- Article by Online Editor
- Photography by Peter Clarke
- Architect Elenberg Fraser
Pristine, ordered and impeccably detailed: this interior, designed by architecture studio Elenberg Fraser, is the new workspace for quantity surveying and cost planning business, Slattery Australia.
Located on the top floor of a 1960s building in Melbourne’s CBD, the new office coincides with a shift in Slattery’s organisational culture. Previously based in an office of carrel desks littered with stacks of documents and personal items, the company has modernised the ways in which it operates – placing greater focus on more effective collaboration.
The Slattery fitout, located within the same building as Elenberg Fraser’s studio, is conceived as a complement to the architecture firm’s own office. “Our two businesses are two sides of the same coin,” explains Elenberg Fraser director, Callum Fraser. “As architects, our core business is about bringing our ideas through the chaos, while Slattery’s business is about taking those ideas through to the finished product.”
Science fiction is a recurring theme in the work of the studio, from Star Wars’ Princess Leia and her famed golden bikini (Luna apartments) to Predator (La Crosse tower). Its own office embodies traits of Steven Lisberger’s 1982 film, Tron, with a moody, neon-lit black-on-black interior that draws on the early landscape of Tron and the transformation of a two-dimensional space into a three-dimensional one. For Elenberg Fraser, the new workspace for Slattery was an opportunity to expand on this idea as an extension, and flip-side, of its own mode of practice in a design that embodies the themes present in the 2010 sequel, Tron: Legacy.
“Tron is about emergence and about ideas being resolved – yet still quite unknown. In Tron: Legacy, it becomes quite different: it’s very stylised and aesthetically wound-up,” explains Fraser. Upstairs, the fitout embraces the high-tech luxury of the uniforms and vehicles of Tron: Legacy – crisp white surfaces, pristine lines and, at the threshold, neon lighting strips inset into the timber panelling. The 800-square-metre space maximises access to city views and natural light. The main workspace runs alongside the southeastern facade, while meeting rooms, the reception and a private office are positioned on the other side of the fitout. A kitchen at the northeast end provides a communal area that can also be used for training and staff meetings.
A muted palette of blonde timbers, white leather and white and black furniture creates a disciplined, ordered space, while precise black lines add rhythm, resulting in a meticulous interior that mirrors the statistical data and cost planning work that the organisation produces.
Adorning the wall behind reception in the office entry, and reappearing in the adjacent meeting room, is a graphic pattern formed by the grooves between the timber boards. At a central point, these poker-straight lines morph and curve as if a physical object has forced them off course. This graphic pattern retains the precision of the rest of the space, yet it is teasing – suggesting a transition from electronic to physical space. Glass doors with circular handles add to this tension between flat and three-dimensional space, as the curves on the wall behind appear to ripple away, dislodged by the black discs.
Positioned at the centre of the space is the reception desk: a luxurious object swathed in white quilted leather. Sitting directly in front of the warping lines on the rear wall, for those entering the office the receptionist appears as if in a vortex, the wall morphing behind her. Fraser tells me that the studio has also designed a latex outfit for the receptionist to wear as part of the Tron homage, which perhaps unsurprisingly, he jokes, remains unworn.
Beyond the reception, the open plan office is revealed. Banks of desks adopt the same rhythm seen throughout the fitout, creating a more open and flexible space that encourages communication among teams and across projects. The chaos of the drawing rolls that had been piled up on desks in Slattery’s previous office has now been sequestered in shelving, which lines the main working area.
“The drawings are a physical residue of their older practice,” says Fraser. “They don’t use them as much as they thought they did. This new working environment has changed the ways they store and retrieve information.” Lined up along the wall, the filing serves as a visual representation of the organisation’s current projects and lends it an air of efficiency.
On the other side of the corridor, three meeting rooms are contained within black steel-framed windows, while at the end of the corridor, a pocket timber door to the chairman’s corner office creates a necessary space for privacy. When closed, the timber panelling on this door aligns with those on the floor, so that the timber appears to fold from one surface to another – a flat surface defining a three-dimensional space.
The new office has played a part in effecting cultural change within the office and it has also shifted the ways its employees interact with clients, giving the company a much stronger visual and physical presence. Rather than leaving the office for every meeting, Slattery’s team uses the space as a base from which to manage their projects – a professional, efficient space that mirrors the working process of Slattery as an organisation.
Just as its cinematic allusions explore the transition of an idea from emergence to lucidity, so too in this project Elenberg Fraser has investigated how the workforce sought to reinvent the way it works and, through that process, produced a physical environment that can help realise that change.