Douglas House: a communal office that balances work and play / Design
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Douglas House: a communal office that balances work and play

The Office Group and Note Design Studio create an avant-garde flexible workplace full of surprises.

The Office Group and Note Design Studio create an avant-garde flexible workplace full of surprises.

For many of us, flexible working is the new norm. But as we rethink the nine to five, forward-looking businesses and employers aren’t just asking “what days should we go into the office?” but also “what should the office look like when we’re there?”  

For the answer, we turn to Douglas House in Fitzrovia. Behind its red-brick facade, The Office Group – or TOG, as its better known – has collaborated with Note Design Studio to create a 700-desk workspace that’s progressive, flexible and a far cry from preconceptions about offices. “We wanted to create somewhere that suited a variety of workspace styles, that broke with the conformity often associated with the office, and which conveyed a sense of journey and discovery,” explained Nasim K​​öerting, Head of Design at TOG.

Breaking the monotony of Douglas House’s traditional 1930s framework, Note, a Stockholm-based multidisciplinary design practice, reconceptualised the run-of-the-mill office with bold colours, natural materials and statement interventions such as the curvilinear glass wall that weaves through its centre. 

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Its 21st-century features focus on the connection between our surroundings, emotions and productivity; users can take advantage of a gym, meditation room, roof terrace, breakout spaces, a café and a plant-filled ‘oxygen’ room. “Of course, the building fulfils the practical needs of a modern workplace, but our focus has been on stimulating the users’ minds with different experiences as they move through the building, taking a big step away from the conformity of most office spaces,” says Note architect Jesper Mellgren.

We reached out to the architects of Douglas House to pick their brains about the challenges of retrofitting a traditional, blueprint with an energising, punchy personality.

What were your thoughts before and after the project? Did you have a eureka moment?

Johannes Carlström (JC): The initial thought was that the building had some qualities in the original structure that we could work with, but being a quite straightforward and functional building, it lacked a lot of the softer elements. For us, this was a great opportunity to embrace the freedom that it offered, to do something unique and set the tone exactly as we wanted it. It was renovated during the pandemic so we couldn’t follow the building process as closely as we’re used to, but when we finally saw it completed, it was amazing. 

How did you strike a balance between creating a space that was non-conformist but still inspired productivity?

JC: The building fulfils a lot of the needs of a modern workplace with a large variety of places to work in as well as a gym, café, a green terrace and beautiful, fully equipped meeting rooms. But we were also keen to work with the sensibility of the space and not against it. This raised important questions for us during the process. How would users interact with the materials and structures? How would the colour palette shape the experience of the building, particularly since it is zoned into spaces for different work settings and moods? 

How did you ensure synergy between the original architecture and new?

Jesper Mellgren: The working title for this project was ‘Break the Grid’ – referring to the building’s very strict, repetitive exterior as well as the idea of a contemporary workplace. The old fashioned notion of work and workplace was something we wanted to move away from; it’s not relevant to where people want to be. We challenged this by creating a rich and fluid interior, far beyond what you might expect before entering. But once that first impression has settled, it becomes apparent how we worked with the existing architecture too, developing a strong relationship with its structure and spatial qualities.

 

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How did you ensure synergy between the original architecture and new?

Jesper Mellgren: The working title for this project was ‘Break the Grid’ – referring to the building’s very strict, repetitive exterior as well as the idea of a contemporary workplace. The old fashioned notion of work and workplace was something we wanted to move away from; it’s not relevant to where people want to be. We challenged this by creating a rich and fluid interior, far beyond what you might expect before entering. But once that first impression has settled, it becomes apparent how we worked with the existing architecture too, developing a strong relationship with its structure and spatial qualities.

How did you weave in elements of holistic and eco-friendly design? Will emotional qualities be a greater consideration when designing offices for the future?

JC: Too many workplaces are designed like factories, with an attempt to squeeze more and more productivity out of the employees – but we’re humans, not machines. Douglas House is anything but a monotone office. There’s a diversity in function built throughout, with special attention given to people’s shifting needs. These change from person to person over time and by the specific work task that needs to be done. Sustainability was key too; for this one, we re-used the old wooden flooring as much as was possible, in combination with either natural or artificial materials that can be fully recycled. 

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What is your favourite design feature? 

Charlotte Ackemar: We have a couple of favourites – it’s hard to choose. The curved glass wall that runs through the whole building is a major feature that adds a lot of personality. There’s also a custom ceiling light fixture that is just as smart and striking. The reception desk is quite grand and has a beautiful, stained-blue veneer. They all tie the space together in their own specific way, engaging the senses of the visitor on many different levels. A major project like this always comes down to the details.

Douglas House is the forward-thinking reconceptualisation of an office that meets the needs of today’s freelancers, consultants and creatives. Travelling to London for work? Browse our properties for a design-led place to stay.

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