Words Kirk Truman
Photography Etienne Gilfillan
“Our aim was to create a proper design studio rather than adapt to a typical office space.”
Design and creativity are two of my oldest passions; and more specifically architecture, though it’s often somewhat of a mystery to me. But it provides the perfect context for a romance between the two. Here in London as in cities across the globe, architects are the very backbone of our skylines, creating and crafting the wildest and most beautifully captivating structures that define the destinations we so often admire.
In Fitzrovia, I have come to discover that we are home to a global design and consulting firm with a wide-ranging and eclectic portfolio under its wing. Woods Bagot has a global team of over 850 professionals working across studios in Australia, Asia, the Middle East, Europe and North America. More than 60 of these are based in the practice’s London studio situated in Riding House Street. Fitzrovia is home to a diverse range of businesses, not only architects and engineers but also TV companies, fashion wholesalers and a vast range of other creative and digital businesses with Woods Bagot as an obvious fit for the neighbourhood.
In 2014 and 2015, Building Design’s ‘World Architecture 100’ ranked Woods Bagot as the 7th largest architecture firm in the world. The practice’s project output spans almost 150 years – a legacy of design excellence. In London, its clients include: The Edwardian Group, Warner Music, Firmdale, Apple, Ballymore, Pegasus Life, Four Seasons and Marriott. Their current projects include the Leicester Square Hotel, a landmark building integrated into the fabric of the West End cinema experience, with 360 guest rooms across 7 floors. A model of this project, which is currently on display at the studio (see above image) shows the main body of the building formed in natural Portland stone, complemented by an inner layer of royal blue faience, creating moments of colour and texture.
Woods Bagot’s expertise covers a number of key sectors including Transportation, Education, Science & Health, Lifestyle and Workplace. The ‘Next Generation Global Studio’ model which underpins all Woods Bagot’s activities means that all its studios worldwide are interlinked and work collaboratively across borders, using the latest technology to share its design intelligence and strengthen its knowledge base around the globe.
Working across the disciplines of architecture, consulting, interior design, masterplanning and urban design, Woods Bagot understands its clients’ operational and cultural needs, and is able to draw on its own research and expertise to create realistic and functional solutions to meet those needs. Currently the practice invests 2% of its turnover annually into its research arm, ensuring the upkeep of its competitive advantage through constant innovation.
Woods Bagot moved its London studio earlier this year to its current purpose-designed space at 75 Riding House Street across the lower ground and ground floors of the building, following a number of years based in Oxford Street. Jonathan French, the company’s director says “The process of approving a design with colleagues, many of whom are professional designers themselves, was extremely complicated in order to reach a common consensus. The problem was deciding which great ideas we had to drop.”
The structure of the building itself posed particular challenges. The column grid and base building layout are irregular, making it difficult to optimise seating arrangements. The team created a layout that helps to maximise the opportunity offered by the street frontage, integrating clients into the studio environment and creating a flexible working setting. In addition to the existing staircase and lifts on the Foley Street side, a new second staircase now connects the ground and lower ground floors on the Riding House Street side. A kitchen and informal meeting area have been incorporated into spaces at the bottom of the staircase, helping to encourage movement between levels as well as greater interaction between clients and colleagues.
The reception area has been designed as a gallery space and is currently hosting work from artists who have worked with Woods Bagot in recent years. This space is also used every Friday evening for ‘London Salon’ presentations; a regular activity that helps to broaden design discourse in the London studio by engaging with contributors from a range of disciplines, including design. In June this year, the studio participated in the RIBA London Open Studios programme as part of the London Festival of Architecture by exhibiting the work of three contemporary artists. Attended by an array of architecture and design enthusiasts, the event also offered the Fitzrovia neighbourhood an introduction to the new Woods Bagot studio space.
“Our aim was to create a proper design studio rather than adapt to a typical office space. This is also a studio which is broadly aligned with — and complementary to — the design of other Woods Bagot studios across the world,” Jonathan French continues. “To help achieve this, we collaborated with designers across our Global Studio to ensure that the Woods Bagot ethos is embedded in the new space as strongly as possible.”