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Refreshing a Vision

15 June 2007

Key to successful refurbishment projects is developing relationships with suppliers to deliver the vision and execute the plans that meet the clients business needs, as Jane Fenwick discovered at Morley Fund Management in the heart of the City of London

OCCUPYING AN ICONIC POST-MODERN BUILDING brings with it certain responsibilities and limitations. A dynamic business occupant needs confidence to give a refreshed vision to the space the company occupies to meet its changing business needs, as well as respect for the architects vision to provide an effective and attractive space to work in today and in the future.

This is the case at No 1 Poultry, designed by Sir James Stirling in 1980’s for the awkward triangular space at the junction of Poultry and Queen Victoria Street, overlooking the Bank of England and Mansion House in the City. An architecturally sensitive site, it straddles an entrance to Bank underground station, incorporates retail units in the basement public area overlooked by an atrium that cuts through the six floors of the building, and is topped by the Coq D’Argent restaurant and roof garden.

Morley Asset Management was, with Regus, among the first occupants. Taking the third floor initially, Morley has since taken over floors four and five and is currently undertaking a £2m refurbishment of floors two and three. Since facilities manager, Richard Wrathmall joined Morley in 2001, occupation of the building has been constantly changing driven by a rising headcount and developing business needs.

Morley Fund Management is asset management arm of its parent company, Aviva, and manages about £169bn of assets (as at 6 June 2007). Currently, 650 staff are housed at 1 Poultry and there are overseas offices in Frankfurt, Poland, Spain, Italy, Ireland and Boston for which Wrathmall also has responsibility for fit outs. He reports to Morley’s Chief Operating Officer on all hard services, security systems, postroom, artworks and project management which has been a key part of his job since arriving.

Wrathmall has an architectural background and admits to having an ‘eye for design’, so it was natural for him to retain a close watch on how workspace design should evolve across the company, and how to maximise the use of space within the building to support the business. Additionally, developing a close relationship with Roy Parrish, general manager of HGBD (Harrow Green Design + Build) has produced a collaborative team that has developed a supportive relationship through all of Wrathmall’s projects at No 1 Poultry thus far.

Working within a triangular site with a ‘hole’ in it offers a host of issues for space planning in a dynamic and growing business, not least the lack of parallel lines which makes matching people and equipment more difficult in unconventionally shaped spaces. There is also an urgent need to refresh the ‘tired’ 1980’s interior design, to provide for more formal and informal meeting space and to better reflect the ethos of the company within the workplace. Wrathmall’s objective is to convey though Morley’s working environment key words such as ‘courage’, ‘cutting edge’, ‘progressive’ and ‘challenging’ that represent the company’s approach to business and its ambition for its clients and staff.

Within his first year, Wrathmall had tackled the key third floor reception area to provide more space for staff and guests, and to naturally lead them into the office and meeting spaces. As Wrathmall explained the key driver initially was to provide a comfortable and safe working location for a pregnant receptionist, but it soon became an opportunity to “raise the game and make a statement about the company” whilst also better accommodating an awkwardly placed column that dominated the space. When external interior designers failed to come up with a suitable solution, Wrathmall trusted his own judgement and turned to Roy Parrish, for advice initially on furniture suppliers. They had successfully worked together sourcing office furniture when Parrish was with a former employer. By listening to Wrathmall’s requirements, Parrish developed a design that met Morley’s needs. Additionally, he put him Wrathmall in touch with art consultant, Ann Marie Bainbridge, to advise on the use of contemporary art to reflect Morley’s values.

Wrathmall found a solution for integrating the reception desk and the awkward column, and provided more space of the staff and visitors, and with Bainbridge, he took a long hard look at the existing artwork in Morley’s offices. They quickly came to the conclusion to sell the lot to help fund the purchase of contemporary pieces that would fit the company ethos in selected spaces within the building. Visitors to Morley’s reception are now greeted with a welcoming, contemporary space that reflects the modernity of the building’s exterior and the dynamism expected of a successful financial services organization.

The success of this project gave Morleyconfidence that Wrathmell could to follow his own design instincts and, with the advice of Bainbridge and Parrish, undertake refreshing the highly individual client facing meeting rooms that overlook the Bank of England. Now called the Clock Room and the Bridge Room, both have been treated to a stunning classic, almost minimalist, effect given by, respectively, circular and triangular wood tables reflecting the different shapes of the rooms. Eames chairs and contemporary art works specially selected to tone in with the muted colours of the furniture complete the picture.

As Wrathmall explained, “There is considerable value in placing the right product in the right room. Roy has exposed me to lots of new product in the market. He knows the market very well and, although I subscribe to design magazines, there is much more out there. Sometimes I think that some FMs don’t look hard enough for the right product and don’t test what is right for their business. Roy’s scheme is traditional but leading edge.”

Parrish is far from complacent about the relationship that has developed between him and Wrathmall since his client’s approach is always to seek a range of bidders for each project. However, Parrish admits to “living and breathing this building”, and his understanding of what the client wants and what will work, particularly from a facilities management point of view, has won through on every one of Wrathmall’s projects so far.

Particularly demanding was a complex project to enhance the snack and vending facilities within the workspace and to increase the number of toilet facilities, both requiring substantial changes and additions to the core services of the building. Wrathmall took a hard look at the existing vending and break out spaces, neither of which were particularly attractive or well used. Staff frequently spent valuable time going to the Starbucks in the basement retail area for a ‘decent cup of coffee’. However, he could see that by making better use of circulation space and the break out areas, a triangular shaped café could be created capable of offering quality sandwiches, fresh soups and a limited selection of hot meals, as well as Starbucks branded coffee and client catering.The cafe is now not only doing good business, it is also seen as a benefit to staff and a selling point for recruiting new staff.

A complete refurbishment of the second floor is currently in progress again using the design and fit out services of HGDB to provide vitally needed meeting rooms, including a large multipurpose space for client meetings and pitches. The rapidly growing property investment arm of Morley frequently arranges client meetings comprising breakfast, audiovisual presentations of investment properties followed by tours around London to see them. As Wrathmall explained, “As with the other refurbishments that have been undertaken over the last few years at 1 Poultry, this is adding value to the business on a facilities level through improved design.”

Coping with the demands of a fast changing business has impacted on the HGBD team with business drivers changing the project in progress, so that new changes have had to be incorporated into the plans as the work is underway. “There is lots of change in this business which is very dynamic and fast growing,” said Parrish. “The need for speed means that decisions are made and the detail sorted out afterwards. However, we have always made these changes work and this is appreciated by the company. Expectations of us are very high to deliver a quality of finish and value for money.”

Since the refurbishment work has to go on with while Morley does its normal business, the HGBD team has to keep sound levels down during the day, and be prepared to work at night and weekends as necessary.

Wrathmall believes that when it comes to refurbishment FMs should trust their own judgement and understanding of the organization, rather than turn to architects and designers that don’t in his experience listen to the needs of the company. Working with one key supplier has developed a relationship based on mutual respect. As Parrish explains, “Richard now trusts us to get on with the work and be responsive to his and Morley’s needs. He has confidence in me to develop the right scheme and find the right products. “

The future is now about managing expectations of staff of bringing the main workspaces up to the standard of the new and upgrades spaces created, while at the same time coping with the demand to accommodate more desks. Comments Wrathmall, “People don’t know what they want until you put it in place. This means I need to have good suppliers, and build a team that I have faith in to deliver the goods.”

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