Where you work matters. Today’s workplace is one of unbridled innovation and accelerating change, meaning where we work is evolving. Successful spaces support their teams with the resources they need to be brilliant at what they do, but how are those workplaces made? Oktra, the award-winning office design company responsible for the new adidas office in London, are breaking down the way great offices take shape.
Oktra have designed and built over 14 million square feet of office space across London, transforming the working lives of almost 200,000 people.
“Employees will always be happier in a space that not only reflects, but facilitates their culture and aspirations,” says lead designer Jemma Harrison – which is exactly why Oktra begins each project by getting to know the people they’re designing for.
“There’s something that happens before the brief, and that’s listening, understanding the client,” explains creative director Nic Pryke. Oktra consider the client’s workplace strategy, both in terms of how it will evolve in the new office and how it will drive their business strategy and, ultimately, business success.
“At the beginning of a project, there are a million different opportunities and decisions to make. And the purpose of our process is to narrow that down and make all the right decisions for a specific business. That’s it, that’s what we’re trying to achieve.”
Crafting a brief is a team effort – one that brings Oktra together with their clients in collaborative synergy. From design workshops to workplace consultancy and stakeholder interviews, this is where design gets personal.
Building the brief is the client’s chance to get involved in the creative process that shapes the design of their future office. Oktra’s professional teams listen to their requirements and aspirations in order to understand the way the client wants to work, then create a brief in support of their workplace strategy.
Occasionally, clients may not wish to be involved in the creation of the brief. In these instances, Oktra’s teams listen to what the client wants. And then challenge it.
“Our first job is to listen; understand them and then ask why they want what they want. Because there may be a better way. That’s why we revisit the brief and challenge it,” Pryke adds.
adidas came to Oktra with an open-ended brief for the new London office. With a pre-existing showroom in Herbal House, adidas wanted to move their offices into the same building, but leave the corporate feel of their previous space behind.
“This offered a creative freedom for both adidas and Oktra,” says Harrison. “One of the key parts of the adidas brief was the description of London as a global, cultural hub. Working with adidas to bring location and culture into the space was fundamental and allowed the workplace to be what it should be: an unrestricted reflection of the people and brand within it.”
Generating a concept is a lot less like carefully crafting a mood board and a lot more like creative chaos. There’s no place for reservation at this stage, where fortune favours the bold – and innovation comes from being brave.
“The concept is the fun part – it’s where all the creativity happens,” says Pryke.
“We start an iterative process with the client until we get to something amazing.” The teams look at the inspirational ideas that shape workplaces, from different types of space to new working practices. If there were such a thing as a game plan in office design, this would be it.
“We work to understand their business, the sector that they operate in and what’s happening in the market in a kind of macro environment.” That’s Richard Johnstone, one of Oktra’s managing directors. “It’s remaining true to what the company wants to achieve,” he says, emphasising that it’s crucial to remain “cognisant of the challenges that organisations face on a regular basis, and create solutions that are going to address their immediate needs while also having the foresight to identify future challenges.”
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The designers then render the concept as a series of visuals in order to convey the design direction to the client. “Visualisation is important but it’s really about communication, whether that’s done through 3D renderings or sketches or just speaking with someone, and it’s usually a mix of all of them,” says Pryke. From hand-drawn sketches to state-of-the-art programming, Oktra’s design teams turn concepts into breath-taking visuals to give clients a real sense of their future space.
Because adidas have a razor-sharp business strategy, the concepts behind their new space readily reflected their performance blueprint. “They have a branded formula built around consistency, performance and quality,” explains Harrison. “This project allowed us to challenge ourselves and them because of the unique employees, influencers and guests that would be using the space.”
It was crucial that the new office reflect and enhance the powerful creativity built into adidas’ culture. So, Oktra’s design team met with adidas’ design influencers for a series of creative workshops. They also went on furniture tours to get a feel for what they wanted to see in the new space, paying special attention to what the design influencers felt reflected the adidas style and brand.
