Plus Architecture’s Melbourne studio has recently relocated to a new space in the centre of Melbourne. Taking ownership of a previously unoccupied, heritage building, Plus has invigorated the space, stripping the building back to its historical roots and then building upon these old bones, layering with modern accents and custom details, to create a new, workshop-style studio devoted to inspiring collaboration and creativity amongst the team.
Seizing an opportunity: restoring a heritage relic in a prime Melbourne location to former glory
The essence of this design project was exposing and celebrating the raw and messy parts of a beautiful old building and bringing this derelict and forgotten space into the future. Existing heritage elements have been honoured and remain weaved throughout the space, juxtaposed against crisp, contemporary additions creating a space of interest and surprise through design.
Creating an office for a modern and dynamic workforce – designing a real workspace for real people
As a studio recognized for delivering responsible, impactful and meaningful designs built for real people, it was a no brainer that our studio space be designed with these principles at the fore. The team embraced inspiration from design of previous projects across all sectors, from residential to hospitality, to create a commercial space which blurs the lines of a typical work environment and creates an engaging space for our staff, simultaneously seeking to evoke design creativity and nurture the strong, familial relationships of our tight-knit team.
Designing for designers: the challenge of designers designing a design studio
The quest for design perfection is perhaps no more apparent than when your client is a designer, especially when your ‘client’ is a team of 50+ designers! Given the freedom to design our own studio space allowed Plus to really consider what, as a team, we needed to thrive as a company. Input from all staff was encouraged to create an inclusive design outcome, filled with spaces for connection and collaboration, reflective of our growth and ethos as a studio.
What was the brief?
Plus desired a studio that was reflective of their growth, future aspirations, professionalism and the calibre of work produced. Previously located just outside of the Melbourne CBD on St Kilda Road, the new move into a central city location was synonymous with the ‘growing up’ of the company – a reflection of its rising status as a key player in the architectural and interior design industry. The idea was to create an office space which fully embodied the principles of Plus and demonstrated an immediate example of the high quality of design work that the company is capable of delivering.
The designers also sought a creative studio that could accommodate multiple purposes; serving both the company and the wider creative community as a space to display artists work, their own architecture and design, product designs, comfortably hold both company and industry events, and also provide a significant space for wellness activities.
Aesthetically, the designers looked outside of Australia and were inspired by the workshop style ateliers of New York and London. They wanted an industrial, monochromatic space filled with natural light and robust materials which held strong connections to the surrounding city and creative vibes of Melbourne.
When Plus discovered the site, it had been in a state of abandonment for over 40 years – surprising given its prime location on one of the busiest streets of central Melbourne. Through its stripped back and messy shell the designers saw considerable potential to create something wonderful from these old bones.
The building had previous lives as a well-known book shop, printing factory and bank vault. Leftover features of these industries are evident within the walls of the building – the marks of large metal bank vaults still visible and ink marks spattered across the wooden floors in places.
How is the project unique?
The re-invigoration of this boutique, heritage building initially saw the restoration of the base build to enable the space to once again become commercially viable. The original ceilings and floors were exposed throughout, bringing this beautiful old building’s personality to the fore once again.
The original brick walls were rediscovered, and the heritage wooden floors were restored throughout the space. Ink stains and vault marks on the floors were left in place as a reminder of the building’s interesting transition from printing factory to bank vault to design studio. The original lift shaft was reconfigured as an impressive new staircase, illuminated from above by a cleverly placed skylight.
The crisp material palette of tone on tone allows the original features of the building to sing – bringing a unique character to the space. The designers were mindful not to cover even perhaps the less desirable features of what was once a derelict building, choosing to celebrate them instead. Marks and graffiti on the walls from previous lives was retained, where appropriate, bringing moments of reflection and reminiscence for the working spaces of the past to this otherwise fully contemporary studio space.
