nettletontribe have relocated to our new Brisbane architectural studio at 85 Bowen Street Spring Hill.
nettletontribe’s new Brisbane studio reinvigorates and repurposes a 100+yr old brick merchants bulk store, originally designed by Chambers and Powell in 1913. This 2020 refurbishment provides a collaborative studio for 45 staff using a fresh way of thinking about how people engage in the workplace environment, and placing emphasis on staff comfort and interaction.
The site at 85 Bowen Street Spring Hill may be familiar to some, previously occupied for over 40 years by a local institution, the Little Tokyo Japanese restaurant, famous for hosting high-profile celebrities in Brisbane during the 80’s including the Rolling Stones’ Mick Jagger. After 45 years the restaurant closed in 2012 with nettletontribe purchasing the site in 2019 for use as its new Brisbane headquarters. Although in a state of disrepair, the building with its definitive sawtooth roof line presented an opportunity for nettletontribe to repurpose the space into a vibrant and active office.
The site is a compact 600m spread over two levels. The existing building consisted of two independent but adjoining brick warehouses with 3m floor height differential. The lower building was the original bulk store designed with no external windows or natural light. The existing building fabric had no visual connectivity between the lower 450sqm warehouse space and the upper 150 sqm volume.
Initially hidden under the layers of previous fit outs the building structure was slowly revealed through an early works demolition process. It wasn’t until this work was effectively completed that the process of designing the new studio could proceed unabated. With suspended ceilings removed original roof trusses were revealed. Years of termite and water damage to the original fabric was repaired. A heritage brick contractor carefully exposed the original internal glazed brick and the external glazed brick façade pattern from the original 1913 design.
There were no existing heritage constraints placed on the building, however given the architectural pedigree and the social history of the place the design sought to retain and celebrate the original building fabric.
The main challenge to overcome with the layout was to connect the lower warehouse space to the upper level 3m above. In order to visually and physically connect the two spaces, a longitudinal section of roof on the lower pitch was raised with the insertion of a new timber framed skylight structure. The structure designed to be fixed to the original internal timber trusses of the lower roof. Placed along the common brick wall the skylight void rises 7m above the floor with new 2.4m high openings cut into the upper external brick wall providing a visual connection between the levels. The skylight was orientated to admit natural light deep into the building interior.
A new steel framed stair was designed to be inserted between the existing ceiling trusses connecting both levels and drawing the eye up to the sky above.
Working from home and the perception of the workplace environment has been gradually evolving from the traditional idea of an office environment for years. With the events of 2020 this evolution has been fast tracked to the point where working from home and a flexible workplace is the new normal. With this in mind, the design seeks to focus on the idea of flexibility and collaboration in the workplace as a key driver for the functional layout. All staff are provided with a designated workplace as a fixed base, workstations were designed to be functionally efficient, spaced at 1.8m. The configuration of the remaining space is focused on providing a variety of work and meeting spaces outside of the traditional office format for working individually or collaboratively.
With meeting spaces in high demand, the new office provides a formal boardroom and meeting room, but the strength of the design is in the many places designed which allow informal meetings and small group gatherings to occur throughout the office. As a result, meeting spaces are more relaxed, with the focus predominantly on providing adaptable social and presentation spaces. With working from home being the new normal, this strategy is highly successful at providing the social amenity to staff they miss from the home environment. The office is redefined as a place to meet and collaborate.
Planning / workplace design
The studio planning is structured around a central entry hall. The traditional office arrangement which uses the reception as a line of separation from the public has been removed. The reception is conceived more as a welcome point where the visitor is drawn into the centre of the workplace. The central location of the entry reception zone welcomes clients and visitors into the heart of the studio space creating immediate engagement.
The entry lobby is located in the original warehouse loading bay door, centrally placed along the Bowen Street façade. The central connecting stair creates activity with constant movement of staff between and through the entry zone.
Large openings were inserted to the main façade on Bowen Street to reveal the boardroom and the studio space within. These openings bathe the internal spaces in natural light and connect the interiors to passing foot traffic adding a layer of transparency and visual engagement to the local community. The openings were designed with bespoke steel window frames designed as structural supports to the heritage brickwork. This arrangement avoided the need for new support footings which would have required demolition of large areas of heritage brickwork. Smaller openings were created on the North facing Mein Street façade to allow pedestrians to peek into the studio space below.
Engagement with design community/ social spaces/ collaboration
On the upper floor level, the design provides a space to connect with the wider design community, providing a flexible function space arranged to accommodate a broad range of activities. The 150sqm living room and kitchen includes a designated external courtyard space which opens directly to the street. The space is conceived along the lines of a domestic living space, including a lounge, dining zone and large kitchen with an external courtyard and BBQ area. The space can operate independently with amenities designed to accommodate use for client and design community functions of up to 150 people. Typically, the space accommodates design workshops, VR presentations and our Pour and Present Friday afternoon social activities.
Using the embedded value of the original construction, the refurbishment has sought to minimise the impact on the building fabric to reduce the carbon footprint of the construction. The brick skin provides thermal mass to protect the internal from summer sun. The building is designed to breathe with new windows opening designed to provide cross ventilation of the lower floor workspaces. The upper floor has a fully open façade to vent rising warm air. A new roof was added incorporating an insulating layer above the existing sheeting to control thermal heat gain. Solar panels were designed for the roof, which will provide sufficient power to ensure the building is carbon neutral.
The completed project has created a vibrant new architectural studio space for nettletontribe that is lively and engaging. The workspace is an active environment based on the principles of collaboration and consultation. Placing the focus on social connections and staff interactions which is critically important in the post-COVID, working from home landscape.
While in the local context, revealing and celebrating the materiality of the original building the design has reinvigorated the Springhill streetscape.