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Sat 12 Sep 2009 04:00 AM

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Having secured its own premises, Dubai-based creative agency North 55 was eager to invest in an interior that would effectively communicate its creative flair.

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White dominates, but is interspersed with rainbow bursts of colour.
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White dominates, but is interspersed with rainbow bursts of colour.
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Statement pieces, such as a Smeg fridge and exposed brickwork wall, set the tone.
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Statement pieces, such as a Smeg fridge and exposed brickwork wall, set the tone.
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Statement pieces, such as a Smeg fridge and exposed brickwork wall, set the tone.
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The main office is defined by a sense of openness.

Having secured its own premises, Dubai-based creative agency North 55 was eager to invest in an interior that would effectively communicate its creative flair.

Even the business cards for Dubai-based creative agency North 55 are free of corporate pomp. The back of each card is different – the company’s employees are free to fill the space with the graphic of their choice.

It is this kind of emphasis on personal expression and creative freedom, unfettered by over-restrictive brand standards, that characterises North 55’s new offices. An independent print and online design agency with 16 members of staff, North 55 had been operating out of Dubai Media City since 2000 before deciding to invest in its own space in Grosvenor Business Tower.

Having secured its own premises, North 55’s owners were keen to invest in an interior that would communicate its creative flair. “We wanted to do something a little more fun; something brighter, a little more creative,” said Craig Falconer, creative partner, North 55.

“The last thing we wanted was a standard, modular office or a cookie-cutter solution. If your interior doesn’t reflect your personality, it’s hard to sell yourself as a creative agency. That is something that we suffered with in rented premises,” he continued.

Falconer and his partner worked closely with Dubai-based interior design firm Bluehaus to translate the North 55 ethos into a funky workspace. “They had an idea, right from the beginning, of what they wanted. A lot of people say creatives working with creatives is tough, but I think in this case, we actually made a good team. They came up with ideas and we investigated them. In some cases they worked very well and in some cases they didn’t,” said partner, Bluehaus, Ben Corrigan.

From the very outset, the message is clear – this is no ordinary, run-of-the-mill interior and no ordinary, run-of-the mill company. The reception area is dominated by a handful of very strong, visually-striking design statements: a Smeg fridge emblazoned with the Union Jack; funky light fixtures; and an exposed brickwork wall with ‘North 55’ graffitied across it.

“The graffiti was a really nice touch,” said Corrigan. “They commissioned it from a guy in Canada. The old brickwork was another idea of theirs. They wanted to have that feel of maybe a backstreet London practice. They are a small, boutique agency. They’ve got some great clients and some very big ideas, but they don’t want to grow too much. If you look at their client list, it’s fantastic, but they are still a relatively small agency.”

Out in the open

From the reception, a rainbow arch leads into an informal seating area that looks straight into the main office. Falconer was keen to avoid the sterility of a ‘dentist-style’ waiting room. “We have no problem with clients coming in and seeing what we do. It was important that they were ushered into a seating area that overlooks the working area. The clients are part of what goes on in this office,” he explained.

This emphasis on transparency is reiterated in the extremely open-plan design of the main office area. “There is a real sense of openness. We wanted to make it very open plan because of the way the work flows. We have a very fluid, borderless work flow,” Falconer said.

“We also have a fairly flat management structure; everyone is entitled to a strong opinion. This is reflected in the space. Nobody is vying for the corner office. I cringe when I go into offices where your rank is defined by your furniture.”

A 7m-long, workbench-style central desk dominates the space. The table is the hub of the office and further facilitates a fluid, borderless work flow. “We are coming from a space that was quite fragmented. It is important for idea flow and interaction that all designers work together in one space,” said Falconer.Storage pods are suspended above the desk, removing the unnecessary clutter of floor-level drawer units. “The overall emphasis is on having a clean, uncluttered, creative space,” he added.

Summertown International was selected for the fit-out of the office and was responsible for all carpentry and furniture, with the exception of soft furnishings. It had to cater to the unique needs of a creative agency – larger desks and more extensive storage areas, for example.

Blank canvas

While strips of colour on walls and tables in the entrance and meeting room offer welcome bouts of brightness, the main office area is predominantly white – a blank canvas which the agency’s work can be set against. Lighting was also vitally important in ensuring that work could be viewed properly.

“The lighting was critical. You are talking about people who spend up to 12 hours looking at a PC. So we went for daylight-style lighting,” said Corrigan.

Underfoot, the client favoured hard epoxy flooring. “The idea of hard flooring, as opposed to the traditional carpet, is something that they were keen on right from the beginning. They weren’t worried about acoustics, which is often why you use carpet. They actually wanted a bit of noise. Atmosphere was critical,” Corrigan noted.

While the aim was to create a highly atmospheric, bustling, vibrant work space, there was also the need for a quieter, more private area to retreat to. However, Falconer was very keen to avoid a traditional ‘eight-seat boardroom table’ type set up.

In response, the team created a colourful, informal meeting space, complete with a high table that can facilitate quicker, stand-up meetings. Relaxed bar-style stools were also introduced for longer, sit-down meetings. In addition, carpet adorns one of the room’s walls, creating a relatively sound-proof space.

“The idea of the stand-up meeting room is to make meetings a bit more efficient. The carpet up the wall is a talking point but also, acoustically, provides a good barrier between the meeting room and the office. It works really well and they spend a lot of time in there,” said Corrigan.

“We use the space a lot for informal meetings,” Falconer confirmed. “This has created a healthier internal meeting structure,” he added.

Because it was their own premises, the partners at North 55 were willing to take the time to get the interior of the new office just right, Falconer admitted. “As a client we were possibly more detail orientated, which obviously had an impact on the timeframe.

“And if you want to step outside of your safety zone, you need a design firm and a fit-out company willing to take a little more time.”

Sources:

Contractor:Summertown Epoxy Flooring:BASF Lighting:Accoulite Carpet:Object Blinds:Al Sanani Custom Furniture:Marwan Custom Joinery:Summertown Union Jack Fridge:Smeg

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