Just when we thought we had the measure of workplace design in the Netherlands, along comes another scheme to blow onoffice’s mind. The Pallet Project, which is set next to a canal in Amsterdam, is home to BrandBase, an advertising agency (who’d have thought?) that specialises in cross-media communication, with Shell, ING and Schipol on its books. The office design concept comes courtesy of Rotterdam-based Most Architecture, which is led by Paul Geurts, 32, and 30-year-old Saxon-Lear Duckworth. “They wanted an office which would be their temporary home for one or two years,” explains Geurts. “Because of this, and the short design period, it was intended to be an autonomous structure.” That way, when the agency has outgrown or no longer requires this space, it can up sticks quickly and easily, without too much of an attachment to the structure. The other part of the brief, typical for the creative industries, was to create an open, informal environment. There is room for 15 people to work in the space at the moment, with the possibility to extend this by a further five.
The building, on the Brouwersgracht canal, can be found in a downtown area of the Dutch capital and is an archetypical canal house, just six metres wide, yet 27 metres deep, divided via split levels and occupying two storeys of the five-storey structure, with apartments above. The design concept essentially has three layers. The first is the white paint finish, applied to the walls and concrete floors. The second layer is where the project gets its name. Most Architecture used 270 pieces of Euro pallet for elements of the office such as the furniture and the staircase. Geurts admits that the design concept is led by this unusual c hoice of material, rather than the other way around. The architects discovered a certain synchronicity with the pallets and the human body, too – five stacked on top of one another was the perfect height for a desk. The material was not without its challenges, though. “It’s a very strong element when positioned vertically, but in order to stack them horizontally, we needed to add beams in to strengthen them,” says Geurts.
Geurts and Duckworth experimented with finishes such as epoxy resin to make the pallets more user-friendly in an office environment, as opposed to their more usual industrial function. They eventually decided to sand them until they were nearly as smooth as a wooden floor. For desks and the lunch table sheets of glass were placed on top. The third layer in the design comprises the black elements: the banisters, the task chairs and the light fittings, which are suspended U-shaped pieces of metal with PL fittings. “These elements are designed to give cohesion to the whole interior,” explains Geurts. This office design can loosely be divided into four zones: the entrance, the staircase, the split-level area and the studio. “As you come in, the pallet structure welcomes visitors with open arms, created by two rows of desks,” explains Geurts. These provide a total of eight working units. People walk on to the structure like a catwalk, surrounded by BrandBase employees – this is clearly not an office for the shy and retiring guest.
The architects removed the existing staircase, preferring to use pallets to create an altogether different flight of stairs. A more formal part has steps and banisters, while there is an informal part where stacked pallets provide a place to break out. “The pallet structure is designed in such a way that besides being merely a place of work, the entire element invites you to stand, sit or lie down on the pallets,” adds Geurts.
The upper floor is home to the management team, each of whom has a separate desk, enjoying ample natural light from a skylight. The pallet structure here is separated by a transparent wall and translucent sliding doors, behind which is a presentation and meeting room. Attendees sit in what is almost an amphitheatre of pallets, and a huge moveable boardroom table is a focal point. The studio area, at the back of the ground floor, was treated in a totally different way to the rest of the office space. It has white desks matching the white walls, and black wires that hang like lianas from the staircase to the desks and the servers. Lights are also suspended, in what looks like a fairly precarious set-up, from the wires. Most Architecture, which is not yet two years old, is involved in architecture, interior design and urban strategies such as a competition for a cruise terminal in Kaohsiung in Taiwan. It was longlisted for the Prix de Rome 2010, the oldest art prize in the Netherlands, for a design called The Great Green Escape.
It was during an exhibition at the Amsterdam Architecture Institute that the practice caught the attention of BrandBase creative director Marvin Pupping, and were commissioned. It was Pupping’s desire to furnish the space with an authentic, recyclable feel that led to the use of pallets. It’s nothing new for advertising agencies to project their branding laterally on to the spaces in which they work. Pre-recession, the message to potential clients might have been: “Look how expensive our office is, we don’t come cheap.” In these budget-conscious times, this has been replaced by: “Look what we’ve achieved on a relative shoestring. Think how far your money is going to go using us.”
This is Most Architecture’s first workplace design project and their freshness to the sector is wholly evident in their uninhibited use of pallets. At any graduate design show you will find plenty of examples of industrial materials used out of context – but here Geurts and Duckworth have harnessed the material in a way that makes it entirely fit for purpose. You stop thinking of this raw material in its more common surroundings of dockyards and warehouses and admire the beauty and practicality of it in the workplace.