Upgrading to a new version

Jess Unwin visits Microsoft’s new base in Paddington to see how transparent and flexible workspaces encourage collaboration, reflecting a ‘sea change’ in the IT giant’s approach

nyone who has worked in an open plan office has given in to the temptation to email a colleague who is just a few paces away across the floor. Undoubtedly convenient but also somehow disconnected on a human level, this ‘digital dialogue’ – as studio head at Microsoft’s Lift London studio Lee Schuneman described it – was something he was looking to discourage in phase two of the firm’s relocation to a new home. Part of his vision for floors seven and eight at 2 Kingdom Street, Paddington was staff benefiting from a more ‘analogue’ relationship. Surprising language given Microsoft is a tech giant – but getting people up from their desks to talk face to face is part of the company’s strategy to create shared, transparent and flexible workspaces that encourage collaboration. Architects Gensler were asked to deliver those workspaces when they took on the project in November 2015. The two-floor refit started just as phase one of the reloca- tion (on floors four and five) was being completed. The overarching plan for phase two was to bring further Microsoft business groups – including the Lift London and SwiftKey engineering teams, but also Bing, Xbox and HoloLens – under one roof, reflecting the company’s aim to establish an integrated London base.


Gensler were already working on Microsoft’s European HQ in Dublin when they got the call to take on Paddington. Stuart Templeton, lead interior designer and associate at Gensler, soon understood the two biggest challenges ahead.

Winning over end users

Firstly, a modest budget for the combined accommodation of 4,830 m2

would mean imaginative and creative design solutions. ADF JANUARY 2018

Secondly, the designs would need to win over some of the people who were to use the office spaces. In particular, the Lift London and SwiftKey teams, who were moving from very different environments at offices in Soho and Southwark respectively. Templeton says: “Both these groups are staffed by younger people with a strong start-up mentality and there was some nervousness about relocating to a more corporate setting.” Happily, the project coincided with a sea change in thought at Microsoft that has helped Gensler recreate the start-up energy, creativity and general ambience that the Lift London and SwiftKey teams wanted. Templeton explains: “It’s an interesting time to work with Microsoft. Previously they’ve had an office design manual for architects which was pretty prescriptive: you know, put a table here that’s this height, a screen here of this height. But, of course, that was producing a commonality that they’ve decided to get away from. “Now, there’s a new design language for their offices that gives architects and designers much more flexibility in how space can be laid out to be more suited to the end user.”

Spaces to suit all needs

Although the two floors were treated as two separate projects, both had the same objective: a working environment for Microsoft engineers and designers consist- ing of myriad spaces where they can discover different locations to suit their needs, whether that be formal, informal, quiet, or lively. And, in recognition of the ever-changing nature of tech work, the spaces had to be sufficiently fluid and flexible so that they could be tweaked and rearranged as the

The new design language for their offices gives architects and designers much more flexibility

Stuart Templeton, lead interior designer & associate, Gensler


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