Balancing creative inspiration and comfort in a fast-paced environment

JWT,
Shanghai

The primary goal for JWT’s redesign and renovation of the firm’s 1,680 square meters office was to achieve an ‘architecture of creativity’ that supports and encourage a working culture personified by fluid, spontaneous collaborations and open expressions.

It must create a strong impression, because, after all, the world-renowned marketing communications agency is all about generating and conveying ideas that resonate in the hearts and minds of their clients’ target audience.

Balancing creative inspiration and comfort in a fast-paced environment section
Balancing creative inspiration and comfort in a fast-paced environment section

On a practical level, the old office had 120-degree office system furniture with partitions, which stopped people from communicating with each other. It compelled you to sit down and stay put. For a creative agency like us, that can be very limiting,” said Yang Yeo, Chief Creative Officer of JWT Shanghai, while explaining the motives behind the project.

We were also finding that our people tended to go outside to do their work, to places that were more inspirational. More often than not, they would end up in cafes near the office. That led us to the idea of creating an equally comfortable and inspiring environment right here.”

An integrated approach to fulfilling a vision

Yeo and the JWT team pushed their imaginations to the limit to find a concept that would fit the bill, eventually emerging with a vision they termed “food for thought”. “We defined the concept as a creative space that stimulates and feeds the mind,” said Yeo. In a sense, instead of sending people to cafés for inspiration, their office would be redesigned to bring the café to them.

M Moser Associates was perceived as an ideal partner for this task. “Over the last 15 years or so, M Moser has worked with JWT in several office renovations in China,” said Yeo. “We have always found that their integrated approach to projects makes them very easy to work with – communication with the design team is very easy, their responses are fast, and everybody always stays on the same page.”

Balancing creative inspiration and comfort in a fast-paced environment section
Balancing creative inspiration and comfort in a fast-paced environment section

A continuous dialogue between JWT and M Moser’s space planners, designers, engineers and construction specialists enabled the team to quickly flesh out a plan that would realise the concept whilst conforming to the project’s budget and time constraints.

Just as importantly, the team also generated a phased implementation scheme to allow the office to continue operating even as renovations were underway.

Food for thought’ – served by design

The centre piece of the revitalised office is an expanded bamboo-floored reception zone that is a near-literal expression of the “food for thought” concept. An initial clue is provided by the reception desk, whose considerable length and glazed ‘showcase’ compartment bring to mind a cafeteria service counter.

The objects displayed inside won’t necessarily be food. The idea is to keep staff and visitors entertained and informed at the same time, so the display will change regularly. Right now there’s fake food, but down the road it may be pie-charts of statistics about China, or an exhibition of artworks done by our staff,” said Yeo.

Balancing creative inspiration and comfort in a fast-paced environment section
Balancing creative inspiration and comfort in a fast-paced environment section

Complementing the showcase is a bookcase of trophies stretching across the entire backing wall. Up above, an exposed ceiling adds a hint of industrial flavour to the space while maximising headroom. Below, a scattering of seating arrangements including simple picnic-like tables, benches and circular café tables with ornate, post-modern chairs, reinforces the relaxed, eclectic café ambience.

Most of this space is dual- or multi-function,” said Yeo. “Previously it was just a reception area, but what we have now is a large reception area that doubles as a ‘town hall’ meeting area or party area. It’s a very casual and natural space for people to get together.”

Balancing creative inspiration and comfort in a fast-paced environment section

Reception flows directly into the office’s work area, the transition marked only with a change from bamboo to carpet flooring and the presence of five enclosed meeting, conference and manager’s spaces.

The frontage of the latter appears as a near-continuous curve of scarlet and transparent glass walls, sweeping around one outer-corner of the doughnut-shaped floor plate.

In spite of their newish appearance, these rooms, like the enclosed spaces found elsewhere around the floor, are actually holdovers from the original interior, economically updated with new furniture, wallpapers and fixtures.

Work areas: team-centric but open

The work area is itself open-plan and continuous, with staff seated at long, dining table-like bench workstations made of Chinese oak. Interspersed between each pair or, in one instance, quartet of benches is a parallel cabinet unit.

The arrangement has a number of important functional advantages, and provides the visual rhythm needed to prevent the open space from looking “like a factory floor”: “The benches cater to our operational structure, which is based on teams of up to 15 people each. But we didn’t want too many teams occupying a single large space, so we interposed cabinets between them to provide a bit of privacy,” said Yeo.

Balancing creative inspiration and comfort in a fast-paced environment section
Balancing creative inspiration and comfort in a fast-paced environment section

At the same time, they’re low-profile enough that they don’t seal any team off from the rest of the agency. You can stand up and see over them and talk over top of them. They don’t stop the light coming through the office either.”

For Yeo as well as M Moser, the final verdict on JWT Shanghai’s space belongs to the people who use it every day – and by this measure, the renovation has succeeded both functionally and as a catalyst to inspiration. As Yeo said with some satisfaction: “I walked in with a client once, and they remarked that it was a space belonging to an agency that was enjoying itself.”

 

Balancing creative inspiration and comfort in a fast-paced environment section
  • Area 18,083 sq-ft
  • Completion date 2011
  • Location Shanghai

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