Raw Ideal

 03 Aug 2014

Walking out of the lifts into BVN’s new studio – on the 11th floor in the Hilton building in Sydney’s CBD – it would be easy to assume that the space is a work-in-progress. And that’s precisely what it is – with its bare concrete slab and exposed trays carrying computer and electrical cables, this is an office that’s been pared back radically to its bare bones.

BVN Architecture’s thriving new Sydney studio is an open plan place pared back to a bare concrete canvas that has a large ‘domestic’ kitchen at its humming heart.

 “We see this as a space that will evolve and change and we’ll try out things,” explains Bill Dowzer, BVN’s State Director. “It’s definitely not a finished work of art, it’s a play space, a laboratory. We are putting into practice what we have been doing for a long time,” he says. “The last twelve years, this is our manifestation of that. We are almost playing in the space. It is a lab of the ideas, but we are doing it economically.”

The vacant space was spotted by Dowzer and co-directors when one of their clients, Challenger, re-located from previous premises into four levels of the building. The floor below had immediate appeal because it was big enough to accommodate BVN on a single floor.

“One of the key drivers for our culture is to keep everything on one level and in one space,” says Dowzer. “We know as soon as we break people up we lose the interaction and communication.”

The BVN Sydney office is an open-plan space, with low, task-oriented lighting and the key principal of the fit-out was to strip back the existing space to its skeleton. “There are so many layers in the building that companies [tenants] put in,” says Dowzer by way of explanation. “We tried to pull it all back and reveal the base building.

“The high volume of water was a key issue given the peak loads demanded…”

 “The design has been generated by how we wanted to use a space. We said, ‘We want to do this and this, what are the least amount of materials we need?’” says Dowzer. “So there is an economy and the space is enlivened by people doing different activities. It doesn’t need finishes and materials and other layers.” Desks are arranged in teams in a herringbone shape and the hub of the space is an internal ‘veranda’, a raised timber-floored area next to the windows, flanked by a galley kitchen. The veranda is both a lunch and work space – a place for working or for informal meetings. Noise isn’t a concern.

“The energy that you feel within the studio is important,” says Dowzer. “The feeling of vitality and not feeling too quiet – that goes to the relaxed nature of the studio. There’s a bit of noise and a bit of buzz and the kitchen in there actually helps. We wanted to reinforce it as a domestic-feeling kitchen,” he says. “It’s become a destination that people go to in the studio.” (See box, right.)

The concentration of BVN’s 140 staff in the open plan studio plainly works enormously well. “I think in modern design there is a lot of redundancy, in risk aversion, you put layers in, just in case. Here, we stripped it back and it has been liberating,” says Dowzer. “It is almost being comfortable with the rawness because we know how to use it.”

BVN Architecture’s State Director, Bill Dowzer, describes the social role of the humble kitchen in the workplace – a hub of informal, yet important, ideas and conversation.

When Bill Dowzer, studio director of BVN Architecture’s new Sydney office, says that the kitchen in the studio space “is much like a kitchen in a home”, what he means is that “it’s the centre of all the activity in the studio,” he says – much like a domestic kitchen is the hub of the home. But more than that, it’s set up like one with an oversized benchtop, twin sinks, a mixer tap and a Zip HydroTap ready to dispense boiling and chilled filtered water instantly through the day.

And it’s here, around the HydroTap – the contemporary equivalent of the water cooler – that “the informal conversations happen”, says Dowzer. And at BVN it’s these conversations that form the core of the firm’s internal communications.

As Dowzer explains: “The conversations that happen at the tea point or the kitchen bench are almost just as relevant as ‘business conversations’ or what happens in meeting rooms,” he says. “For us a lot of the serendipitous conversations that happen around the Zip HydroTap are really important in terms of the work that we do. Which is really all about the exchange of ideas and the exchange of knowledge. A lot of it happens in an informal way and making it happen and making the kitchen the hub of our studio reinforces that.”

It’s an approach you can trace back 12 years to when Dowzer and James Grose, BVN architecture’s national director, went on a study tour in Holland seeking ideas for the reinvention of Campus MLC in North Sydney, the forerunner of the more relaxed modern Australian office. “We saw a whole load of relaxed workplaces with the kitchen being the centre of the work environment,” he says. “It fundamentally changed the way we viewed work environments and how you can create a more relaxed place.” Relaxed, dynamic, effective and creative.
"Article taken from Boiling Point issue no.17, published by the Indesign Media Asia Pacific. Words by Jane Burton Taylor/ Guy Allenby, Photography by John Gollings. Architect by BVN Architecture"