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    5 steps to designing an office space for a ‘lean, focused and agile corporation’

    “We wanted our new offices to be an exciting environment with a modern, tech-led look and plenty of space to create, write formulae on walls and communicate ideas. We are seeking a solution to the world’s energy problems and wanted the “green” aspects of what we do to come out too.”

    - First Light Fusion

    First Light Fusion is a dynamic scientific research business based near Oxford. It spun out from Oxford University, forming an independent business in June 2011. Being appointed to design this new office space was an exciting commission, not just because of the groundbreaking nature of First Light Fusion’s work, but also because of the challenge posed by the brief; the differing demands of those working within the space, the nature of their work, the functionality, security considerations and the client’s ambitions for the interior design.

    Where do you start when confronted by a group of engineers and physicists who are totally preoccupied with inertial confinement fusion?

    STEP ONE: A visit to their existing offices.

    When Camilla went to look at First Light’s existing office space, she developed a really good understanding of how the offices needed to function as well as how they worked as a team and as individuals.  During this initial visit, she noticed that there was writing all over the walls.  These were for ‘Eureka moments’ during daily brainstorm sessions when an idea or mathematical formula will suddenly make sense and can be written down as it occurs.    A key aspect of the design developed from this observation.

    Whiteboards for those Eureka moments are a key aspect of the design.

    The whiteboards allow mathematical analysis to be spread out over many metres. This aspect of the work is top secret so sadly we can’t share photos of them.

    Camilla also established that the dominating feature of the design was going to be the need to differentiate three separate security zones whilst maintaining a natural flow.  To achieve this, Element decided to strip the space back to its structure, including removing the ceiling. They then designed a series of elements to break up the space and create a more organic feel.  Colour is used to differentiate the security areas, with the cue being taken from the cooler palette of the company logo and from the sunlight spectrum.

    STEP TWO: Analyse work patterns.

    First Light wanted to introduce the dynamism and creativity of a Google office environment which allows collective and individual working in a relaxed but secure setting. The security aspect influenced the design of a “pin-wheel” desk set up with all the services coming in from above.  These enable the scientists and engineers to be part of a community while at the same time ensuring that each individual’s work is not overlooked from behind. The design balances the need for interaction in communal spaces with the requirement for private lone working.


    STEP THREE: Design the communal areas.

    A new extension inserted within.

    Additional zones requiring design input include a cafe, showers, and a series of casual meeting spaces, and also snugs where scientists can relax with a book. Element Studios added a new extension for the communal areas including a double-height cafe.

    These communal spaces were really important to get right.  First Light wanted to make sure they were comfortable, fun and encouraged different types of switch off time; whether it be interacting with workmates, curling up somewhere comfortable to read a book, or sitting down to have something to eat and drink.

    STEP FOUR: Design a reception area that reflects the nature of the company.

    The reception area needed to reflect the seriousness of the company mission without being intimidating. Being environmentalists, First Light wanted to use natural materials and to introduce a bit of fun, so a specially designed reception desk was fabricated from OSB which was also used to create interest and patterning on walls and floors. An additional striking feature of the reception area is the specially designed company logo made from moss.  The variations of green from the different mosses sit perfectly in combination with a subtle shade of pink introduced in the lighting scheme, along with the natural woody colour of the OSB.


    STEP FIVE: Introduce elements of fun.

    Element Studio’s work is characterised by a sense of fun and mischievousness which brings in a relaxed vibe; so important to any place where people have to spend their working life. Pops of colour taken from company branding colours extend right through the custom flooring design to the design of the washrooms and purpose made display cabinets illuminated with specialist coloured track lights.  Specially commissioned art work depicting blown up images of some of First Light’s experiments were printed onto frameless aluminium. Sixteen of these images were hung over the bi-fold doors of their meeting room to introduce a personal and pertinent touch highlighting the seriousness of the work that First Light Fusion are doing.

    As always, the lighting is an important part in creating the “feel” of these elements and Element Studios were delighted to be able to incorporate furniture and some decorative light-fittings from brand-new local British designers.


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