Big Mama pix
Clive Wilkinson Architects expands the London headquarters for Mother Advertising
Edie Cohen -- Interior Design, 6/1/2005 12:00:00 AM
When Mother was founded in London in 1996, it turned the advertising world upside down. From the start, the ad firm's five creative partners devised a unique way of working. Account executives were banished. Ditto doors. The entire talent pool sat together at a single wood table; when the numbers expanded, so did the table.
This idiosyncratic modus operandi helped Mother secure and retain such prestigious accounts as Coca-Cola and Orange, a British cell-phone company. After seven years, however, the collaborative environments in the Soho and then Clerkenwell shops were growing too close for comfort: 80 staffers were squeezed around a meandering table, a scant 42 inches between them. Mother pondered how to gain elbow room without losing the successful communal milieu.
Tea, a complex of refurbished late-19th-century warehouses in Shoreditch, London's East End, offered ample space. Mother took over three and a half floors in a five-story structure at the rear of the development and almost tripled the size of its headquarters to 44,000 square feet. The admen waggishly dubbed their new home the Biscuit Building, then hired Clive Wilkinson Architects to transform the raw spaces.
CWA's extensive history with advertising clients such as TBWA/Chiat/Day and Foote, Cone & Belding Worldwide meant it had few qualms about coming up with a creative solution to Mother's singular mandate. The architects first tackled the headquarters' organization. "The tallest space, with 13-foot ceilings, was on the third floor," says principal Clive Wilkinson, so it was made into the 14,000-square-foot heart of operations, complete with a new, giant concrete-slab worktable. A former loading dock, occupying half the ground floor, became a double-height entry with a reception area and café. The partitionless second floor now accommodates a graphics studio, several meeting areas enclosed by plastic meatpacking curtains, and a freestanding boardroom table. The architects addressed staff downtime by cordoning off part of the floor with a galvanized-steel chain-link fence for soccer games, and the wall above the custom stainless-steel reception desk often doubles as a projection surface for films or sporting events.
Because the Biscuit Building depended on elevators rather than stairs to connect floors, CWA's main structural move 'was a literal blast. "We drove a 14-foot-wide stairwell through to the third floor," recalls Wilkinson. The cast-concrete stairs, which provide tiered seating for the aforementioned films and are flanked with more galvanized-steel chain-link fencing, rise ziggurat-style to the main floor, where they morph directly into the enormous worktable. "The table forms a continuous ribbon with the staircase," Wilkinson explains. "You can walk straight onto it."
Made of 3-inch-thick cast-in-place concrete slabs sitting on recessed concrete supports, the table's 14-by-250-foot dimensions accommodate 200 people at a time. Segmented to allow easy circulation, it resembles an oval racetrack snaking through the room's grid of massive columns; one of its curves is even banked like a speedway's. Wilkinson modeled the piece on a modern architectural icon: Giacomo Mattè-Trucco's 1920's rooftop automobile test track at Fiat's Lingotto factory in Turin, Italy.
CWA fit other operational necessities around this dramatic centerpiece. On one side, steel posts support a series of custom English-oak folding doors, hinged together accordion-style, which conceal electronics storage and personal lockers. In the center of the loop, a row of custom white-leather ottomans together with scattered seating groups composed of flea-market finds form breakout zones.
Mother requested an art-studio ambience; CWA obliged with white-epoxy floors and whitewashed brick walls on the top three floors. "These surfaces create major acoustical challenges," Wilkinson recounts. Instead of using a tiled ceiling or upholstered walls, his solution was to pad the light fixtures.
Wilkinson and his associate Richard Hammond designed 50 plywood-box pendants fitted with fluorescent lamps and prismatic diffusers. Each 7-foot-long fixture is wrapped with 3 inches of acoustical foam and then "slipcovered," 'says Hammond, with Marimekko fabrics in vibrant colors and bold patterns. Wilkinson traveled to the textile manufacturer's Helsinki headquarters to pore through its archives, ultimately selecting supergraphics spanning from the early 1950's to 2004.
While the main work floor reads like a cross between a semi-industrial think factory and the Circus Maximus, CWA didn't let its creative legerdemain stop there. The meatpacking curtains reappear on the top floor, where they're used to separate Mother's three satellite businesses: Monkey, a television-production company; Poke, a Web and interactive design group; and Saturday, a graphics and interior-design agency. The plastic hangings suggest an eerie installation piece, especially when shifting daylight plays on them.
The art allusions are even stronger on the ground floor, where Wilkinson's entrance, a tinted-glass cube, is a deliberate reference to Damien Hirst's sensational formaldehyde-filled tanks, works forever associated with advertising mogul Charles Saatchi. At Mother, however, there are no visible sharks.