Focus: Case Studies


We look at four recently completed workplaces – from London and Reading, to New York, Moscow and Paris


Case Study: Brand Container

The new London HQ for advertising company Havas is a creative engine that has used a vertical village to fuel the imagination of, and collaboration between, its people.

Walking into 3 Pancras Square, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d wandered into a boutique hotel. Low lighting, comfy leather sofas, distressed antique rugs, huge vases of flowers, and a discreet concierge on standby. Only the centrepiece industrial staircase, carved into a map of London, slicing through the first two floors of the 10-storey structure, suggests that the building might be more about collaboration than kipping.

The Skypark on level 8 includes an auditorium where TED-style talks regularly take place, which opens through bifold doors to a huge terrace, bringing the outside inThe Skypark on level 8 includes an auditorium where TED-style talks regularly take place, which opens through bifold doors to a huge terrace, bringing the outside in

The building in the heart of revitalised King’s Cross is the new home of global advertising company Havas, and the result of the consolidation of the organisation’s 10 sites across the capital into one base for its 26 brands. The boutique-hotel ambience is deliberate, explains Sean Hatcher, design director at MCM Architecture, which conceived the space. The brief from Havas CEO Yannick Bollore was ‘to create the most exciting agency space in London, full of innovation and creativity’.

Village green

While the hotel vibe permeates throughout the 10-storey building that overlooks the trendy Granary Square, it is the creation of a vertical village that Hatcher is most proud of, and which arguably won the practice the work in a highly competitive tender process.

The HKS kitchen is very much the heart of the building and is used outside of core eating hours for informal meetingsThe HKX kitchen is very much the heart of the building and is used outside of core eating hours for informal meetings

The traditional village green, surrounded by the butcher, post office, pub and houses, is the hub of every English village. Hatcher and his team took that concept and literally turned it on its head, creating a vertical village through the centre of the building. All the collaborative areas, known as civic spaces, are in the core of the structure, linked together by 15 staircases that dance throughout the space. Imagine Santorini with the houses hanging off the cliff, or the favelas of Brazil, with different areas at different heights linked by winding lanes and beautiful connecting spaces and that’s the HKX (Havas King’s Cross) building. Except, more beautiful.

There was a risk, Hatcher acknowledges, that the company would move from 10 disparate buildings and simply maintain that silo approach across 10 separate floors.

To ensure movement and collaboration between the different parts of the business, these staircases twist in a way that is about collision and dynamism, ensuring people bump into each other and collaborate, creating connections and sparking creativity throughout the building.

The heavy industrial material mixes seamlessly with the soft velvets on the numerous sofasThe heavy industrial material mixes seamlessly with the soft velvets on the numerous sofas

The area’s industrial heritage is evident throughout the space, with Hatcher comparing the metal staircases to pistons driving people up and down through the building. ‘We have a creative container, and the staircases push creativity up and down the building, far more so than the lifts,’ he says. The exposed mechanical and electrical pipes on the ceiling of the desk areas and the raw concrete in the lift lobbies is complemented by the reclaimed wood floors in the lifts from nearby Moorfield Eye Hospital.

This is a building of juxtapositions. The heavy industrial material mixes seamlessly with the soft velvets on the numerous sofas and the luxurious deep carpets on the 10th floor. The buzzing, open-plan floorplates complement the quiet luxury of the civic areas. Snooker and ping pong tables sit alongside quiet booths. Graffiti rubs shoulders with beautiful bird murals. The beautifully designed space is also being gradually curated by staff who are adding personal touches such as giant HKX letters infused with light bulbs. Security, confidentiality and privacy are perfectly blended with a transparent, open culture.

This is a building of juxtapositions. Graffiti rubs shoulders with beautiful bird muralsThis is a building of juxtapositions. Graffiti rubs shoulders with beautiful bird murals

Clients can access all the civic spaces and soak up the buzz from the working areas through huge glass panels without accessing them. ‘It’s about subtle layers and thresholds of security rather than turnstiles,’ says Hatcher. King’s Cross was an obvious choice, both because of the transport links (including the all-important Eurostar to Havas HQ in Paris) and because the area is already a hub of creativity with Central St Martins a neighbour in Granary Square and Google spitting distance away.

A partnership approach

The interior fit out was incredibly fast: £25m spent in just 25 weeks, with Havas moving into the building in January this year. This was helped by MCM working with the developer Argent before the building had even come out of the ground and making substantial changes to the planning permission to meet the Havas brief. This saved considerable amount of both money and time as MCM and the main contractor StructureTone didn’t have to change an existing building. Although each floor feels completely different from the next, the building is, in fact, a kit of parts, which also speeded up the fit-out.

The building provides numerous places for individual contemplative work and team discussionsThe building provides numerous places for individual contemplative work and team discussions

In advance of the design creation, MCM undertook a detailed analysis of how people were using their current workplace, some of which were a little tired, and interviewed all the team heads to understand their aspirations for the new space. The design team created a document which distilled that into what has become HKX.

The top three floors on one side of the building are ‘together spaces’ and pitch rooms. The Skypark on level 8 includes an auditorium (think tiered wood rather than clumsy flip chairs) where TED-style talks regularly take place, which opens through bifold doors onto a huge terrace, bringing the outside in. The 10th floor is an immersive space for pitch presentations. The stunning views can be closed off with the soft-grey curtains, fully submerging the audience into whatever environment is needed. Flexible meeting spaces that can be opened up for a major presentation or made intimate for smaller gatherings are supported by a bar, AV walls and writable surfaces.

Agile ready

There are 1,600 people in HKX working on a 1:1 desk ratio, but it is also what Hatcher describes as ‘agile ready’ with the IT infrastructure enabling people to work anywhere and lockers and storage facilities to support for the next generation of working. ‘The company is so fluid and dynamic, they don’t know what their employee numbers will be next year, let alone in five years; so, it’s essential that the building can support change,’ he says.

The transition to agile working will be smooth. Already people work all over the building. On the day FX visited, the cafe was busy with people clustered around the mix of tables, from traditional bistro style to more modern benching, drawn together by the barista coffee that fuels the building. The four-to-six-person booths dotted throughout the structure are also incredibly popular, although typically occupied by one person seeking acoustic privacy in a building where the buzz could feel overpowering.

The HKS building is fuelled by coffeeThe HKX building is fuelled by coffee

Not everything went right first time. Hatcher is refreshingly honest about some of the mistakes including the studio designed for the creation of digital content, which had to be reworked. But the building is also being continuously modified. When FX visited, the studio was being rebuilt after it had been demolished to make way for a major client pitch. This is a living design that constantly evolves as the business changes.

That the feedback from the staff has been overwhelmingly positive is unsurprising. It’s hard to imagine a more creative space to fight the war for talent with. But the proof must always be in the business benefit. Havas has won a host of new business since it started bringing prospective clients to the space in January, including the global integrated advertising account for Rolls-Royce. ‘This building has helped to change the market’s perception of Havas in the UK,’ says Hatcher. And it’s also changed the perception of what’s possible in a creative organisation setting the bar for its competitors

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