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Woods Bagot at home in New York

A thoroughly tech-savvy studio space with lots of opportunity for socialising is right on brand for this ultra-connected architectural practice.

It has been over a year since Woods Bagot moved into its self-designed New York studio in the heart of Manhattan’s FIDI (financial district) and according to the latest staff engagement surveys, the investment has paid off.

Sarah Kay, co-designer of the space and Woods Bagot’s head of global workplace interiors, is thrilled, “We’ve just heard that we are ‘the most improved studio’ amongst the sixteen global locations. The staff are so much happier in our new space.”

The results of the survey underscore Woods Bagot’s practise of inner- and inter-studio collaboration and the New York studio’s work philosophy. 

“This is a multi-authorship studio,” explains Kay. “We are collaborative designers, and we wanted to reflect that office culture in the space. Staff from various disciplines sit together. There are minimal visual interruptions. When drawings are pinned up or laid out and reviewed, they are there for everyone to see.”

The 1,000-square-metre open plan space is pared back and gritty, drawing a direct visual reference to the architectural history of the building and to the overall aesthetic of the other global Woods Bagot studios. The raw, stained concrete floors, exposed services and extensive use of pre-finished black MDF, in the form of shelving and storage, make a welcome comeback.

But the fit-out also boasts locally sourced elements. The long meeting tables were made by a friend of Kay’s in a Brooklyn workshop (Bellboy Furniture), the pipes and connections, which form the structure of the long overhead kitchen shelving, were sourced from Home Depot.

The studio is not Woods Bagot’s largest, serving between 55-65 people, and thus the overall feel is more intimate. “We are a very social studio,” adds Wade Little, Sarah’s co-collaborator and Woods Bagot’s head of global hotels, “we created a ‘street’ in the space with a bodega”.

Little refers to a long kitchen, with cast concrete top, all-black joinery and an industrial-strength coffee machine that can rival that of the local Australian coffee shop!) “It’s a real hub,” adds Little. “We have impromptu group dinners here, where people share plates of food and perhaps a glass of wine.” 

Other connection points in the space include bespoke, compact nooks fitted out with felt upholstery, four “workshops” (conference rooms), an oversized worktable and a central “lounge” area, which is appropriately populated with NAU furniture.

Woods Bagot is known for its Global Studio approach, an alignment in terms of culture, systems and processes across all the global studios, so it’s no surprise that collaboration technology is placed front and centre.

A DI (Design Intelligence) portal – a digital screen of work displayed in real-time – greets visitors upon entry. There’s the “global glasshouse area”, where global consultants and staff virtually present and work and a virtual reality space, the content of which can also be sent to clients via mobile phone apps. The model making workshop includes a 3D printer and laser cutters.

The pair explains that the process of setting up the New York office was relatively seamless, and the construction process relatively rapid.

“The existing conditions of the space had dropped tile ceilings, no light, partitions, cubicles and corner offices, so we had our work cut out for us,” says Kay.

“Even our contractor was not convinced that we’d strip and fit-out the space in eight weeks, but we had a strict timeline and we stuck to it.”

The finished result also serves as an example to Woods Bagot’s clients of what can be done with a healthy dose of vision and strict execution.

Ultimately this studio presents the case for improved business performance through the careful creation of a workplace culture that both supports and inspires.

Photography courtesy Woods Bagot NYC.

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