with a basis in 'nature' - so there are very few sharp angles or straight lines in the design," recalls Joe Ho, M Moser's Deputy Head of Guangzhou and Shenzhen Offices. "That, along with a subdued, earthy but light colour palette, would give the workplace a warm, unintimidating, approachable atmosphere in keeping with Mead Johnson's infant nutrition business."
To unify the office's two levels, the designers punched through the floorplate to create a gracefully arcing staircase
Getting the best from the floor plate
For the back of house areas, the designers worked to reconcile the client's need for an open-plan environment with the characteristics of the floor plate and alignment of the building itself. "On the south side were some good views, and we gave them two proposals - one with the managers' rooms along the windows, and one with them around the core. In the end, they opted for the latter scheme so that everyone could share the view," Ho explains.
Upon entering the space, visitors are welcomed into a reception area whose combination of openness, gentle contours and warm materials sets the tone for what's to come. At front of a centre is a uniquely soft-edged reception desk whose underlit form is reminiscent of a bowl. To the right is a seating area placed on a raised semi-circular timber platform. The same semi-circular form is echoed above in a ceiling comprising timber fins, with the material also being used to partially clad the wall behind. "Also along the reception wall is a horizontal graphic strip. The artwork of healthy, happy children was settled on via a staff competition," Ho says.
A curved floor-to-ceiling transparent glass wall provides physical separation between reception and the rest of the office. Behind it, the sweep of the reception area's seating platform continues, providing a place for an open multipurpose break-out area equipped with cube-like stools, café tables and bench seats. Just beyond it is an open-plan work area with Y-plan workstations. "Previously, the client had used L-shaped workstations, so this was something very different for them," Ho observes. "We settled on these because they more fully exploited the collaborative, team-building potential of the open-plan environment. They also blend in well with the space's curved character."
Looking upward & outward
A floor covered in soft, earth-tones geometric carpeting brings one to the foot of the staircase. Arcing gracefully upwards, the outward simplicity of its architecture belies the substantial calculation required to optimally place its foot adjacent to a structural column, and its head at an apex of an oval hole in the upper floor plate.
The back-of-house aesthetic is simple and welcoming, combining extensive glazing, an open-plan layout and clusters of Y-shaped workstations to provide a flowing, collaborative work atmosphere
Upstairs, the aesthetic is simpler, but no less welcoming, with the space's extensive glazing and open-plan layout drawing the eye outward to the excellent outside views. Clusters of Y-shaped workstations provide the only delineation between operational groups. Managers meanwhile are accommodated in glass-fronted offices wrapped around the building core. "In terms of materials, we avoided metals and glass and other 'hard' looking surfaces," Ho relates. All the doors are bamboo, for example, and there are a lot of plants in the office."
As Ho adds, the design was pleasing enough to Mead Johnson's Guangzhou team that it has since been repeated, in essence, elsewhere in the firm's regional network. "After we finished this office, they used us again for Taiwan and Shenzhen. Guangzhou became a design template for them."