A tribute to the many graffiti tags that once covered the walls, Plus chose to use this art form, also synonymous with the Melbourne-locale, as inspiration for the reception backdrop. The use of graffiti was juxtaposed with the seriousness and solidity of the custom designed reception desk – delivering a space that is truly unique and brave, unchartered design territory for a serious and professional design studio. Created by Melbourne-artist, RESIO, the display brings a surprising pop of colour to an otherwise minimalist, sophisticated space.
Adding a further touch of whimsicality and playfulness to the design, the naming of each meeting room was inspired by the many graffiti tags covering the walls when the designers first visited the empty, unloved space. Another room, aptly named ‘Pigeon’, pays homage to the building’s main occupants immediately prior to Plus.
What were the key challenges and what were the solutions?
The location is included on the Victorian Heritage Inventory for its potential archaeological significance and, being built in 1889, appropriate measures had to be taken to ensure the design fell within required heritage guidelines. The designers did not see this as a challenge but more an opportunity to keep the heritage features of the space as the hero in the design.
The designers restored the external façade of the building, with the original bright and fresh colours making this building a true marker on this historical Melbourne street.
What are the sustainability features?
The design encompasses a strong focus on sustainability, allowing staff to easily be as environmentally conscious at work as they are at home. Detailed yet discreet recycling facilities are prevalent on all workable floors, lights are motion sensored and the retained, large heritage windows allow the ambient temperature to be maintained, often without the use of air conditioning. Customisable task lighting can be adapted to user preferences above all work desks and secure end of trip facilities, including bike storage, showers and staff lockers, are provided to encourage the use of sustainable forms of transport among staff.
As signatories of the Architects Declare movement, incorporation of these significant design features have all supported the unwavering commitment the Plus Melbourne Studio has towards being carbon neutral by the end of 2020.
The restoration of a heritage space with a focus on energy, sustainable practices and wellness for staff led to an industrial, functional-led interior design concept, with the working name ‘the atelier’. The studio is the first in Melbourne created with a vision to allow free use to the creative community for design or environment led events and functions, with a desire to support the art market, friends and the industry.
Large spaces throughout the office can be altered or configured to accommodate a number of different uses, offering both event spaces and wellness areas, fully flexible for staff to engage in yoga, Pilates and mindfulness or to collaborate on project work in large format with sophisticated technology. The studio is currently home to bi-weekly yoga classes – with the open, bright and naturally ventilated space offering a peaceful sanctuary from the surrounding busy city.
Designed with the young and young at heart Plus workforce in mind, the studio also offers spaces that can be transformed to easily cater for staff events. High top tables and bar stools present an informal space perfect for after work mingling or casually watching informal Friday Night Presentations. Break out spaces also double as table tennis or foosball tournament arenas, perfect for getting creative juices flowing at lunch or as a wind down after work is done.
Using the space:
Maximising the views to the surrounding streets, exposing the original floors and ceilings, and treating the spaces as flexible galleries rather than traditional office space led to a creative and inspiring design outcome.
Staff are encouraged to exercise choice in where they choose to work. Traditional workspaces provide ample space and are customizable to enable staff to pick their own lighting and set up. Team discussions at workstations can easily be facilitated. Meeting rooms of varying sizes are available for both private and group work. Additional work areas subsequent to workstations double as room for collaborative project work and presentation spaces.
A human centric approach – how staff would actually be using the space – was central to the design concept and supports the Plus ethos of designing for real people. The overall space is inclusive and accessible for all with both lift and stair access and spacious passageways throughout. Given the tight heritage footprint, clever design and use of a light and bright materials palette opens the studio, crafting an inviting and engaging atmosphere that is welcoming for both staff and guests.
The studio features the latest in technology throughout – enabling staff to work remotely from anywhere in the office. Ambient background music drifts seamlessly across the floors, controlled by playlists created by the team.
“It’s a space that encourages participation, collaboration and creativity. The space inspires Plus Architecture to reach the new benchmark it has set for us all” – Ian Briggs, Director