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Community in Practice: How Design Translates Culture into Place

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In the third instalment of our series exploring the role of design in nurturing vibrant workplace communities, in collaboration with WORKTECH Academy, we dive into four recent projects by Area, examining how cultural values are translated into physical environments fostering purpose, meaning, and belonging.

As the era of hybrid working gains momentum and the return to the office proves to be less straightforward than many anticipated, organisations universally aim to establish spaces with shared values where people feel they belong.

In this context, spatial and interior design has a vital role to play in bridging the gap between the cultural fabric of organisations and the physical communities they aspire to create.

In the first article in this series, we delved into a half-day creative workshop attended by teams from various departments within Area, as well as from across the Fourfront Group, including Sketch Studios and 360 Workplace. This session revealed a complex interwoven relationship between fostering workplace culture and cultivating a sense of community. It demonstrated the extent to which cultural values help shape how communities operate and behave – and how design for community can make culture visible.

Continuing our exploration, our second article focuses on the art of designing for various types of organisational behaviour, employing the 'four cultures' model (compete, control, create and collaborate) developed by Kim Cameron and Robert Quinn at the esteemed University of Michigan. Almost 90 percent of organisations worldwide can be neatly classified within one or more of these cultural archetypes.

Now, in this third instalment, we shift focus from theory to practice, examining four of Area's projects where design strategically constructs community, reflecting underlying cultural values.

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Lenovo Farnborough: Aviation Theme Signals Innovation

Situated within Farnborough Business Park and overlooking the bustling Farnborough Airport, Lenovo's UK headquarters embodies an ethos of openness and collaboration. Designed to mirror the themes of flight and innovation in an aviation-centric environment, the space serves as a tangible expression of the core values of a global technology leader.

Eager to adapt to the shifting needs of their workforce in the wake of the pandemic, Lenovo sought to infuse the office environment with the visual metaphor of aviation, symbolising progress and modernity. This motif, woven seamlessly throughout various facets of the workplace, fosters a sense of unity and forward momentum.

Lenovo's distinctive brand identity finds expression in the vibrant colour palette, while a strong commitment to sustainability underlines the choice of carbon-reduction measures and recycled furnishings, further cultivating a values-driven community.

The architectural layout initially posed a challenge, with employees dispersed between a western and eastern wing, risking team segregation. To promote cross-team collaboration, Area strategically positioned amenities such as a spacious tea point in one wing and a smaller refreshment area in the other, alongside a print zone exclusive to one wing. This deliberate arrangement encourages organic movement between the wings, facilitating chance encounters that spark collaboration and creativity, highlighting the impact of thoughtful design decisions in fostering community cohesion.

Building upon the success of this project, Area has since embarked on the design and delivery of a Paris office for Lenovo, further cementing the partnership between design and innovation.

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Convex London: Designing for Continuous Growth

When the rapidly expanding insurance company Convex outgrew its flexible office space, it turned to Area to create a permanent home in the heart of London. Selecting the prestigious Scalpel Building, designed by Kohn Pedersen Fox, as its new location, Convex embarked on a journey of transformation.

Developed since 2019, the project now spans five floors, seamlessly blending a control-oriented operational centre on the lower levels with inviting client spaces on the upper floors. Meticulously crafted, these spaces offer an immersive client and broker experience, complete with panoramic views of the iconic landmarks of the City of London. Explore the Convex London case study here.

This project combines diverse operational needs and cultural values into a unified workplace experience. Reflecting Convex's commitment to environmental responsibility, the design incorporates eco-friendly materials such as timber, biophilic elements, and sustainable furniture solutions.

Central to this effort is the notion of design as a catalyst for fostering a flexible and responsive workplace community – one that continuously grows and evolves. Area's collaboration with Convex extends beyond London, including their offices in Luxembourg and Bermuda.

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Causeway Technologies Liverpool: A Contemporary Collaboration

Nestled within the premises of a former smalt works on Wirral Waters, the new workplace for Causeway Technologies celebrates the industrial heritage of its site and its proximity to the vibrant city of Liverpool. It fosters a collaborative community imbued with a distinct sense of place identity.

The project integrates state-of-the-art interactive technology with modern design principles, breathing life into key cultural values such as creativity and collaboration. At its heart lies a dynamic central area, featuring versatile spaces designed to stimulate interaction and teamwork. Meeting rooms pay homage to local heroes, while captivating artworks encapsulate the essence of Liverpudlian life.

Biophilic design elements and high acoustic comfort reinforce the notion that this is a forward-thinking community ready for the future, rooted in human connection and productivity, despite being situated on a site steeped in history. The deep blue cobalt hue, echoing the site’s historical significance, serves as a unifying thread throughout the space.

Following the success of this project, Area has extended its collaboration with Causeway Technologies by designing and delivering their office in Paris in early 2024.

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Gen Two Cambridge: Transforming Lab Spaces with Precision

In response to the expanding biotech industry's needs in Cambridge, Gen Two Real Estate embarked on a project to deliver top-tier laboratory facilities. Unlike traditional workplaces, the focus here was on creating a hub for science and innovation tailored to meet specific client requirements.

The project posed significant technical challenges, involving the conversion of a two-storey warehouse previously used by a media company into a cutting-edge laboratory complex. This transformation demanded meticulous attention to detail, including upgrades to power infrastructure, installation of generators, and spatial adjustments to optimise functionality.

Anticipating the unique demands of the scientific community, extensive planning was essential to ensure seamless integration of facilities. This work paid dividends when Constructive Bio, a new tenant, required a swift transition to a bespoke facility tailored to its precise needs. The result was a flawless adaptation, culminating in a carefully organised clinical environment conducive to innovation for the Constructive Bio team and its collaborators.

Purposeful Communities

What we see from this snapshot of four Area projects is the profound impact of purposeful workplace communities, crafted at various scales and with diverse characteristics, through strategic design that expresses and enhances cultural values.

Lenovo’s aviation-centric HQ fosters a collaborative ethos centred on technology and innovation. Meanwhile, Convex demonstrates a remarkable ability to balance a culture of continual growth and adaptation within its office in London. Causeway Technologies cultivates a vibrant creative hub within a heritage industrial site, while Gen Two in Cambridge meticulously tailors scientific criteria to support biotech scientists within their laboratory spaces.

In each case, we find a complex interplay between culture and design, culminating in communities that not only survive – but thrive. Stephen Higgins, EMEA Director of Real Estate at Lenovo, explains ‘the fantastic work by Area in designing and delivering our space gives us a sense of purpose and belonging.’

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