Finding new purposes for old spaces


The project at a glance:
  • Repurposing of two former light industrial buildings to create a modern new headquarters 
  • Office consolidates teams, departments and staff from several locations within a single site
  • Maximum re-use of buildings’ original structure & systems to reduce construction waste
  • New open-plan interiors designed to foster collaborative, creative working;
    core of the building is an innovative, highly visible ‘Idea Hub’
  • 2015 winner of AIA HK Merit Award for Interiors & AIA IR Merit Award for Interior Architecture
Finding new purposes for old spaces section
Finding new purposes for old spaces section

 Project Origins

The time has come for arvato to envision a brand new Shanghai headquarters. It was to be a space with a loft-like character, and the vibrancy of a modern creative agency office.

The need to consolidate arvato’s Shanghai-area employees into a new headquarters emerged as the company’s growth outstripped the ability of its various facilities to attract, retain and accommodate the young knowledge workers essential to its business.

Finding new purposes for old spaces section

Relocating to an existing office building was not an option, as arvato – a division of Bertelsmann specialised in digital marketing, customer relationship and supply chain management, and financial and IT services - was convinced of the collaborative and flexibility advantages of seating their teams within large, open spaces.

Looking at the lofty interior architecture of arvato Shanghai, it is hard to imagine it was ever anything different. But until recently, this striking new office was actually two old buildings, originally designed for light industrial and warehousing use. 

The truly amazing thing is just how much of the ‘old warehouse’ actually survived this dramatic transformation, as virtually all its ‘old bones’ have been retained and are being re-used for an entirely new purpose.

Finding new purposes for old spaces section

Repurposing becomes the answer

The project team began its involvement at the earliest possible stage. Rather than attempting to make an office feel more like a loft, the new headquarters would be created by essentially taking the opposite tack: it would fuse two ‘big empty boxes’ into one, and then give it the characteristics of an office.

Because the same team that would eventually design, engineer and construct the headquarters had already thoroughly evaluated the buildings, there were no surprises when the project delivery began. 

Finding new purposes for old spaces section

Creativity breeds creativity

For arvato and the project team, the inherent characteristics of the repurposed building would go beyond sustainability or simple functionality. The project would succeed because it “celebrates existing structures by re-using them in creative ways, in turn generating yet more creativity,” said Nabil Sabet, head of M Moser Shanghai.

There is a lot of meaning in this building. That’s the thing about repurposing existing structures. You can find ways to give them a second life that really works. In this case, it does: the users love it and they’re really proud of their space.” said Sabet.

Finding new purposes for old spaces section

Finding new purposes for old spaces

The greatest challenge was not melding the two buildings into one. As the two properties were connected, only an intervening wall had to be demolished to create a single large interior.

However, that interior did not meet arvato’s needs The original buildings had been constructed in several distinct phases, each with their own structural variations, column sizes and patterns. Planning within the resulting irregular spaces was a painstaking task.

A further challenge was to create a suitable entrance to the building, as the rezoning plan stipulated the ground floor was reserved for parking. The solution was found in yet another adjacent building, which featured a small portion of its rentable area at ground level. The walls and slabs in between were broken to connect the space with the rest of the building.

Finding new purposes for old spaces section

Sustainable from the start

Using an existing building as a starting point contributed to the project’s inherent sustainability. The finished building retains the structure’s original roof, floor slabs, interior staircases, masonry walls and much of its electrical and plumbing infrastructure. This minimised the need for new materials and significantly reduced the amount of waste generated in its construction and fit-out.

Some of the buildings’ original structure lent itself to the creation of distinctive ‘pop-up’ meeting rooms that look down on the atrium. Clad largely in transparent glass, they offer users an excellent view of the activities in the work areas below.

Finding new purposes for old spaces section

The result

As arvato envisioned, the finished building is designed around a creative core, in the form of an ‘Idea Hub’. Dramatically lit via newly installed skylights, it offers brainstormers the tools they need, including smart display screens and pinnable chalkboards, to generate and execute ideas.

For Sabet, what the ‘Idea Hub’ symbolises is almost as important as what it actually does: “You can see it from everywhere else in the building, the whole office is connected to it. That’s probably the most profound feature of the project: idea generation and creativity are at the heart of the building.”

  • Status Completed
  • Area 81,667 sq-ft
  • Completion date 2015
  • Location Shanghai
  • Sustainability LEED
  • Awards

    AIA International Region Design Awards 2015 - Merit Award for Interior Architecture

    AIA Hong Kong Honors & Awards 2015 - Merit Award for Interiors


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If you are interested in working with us, have a look at our careers page.


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