FORBO FLOORING SYSTEMS HIGHLIGHT:
This section of ArchIdea features a selected project in which the floor is the hero of the issue. It demonstrates how Forbo Flooring Systems can complement the design of a building.
MATERIALS THAT SPEAK FOR THEMSELVES – AND TO ONE ANOTHER
WHAT USE IS ARCHITECTURE IN A VACUUM? AN ARCHITECTURAL DESIGN NEEDS A CONTEXT IN WHICH IT BELONGS, A CONTEXT THAT HELPS POINT A DIRECTION FOR THE DESIGN. YOU CAN REGARD ARCHITECTURE AS MEDIATING BETWEEN THE REALIZATION OF A PROGRAMME AND THE SURROUNDINGS IN WHICH THE PROGRAMME MUST TAKE PLACE. BUT WHAT REMAINS FOR AN ARCHITECT TO RESPOND TO, IF THE CONTEXT OF THE DESIGN IS STILL UNKNOWN? WHAT CAN YOU DO IF IT IS SO INTANGIBLE THAT IT IS PRACTICALLY IMPOSSIBLE TO ESTABLISH A DIALOGUE?
The task of designing Bureau, in the Design District of Greenwich in south-east London, challenged the architect Roz Barr with a succession of uncertainties. The least of these problems could be put down to the constantly changing groups of freelancers, start-ups and young entrepreneurs in the creative industries for whom the Bureau workspaces had to be created. A substantial degree of flexibility was needed all the same, with a supple organization and outfitting of microstudios, meeting rooms, soundproof video conference suites and lounges, as well as hot-desking facilities which could be rented out long as needed. Bureau – such was the resolve of Barr and the Design District director, Helen Arvanitakis – would testify to a vision of the office of the future, and would cope with the varied configurations of people working in an office.
A more serious complication was due to two separate buildings sharing the same name, Bureau. They constituted the core of the Design District but they were not yet built when the assignment was issued and they existed only on paper. The physical and spatial manifestation of the two buildings could only be guessed at. As for interior design, it presented a shaky basis for a fruitful dialogue. Not only did Bureau not exist yet, but the whole Design District was in the throes of development.
Meanwhile, some young, promising architecture firms have designed office buildings right next to the acclaimed Millennium Dome, thereby boisterously purporting that this is where it all happens, a model of the swinging future, while it was not long since the Greenwich peninsula on the bank of the Thames was largely disparaged as a desolate, post-industrial landscape. Absent too was any significant basis for a design, let alone a possibility of inspiration.
Another uncertainty ensued from Barr winning the Design District competition simultaneously with the COVID-19 outbreak. Suddenly she found herself compelled to work from home, while the discussions were all online and the design process hung increasingly up in the air. The COVID crisis moreover impinged precisely on the task of designing future-proof workspaces. Unlikely as it may now seem, it was only a short while ago that people seriously doubted whether going to the office would ever be possible again – an inconvenient, almost futile time to think about innovative workspaces.
Barr’s answer to all those ambiguities is as elementary as it is effective. If you have nothing but uncertainties to deal with, what could you do better than create a world entirely of your own? Only a personal universe, sustained by a personal language, can survive if everything is vague and changeable. Together with her autonomous architectural language, Barr proved capable of bringing about an immediate unity between the two buildings. One of them, designed by the architects HNNA, has a frivolous, undulating façade, while the other, designed by Architecture 00, is hard and angular. But once you walk around them, it will be obvious that the buildings belong together like brother and sister, thanks to Barr’s vision. Apart from the distinct colour schemes conceived for the different interiors, what you encounter in one building is no different from the other.
As to the interior design, furniture and detailing, Barr bases her choices on a few principles that constitute both the vocabulary and grammar of her architectural language. The simple geometry of the circle and the square provides a consummate answer to mutability and uncertainty, as it were, as well as being an effective eye-catcher. The circle and square motifs bob up everywhere, in the abundantly long curtains for enclosing workplaces, in the niches that offer space for a bench or a drinking fountain, in the armatures of her self-designed lamps, in the selection of seats, armchairs and side tables, in the signage, and in the large blocks of colour painted on the raw concrete of the wall and ceiling. And it works perfectly: without overassertion, the elementary geometry manifests itself in each of the buildings as a calm, dependable companion.
The choice of materials is also independent of the carcase of the buildings. In this case you would definitely observe a reaction to the architecture. It is as though Barr wished to make a statement on the meagre sustainability of concrete and steel by using recycled materials wherever possible. Table tops are made from recycled plastic bottles, and the felt panels the that are used to line walls and lockers are made from outdated hospital bedsheets. The Marmoleum that Barr selected for covering floors, doors and table tops also incorporates a significant proportion of recyled linoleum and cutting waste.
As to the rest, the interior is notable for the carefully orchestrated contrasts between hard and soft materials, and between inexpensive and more costly products. The curtains, and the printed table cloths and wall hangings, epitomize softness; hardness, on the other hand, is represented by the terrazzo that appears here and there in the buildings, covering areas such as the floor and the café counter. A playful and comfortable example is the “Salon” with its sumptuous red interior and furnishings. Association with a cinema is more than coincidental here, because its large screen is indeed used as such.
The space for events benefits from its informality and relaxed atmosphere. On one side there is a modest tribune and elegant steel chairs are arranged outdoors on the wide terrace, while similar seating indoors is draped with faux-fur rugs.
It may not be immediately obvious, but Barr utilizes inexpensive prefab building materials for the furnishing of Bureau. With galvanized steel profiles, perforated metal plates and corrugated fibreglass/cement panels, she has provided all floor levels with modular walls that facilitate flexible partitions between office rooms.
Surprisingly, these features leave no impression of any kind of arte povera, of flaunting with frugality. On the contrary, they are all excellently proportioned, precisely constructed and devised in full detail, coming across as sophisticated rather than cheap. A specific quality lies in Barr’s architectural approach. With a study of fine arts in her background, she has a passion for materials and how people can make things with them.
She cooperates regularly with artists, makers and craftspeople, and she knows better than anyone what she can achieve with various materials and how sensitively she can balance textures and colours.
The result of Bureau is as expected: the materials speak for themselves as well as to one another, and, in a calm, relaxed way, they manifest their inherent qualities and characteristics. Despite the wide variety of materials, the tone is wholly quiet and harmonious, with an outcome that is down-to-earth and above all practical. The working environment that Barr has established with her creative users through her interior design work is original as well as serious – an ideal place, in any configuration whatsoever, for setting concentratedly to work.
ARCHITECT: ROZ BARR
Photos: Thomas Adank and Roz Barr Architects
Roz Barr chose linoleum from Forbo’s collection for the Bureau. Besides the classic unicolour Walton flooring from the Marmoleum range, she specified Furniture Linoleum for desk tops, skirting and similar high-quality furnishing applications. An interesting innovation is her use of linoleum for vertical surface cladding.
You can find information about the huge range of Forbo Flooring products on www.forbo-flooring.com
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