Westpac Group is exploring a new Workplace Culture as well as creating an extended campus in sydney’s new Barangaroo precinct.
Written by Paul McGillick. He is an independent writer on architecture, art and design. Article first appeared in Indesign Magazine 64.
Good policy often only results once we have run out of easy off-the-peg labels. Westpac Group’s occupancy at Sydney’s new CBD precinct of Barangaroo is an excellent example of what happens when decisions are evidence based rather than the usual ready-mades.
A radical rethink
It is true that Westpac occasionally use terms like ‘agile’, but their new workspace – 60,000 square metres over 27 floors or two-thirds of Rogers Stirk Harbour’s Tower Two – is actually the result of an inside-out, bottom-up process to arrive at a fit-for-purpose facility. As Westpac’s Kristen Miller points out, what began as a property consolidation, ended up as a radical rethink of the group’s workplace culture, including the creation of a campus made up of Barangaroo and the nearby Kent Street building (2006) with interiors also by Geyer.
Kent Street was already a flexible work environment, so it offered a good starting point and an easy transition to what is now a far more sophisticated strategy. “Our baseline was great,” says Geyer’s Melinda Huuk, “but we were able to enrich it.” The ergonomics, health and well-being, she points out, have gone up to a “whole new level”. Functionality, too, is impressive. Kristen points out that they have achieved 95 per cent height-adjustability for their workstations, and by careful planning they have been able to achieve up to two additional floors of occupancy with very little change to the existing built environment.
Apart from Kent Street, Westpac already has other workplaces which mirror a long-standing company emphasis on flexibility with a large number of the company’s staff already working flexibly. So, says Kristen, the reality already existed and “we have now built another workplace that supports this with our people choosing where, when and how they wish to work.” Reflecting the inside-out approach, the aim was for a timeless aesthetic with an emphasis on natural light (strongly supported by 2900 millimetre and 3100 millimetre ceiling heights beyond the Level 15 transfer floor), textures, tactility, honesty to materials and sensitive landscaping of the floors.
Employees are given a neighbourhood
The palette is largely neutral with occasional splashes of colour, while built structures, decorative finishes and signage (by Urbanite) subtly tell Australian stories – a tactic which also quietly distinguishes the different business units, given that the amenities are basically the same throughout the fit-out. Employees are given a neighbourhood, wireless technology and a personal locker, but without any restriction on where they can work in the building and within a clean desk policy. While each neighbourhood provides all the amenity a worker might need (cafés or tea points, a variety of work and meeting options), people are encouraged to move around.
Sensational harbour views
Unlike ‘agile’ pacesetters such as Macquarie, CBA, ANZ and NAB, the building does not have a central atrium providing visual connectivity – although there is strong visual connectivity across the ‘villages’ on each floor, but voids and connecting stairs were factored into the lease and these were enlarged to create a degree of visual connection. Still, in order to encourage movement across levels there are basically two types of villages which alternate between floors: collaborative, and quiet, individually-focussed where the work spaces are on the perimeter and enjoy the sensational views out to the harbour. Westpac Group occupy up to Level 28 of the tower, including the three levels of the podium.
Dramatic spiral staircase
Its occupancy, however, begins in the dedicated grand southern lobby space. Apart from the decorative American Oak timber shingles on the eastern wall – a motif repeated upstairs – the lobby (designed by Woods Bagot, but aligned with the fit-out by Geyer) offers the Club Lounge as a private, invitation only meeting space behind the reception desk, and the Working Lounge where visitors can work in preparation for meetings. Both are finished in the signature American Oak. A dramatic spiral staircase leads up to the Level 1 reception, designed to take pressure off the lobby and the lifts and provide visual and operational connection between the lobby and the business. Also on Level 1 is the Private Wealth Lounge connected directly to the car park by its own lift. This concierged area supports meetings between clients and their private bankers.
As a client-facing area, the formal design language established here is continued on Levels 27 and 28: spacious, restrained elegance and an opportunity to display some of the corporate art collection. In a fit-out rich in amenity for both staff and visitors, Level 3 stands out. Being at the top of the podium provided the opportunity for an extensive outdoor terrace. Aspect/Oculus have designed an intriguingly wandering landscape of customised furnishings with a managed outdoor barbecue facility. With its own plot of genuine grass, the terrace is aptly described by Geyer’s Uta Wolf as an “oasis”. The terrace links by operable glazed doors to one of the building’s two main cafés to offer a major function space.
The cafe is social rather than work-based, although Wi-Fi is available as it is throughout the building – an internal app known as WorkSMART seems to supply almost any kind of information anyone might want. Towards the core of the café space there is a variety of informal work and meeting spaces, including small pods with exquisite laser-cut aluminium ‘mashrabiyah’ screens for privacy while still allowing connection. Also on Level 3 is the Wellness Centre with a multipurpose room for yoga and Pilates along with six consultation rooms offering treatments and services including physiotherapy, remedial massage, podiatry and dieticians – all part of a strategy to provide everything employees could need in-house.
World unto itself
Down to the 9000 plants which green the interior, the Westpac tenancy is a kind of world unto itself. Surely, it is the ideal working environment where work and going to work become a pleasure and where everything is provided to facilitate productive and efficient work. And even when someone does eventually leave the building, there is a concierge who will give you tips on where to eat – that is, after they have organised your dry cleaning.