The shipping container is one of several unusual interventions introduced by South African firm Inhouse Brand Architects, which was tasked with converting the top three floors of a new development in the east of the city that overlooks the nearby harbour.
The concept for the interior focuses on separating the work spaces from breakout areas that facilitate communication between employees and can be used for meetings or informal teamwork.
"The latest office design thinking contends that collaboration happens at the water cooler and does not necessarily need to tie up an office space or a meeting room that has been earmarked for client use, and often stands empty for most of the day," said Inhouse creative director Aidan Hart.
To foster a greater sense of integration between employees on different floors, the architects removed a section of the concrete slab between the eighth and ninth storeys and inserted a new staircase that encourages movement around the whole office.
An existing staircase ascending to a mezzanine above the ninth floor was also replaced with a new wooden structure that resembles bleacher-style benches and incorporates steps that can be used as seating.
A large projection screen can be lowered so the steps become a screening room for watching films or reviewing work, while the space underneath the wooden addition hides a small kitchen.
Greenery is used throughout the interior, including in an indoor garden that features six potted trees and cafe furniture positioned on a wooden platform. Elsewhere, plants create green walls that visually separate some of the rooms.
Simple and sustainable materials such as pine and chunky chipboard introduce tactile surfaces that contrast with the building's concrete floor and steel framework.
Surfaces painted burnt orange, blue, black and lime green are used to demarcate meeting areas and reference the client's brand identity, while dome pendants with brightly coloured interiors add an extra splash of colour.
Photography is by Micky Hoyle.
The architects sent us the following project description:
99c offices by Inhouse Brand Architects
When Inhouse Brand Architects was approached to create the new Cape Town offices of top local advertising agency 99c, its interior design team used the opportunity to produce an extraordinary - yet more efficient - work environment that sounds the death knell of the conventional office.
Inhouse approached the design process with several key goals, the first, being to enhance the already spectacular site. The 3000 square meter premises occupy the top three levels of the Atlantic Centre, a new office development on Cape Town's eastern foreshore. There is a magnificent double-volume interior partly broken by a mezzanine level, and one floor below. Fantastic views wrap around the building, taking in the harbour and Devil's Peak. Being as yet unoccupied, it was an empty shell to start with… Inhouse's second goal was to create a fully functioning environment to suit the client's daily business needs; and the third, was to reflect the creative nature of the agency and its employees.
Before starting any design work, an extensive study into the company's daily activities was undertaken. The Inhouse team, steered by Inhouse Creative Director Aidan Hart and team leader and senior designer Moiisha Visagie, looked at the employees' possible needs from the perspective of Activity-Based Work principles and was then able to provide 99c with an understanding of what the most effective space-planning layout would be.
Inhouse allowed for all types of interaction and both "high-focus" and "high-communication" zones. High-focus zones were defined as individual desks where interaction with others would be minimized. High-communication zones were defined as spaces that would encourage and allow for teamwork, interaction and collaboration.
In a more traditional office environment, a meeting room or cafeteria would constitute a high-communication zone. Here, however, the need to meet less formally is catered for by various, so-called "campsites", which are collaborative, shared spaces.
According to Hart, "the latest office design thinking contends that collaboration happens at the water-cooler and does not necessarily need to tie up an office space or a meeting room that has been earmarked for client use, and often stands empty for most of the day."
Hence, making optimal use of the available area and encouraging collaboration and connectivity, were crucial to Inhouse's scheme. Particularly, because the office is split over three separate levels.
According to Hart, stimulating connectivity is paramount because one of the problems with corporate office space is level-by-level stagnation where departments are divided into operational silos that foster an "us and them" mentality. "We feel as a design company that part of our strength lies in enhancing cross-floor communications and hopefully improving inter-personal connectivity. In this instance, the client was progressive, and wanted to use the opportunity presented to improve the work environment," says Hart.
According to 99c Managing Director Andrew Brand, it was "important that our new office space not only expresses our creativity but also encourages and enhances it. As an agency, 99c creates the positive change that our clients require to achieve brand success, and we also embrace this ethos ourselves in our daily lives and work environment."
To achieve greater connectivity for the 99c team, Inhouse cut a hole in the existing concrete slab between the 8th and 9th floors (where the mezzanine level is located) and inserted a new stairwell. The boardroom was intentionally placed on the 8th floor, away from the 9th floor reception and lounge areas, in order to force movement between the floors.
The existing staircase between the 9th floor and the mezzanine level was also removed and a new stadium structure was installed. The structure houses (and cleverly hides) the kitchen that services the café and bar area below. The stadium steps double as a staircase leading to and from the mezzanine as well as unassigned seating, providing an arena that is a gathering spot for the entire company. A large motorized projection screen, that is discretely hidden when not in use, turns the arena into a big-screen cinema to review work, or watch advertisements and films.
A series of semi-private pods and high-energy meeting spaces was created throughout the space to allow employees to interact freely without tying up "valuable" or already booked "real estate" like boardrooms. These areas reveal a select palette that incorporates the corporate colours. Burnt orange, blue, black and lime yellow are used to brighten detailing and feature walls. Colourful elements include oversized dome pendants that illuminate the generous space.
Taking advantage of this double-volume span, Inhouse installed 6 large trees around which café tables were structurally laid out. This indoor, landscaped garden was positioned on decking and raised slightly to demarcate a communal, informal zone. In addition to the trees, numerous living walls were placed throughout the space to link it to the natural environment. The green factor enhances the interior for the user and softens the office environment.
Honest and sustainable materials such as pine and plywood were used extensively throughout. Textured-looking Oriented Strand Board (OSB), which has a patterned yet smooth finish, was used extensively for tactile impact and warmth. Moreover, it achieves a stylish effect for a modest cost.
In keeping with the theme of sustainability and respect for the natural environment that runs throughout - and also as a nod to the creative nature of the agency's skills - a recycled shipping container has been innovatively converted into an up-to-the-minute waiting room. It's "out the box" thinking ironically demonstrated in a box… The container also echoes 99c's purpose – it exists to produce creative solutions that are shipped around the globe, just as the container, in its original form, is a quintessential method of moving goods around the planet. With the office's panoramic views of container ships in the harbour, the waiting room serves a subtle reminder to 99c employees of the importance of client service and delivery. In turn, what Inhouse has delivered is a world-class office solution, one that embraces elements of Activity-Based Work thought-systems and tailors these into a standout, contemporary environment for its client.