Oswestry might not be the first place you think of when it comes to strong, statement head offices. But then preconceptions are really just there to be challenged.
AICO, a leading supplier of carbon monoxide, heat and smoke alarms and sensors, aimed to do just that when it briefed DGA Architects to deliver a new home for its business in the Shropshire borough. Located on a major road leading into the town centre, it needed to provide a bold welcome to company visitors, and also passing traffic.
“One of the staff members, when they walked in there for the first time, actually burst into tears apparently,” says Barry Prince, DGA’s director, articulating how instructions to create a new ‘home’ for staff were followed to the tee. “One of the briefs for the building as whole, but particularly the atrium, was achieving the wow factor. It’s a bit of a cliche I appreciate, but it’s something we did achieve I believe.”
The new premises have transformed both the working environment and the surrounds. Half the overall site is taken up with landscaping, paying homage to the wider county’s famous green countryside to ensure plenty of nature is included in the man-made design. “It was developed with the staff needs in mind, meaning we created a large garden landscaped area, including wildlife pond and all sorts of other aspects that put wellbeing at the fore. It really considers the ecology of the site,” Prince explains.
The concept of staff comfort, mental health and wellbeing continues inside, with a gymnasium, games room, people-first staff area and breakout coffee corners that can be quickly tidied away to ensure a clutter-free look. A major goal in contemporary interior design, nodding to the age old adage ‘tidy desk, tidy mind’. These features didn’t come easily, though, with furniture one of the biggest tasks asked of DGA once fundamental plans for the building itself had been finalised.
“We had quite a lot of bespoke joinery made, kitchen units on each floor within the staff areas, so rather than having to go to a separate room to make a drink we designed these bespoke units that didn’t look like tea points,” says Prince.
“But the client wanted for the staff to be able to go for a drink but not leave the place looking messy, so the cabinets come down and it just looks neat and tidy. The loose furniture, that took an awful lot of time to get right,” he continues. “We went through a lot of iterations before getting it right but it looks fantastic I think.”
Other key features include Deltalight’s Superloop range of LED lighting hoops, a high quality design that was chosen not only because of its functionality, but also the fact that it matched an aesthetic theme running through the new base camp. “They fitted in perfectly with our circular design,” says Prince, going on to explain that these circles can be found in the Shaw Carpets, of which a number of finishes, colours and textures were chosen to separate areas, alongside detailing visible on the underside of ceilings.
The result being a mirrored effect that also reflects the design of the alarms, sensors and detectors AICO produces. “The trickiest bit was the central atrium, which is the first part of the building that people enter. We designed that as a curved structure,” Prince tells us, again emphasising the main constant in the overall look of the interior. “We found it very difficult for the contractor to find someone who could fabricate this kind of stair.”
It also proved difficult to secure the provision of a glass elevator, which had specifically been requested by the client. Clearly the intention was to make the environment as transparent as possible, accentuating the open-plan nature of the overall space, allowing members of the public to see the work taking place within. DGA managed it, but this was deceptively problematic.
“We struggled to get a glass elevator, that was something the client was very keen to have but we struggled to get a specialist manufacturer for this feature. It was only complete on the last week of the project, it was very nervy,” Prince recalls a situation that many professionals in his field will be able to empathise with.
Nevertheless, DGA got there, and the finished product is unarguably impressive. The practice’s extensive experience really shines through every last detail, with the firm calling on a portfolio spanning almost 30 years for this work, during which time it has listed household names such as Yo! Sushi among its clients, having been responsible for all the restaurant giant’s concepts for global premises.
“The client is very proud of the building, they call it their new home,” Prince proudly says of the AICO head office. After examining the evidence, it’s not hard to understand why.