The design is where concept and reality meet. With fully rendered visuals, the new space already exists, but purely as an idea. This is when things get technical: the design teams translate the concept into blueprints, matching the new vision with the physical make-up of the workplace.
Whether it’s a new build or the fit-out of a pre-existing space, Oktra carefully consider every mechanical and electrical facet of the building in the final design. “By the end of the concept design, we know what we want to build. We know what it’s going to look like, how many desks are there – the space exists as an idea that’s completely visualised,” Pryke says. “The detailed design is then all of the construction drawings so that we can go and build it.”
One of the interesting things about the design and build process that Oktra practise is exactly what the name suggests – they manage the design and the build themselves. And that’s very different from traditional procurement which can involve architects and many different consultants at the same time.
“One of the things that design and build is really great at is being pragmatic about what’s achievable in a certain timeframe and for a certain amount of money,” explains Pryke. Because the design process is in sync with the approaching delivery of the project, every decision the client makes is already built into the schedule.
“As a design team, because we sit alongside the project managers and the quantity surveyors and work with them throughout this process, the designers are much more commercially aware than they would be in a consultancy practice for instance,” Pryke elaborates. “That’s a big thing for design and build – we’ve got robust processes to make sure we can deliver what we design. We promise an end date.”
Once the design is finished, the build begins. What existed as ideas and drawings up to this point finally starts to take shape. Beyond the sheer construction of the space, the build is when the future workplace materialises.
Oktra have their own phrasing surrounding the build phase, as Johnstone explains: “We call the build ‘delivering the vision’. It’s when it all comes together.” The heart of the project turns into reality as walls go up and finishes are installed, and the newfound materiality makes the end goal a lot easier to grasp.
“This is when people start to see the project come to life. It’s much easier for people to understand when they can see something – it’s the bolt of lightning that hits you and says ‘we’re actually doing something,’” says Johnstone.
“From the strategy and concept to the brief development and design aspect, all of that is great but when we start physically creating the space, the new environment, that’s when people really start getting interested,” he says. “Because they can see the new vision starting to come alive.”
The completion of the build marks move-in day. But handing the keys to a client isn’t the end of the project – it’s the beginning. Everyone’s ready, everything’s set, this is when you go.
“We create workplaces – we understand them, we design them and we build them. Then we give clients a key, they move in and we help them move forward,” explains Johnstone. Oktra’s relationship with their clients doesn’t end with the handover of their new workplace, but continues to evolve as that company grows.
How an office functions becomes remarkably clear once people start to use it. Based on the understanding of the client’s workplace and business strategies gained during the brief and concept stages, Oktra are able to monitor the workspace and ensure its occupants are reaping every benefit possible.
“Once we’ve identified what the workplace needs to do and the benefits we want it to create, that forms the basis on which we’ll start to measure the performance of that workplace throughout its life,” says Johnstone.
With multiple post-occupancy audits, Oktra’s professional teams begin a series of performance reviews that fine-tune the space, maximising its output for the people working in it. This stage will answer questions like: Does the workplace meet the needs of the people within that organisation? Are people happy coming to work? Do they enjoy their work environment? Do they still feel motivated? Do they still feel creative? Are they fulfilling their potential?
“We work to connect all those dots, making sure that we’ve got a clear vision at the start which is ultimately something that the clients need to buy into and develop. We can develop that with them, we can assist in terms of helping them understand the total workplace vision beyond desks, chairs and the paint on the wall,” says Johnstone.
That opportunity lies in the switch from the previous work environment and how the business operated in it, to how it functions in the new office and beyond.
Effective workspace will always reflect the people that make it what it is; an office may be the vehicle for a company’s success, but it’s the people who make up the company that will be driving that success forward. Which is why the new adidas office in Herbal House revolves around the creatives who work there.
“Ultimately, it’s an environment that can adapt to those who are using it,” summarises lead designer Jemma Harrison. It’s that adaptability that has provided various adidas creative teams the ability to live out their performance blueprint in everything they do. “We definitely see this environment, this office, as being the hub of how we grow in London,” adds Phil Benton, general manager at adidas.