Grå Puksand channels the village atmosphere

Since the beginning of 2020, retail has found itself in the midst of a technological revolution. This has driven many retailers into a race for survival, and the strongest and fastest have flourished. On top of this survival-to-thrive scenario, the incredible disruption to working life as we know it has been: the instantaneous shift to working from home and the rapid transition to hybrid ways of working.

Caught in these two tides, this leading Australian retailer embarked on one of its biggest moves to date: consolidating its support teams into a single location to create a support headquarters that vitally feeds back into its retail destinations.

Bringing all of its support staff into one place began before 2020 as a very different conversation. As the pandemic and shutdowns unfolded, the conversation took a turn and the focus fell on finding the right location to support the company’s formidable digital and technology arms and also respond to the changing needs and changing behaviors of its 1,500 support staff.

Gray Puksand - Village Vibes

Under the leadership of Gray Puksand, the client changed its workplace strategy and settled on a location (already built). The design of its workplace came from there – a rapid 11-month process that delivered a hyper-flexible, hybrid-ready activity-based work outcome. This result especially supports a 60-40 ratio, where only 60 percent of the company’s workforce is tied to a desk.

It’s worlds away from the original pre-pandemic game plan. But no complaints. With all his workplace design expertise, Grå Puksand has taken this project in hand and delivered a fully awake office environment that emphasizes the customer’s workplace culture. Underlying this is the customer’s commitment to people first, its strong sense of community and its hospitable nature. From the workers’ perspective, their new support headquarters also delivers the core values ​​of ‘village life’ – the intangible quality you only really get when you work from home, and a vital connection to the great outdoors.

The building itself comprises two towers, connected by a level two podium and two connecting bridges on the upper levels. Teams are arranged across the two towers in quarters. This is significant, says Gray Puksand’s design director and project manager, Dale O’Brien, in that it reduces the friction of too many choices.

Gray Puksand - Village Vibes
The cage fight Humorously dubbed the Cage Fight, the central staircase is a semi-enclosed perforated drum that ascends through the room.
Gray Puksand - Village Vibes
“Healthier food options in a nice, quiet space. It’s just a place you want to be, as an employee.”

“People have a home base, somewhere they know they have a closet. It’s not so flexible that you get to point A and leave at point Z. You need this frictionless experience of coming into a room and belong to an area,” he says.

By defining the work environments in each neighborhood, Gray Puksand asked the questions: Why do people come in? What do they do when they come in? What spaces do they need and how do these spaces adapt over time? This thinking recognizes that an eight-hour workday (if it can be described so definitively) is composed of different scenarios and varying energy yields.

“Low, medium and high energy zones were really the way the design was able to respond,” says O’Brien. Lively, high-energy zones are more dynamic – less tethered, the furniture looser. Intermediate intensity zones take into account the ‘heads down’ moments and support individual work in a communicative team environment.

Gray Puksand - Village Vibes

The quieter spaces carry the behavioral influences of a library – more formal, equipped with taller screens, quiet zones with dedicated telephone and Zoom booths. “These naturally happen in corners of the building where it’s less transient,” notes O’Brien.

With staff already moved in and happily shaping their quarters and work zones to their daily needs, Gray Puksand has been happy to receive the kind of feedback every designer wants to hear: “This feels like us. You’ve really captured our essence.”

O’Brien attributes this to Gray Puksand’s intuitive understanding of the aspirational task: Who are they, what matters to them? As it turns out, the staff feel enormous pride in their company and its role in their customers’ everyday lives. The design shows this through its attention to detail, with particular emphasis on honesty, accessibility and friendliness.

Hidden fasteners are exposed, finishes and services are revealed, and recognizable materials are used in unrecognizable ways. “We challenged the contractors with: ‘We actually want to see what the fastening is like, we want things to be exposed, we want to see through the wall.’ ” O’Brien refers to kitchens where transparent walls reveal the inner workings of their construction while contributing to the light quality of the rooms.

Co-working zones – affectionately referred to as garden sheds – use laser light, bent vertically, to refract the light across the timber frames. Again, “recognizable materials used in unfamiliar ways”.

“The hardest thing to permeate the images of this project when you walk around is the feel of this space. Raw natural materials are brought into play with a muted palette of subtle sage and river gum tones.”

The color palette is a loving reflection of the surrounding Yarra landscape, which can be seen from almost every part of the building in approximately 300-degree views. So, “when you walk on the floor, it almost feels like you’re walking outdoors”.

This extends to the 250-seat café, which opens onto outdoor seating and an amphitheater served by an outdoor kitchen. The café itself offers a number of healthy food options with an emphasis on meeting the staff’s interests, needs and appetites.

“Healthier food options in a nice, quiet space. It’s just a place you want to be as an employee,” says O’Brien. “We talk a lot these days about monetizing the commute, especially in the hybrid work reality. The client tells us the space does.” And what more could you ask for?

Gray Puksand

The shed Associated with the 250-seat café is an outdoor ‘arena’ that includes an amphitheater, kitchen and nightscape.

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