Ekho Studio crafts the future of workplace for AstraZeneca UK
AstraZeneca UK’s commercial head office has a new workspace, designed by Ekho Studio, spread across two floors and over 21,000 sq ft of number 2 Pancras Square, King’s Cross – currently London’s fastest-growing district – and located between the two great railway stations of King’s Cross and St Pancras International. The lively Pancras Square development also houses Google’s new HQ and offices for tech and music giants YouTube and Universal Music, whilst the retail and hospitality developments of Granary Square and Coal Drops Yard lie directly to the north, just beyond the Regent’s Canal.
The new scheme has been created in addition to the 15,000 sq ft the principal company occupies in the same building, having moved there in 2019. The new space will be home to staff from AstraZeneca UK, which was previously located in Luton and includes teams across medical, marketing, digital, communications, finance and HR functions, supporting the UK’s biopharmaceutical and oncology business teams. Ekho Studio, a new interiors agency formed by Founding Partners Sarah Dodsworth and Rachel Withey after 20 years’ experience at practices such as BDP, HKW, 5Plus, 74 and SpaceInvader (where Sarah was Creative Director and Rachel Associate Director) – and which has just celebrated its first year in business – were commissioned to create the new scheme.
“The overarching ethos for the new space was to create a healthier, more comfortable and productive workspace” Sarah Dodsworth commented, “and to balance the needs of a supremely functional workplace, whilst creating a sense of aspiration. We worked on the scheme throughout the pandemic as we moved this branch of the company from their former Luton offices to an entirely new way of working in central London.”
AstraZeneca UK will use its new King’s Cross HQ to drive collaboration and innovation further. The move reflects AstraZeneca UK’s renewed ambition to drive collaboration and innovation both internally and externally, with its relocation to London’s new ‘Knowledge Quarter’ bringing them closer to their broad network of healthcare partners to work in ambitious, purpose-led partnerships.
The new workplace needed to house more than 200 employees at 156 workstation desks, with agile work-from-home (WFH) options taken on board, as well as the provision of a variety of non-workstation spaces, from informal collaboration and breakaway settings to an on-site restaurant and an external terrace space. The new scheme also had to incorporate a reception area, a variety of VC-enabled meeting rooms, plus dedicated washrooms and shower facilities.
“We had a number of very thorough and penetrating workshop sessions with the client team in the early stages of the project” Sarah Dodsworth explained, “helping to build the brief on the most solid foundations. Given the lack of face-to-face possibilities for much of that time, we also helped lead a very interactive series of consultations with the full team on spatial priorities and design directions, so that we also knew decisions were based on grass roots contributions of what team members would need from their space on an everyday basis, as well as the over-arching values the designs needed to respond to.”
The results of the workshop sessions ended in a list of ten ‘non-negotiables’ for the new workspace:
1. Health and wellbeing
2. Dynamic and inspiring
3. Inclusive and relaxed
4. Digital tech
5. Honest and authentic
6. Reflecting AstraZeneca values
10. Enabling people to work better together
The task was summarised in terms of high-level aspirations as being about ‘New Beginnings’ and ‘Escaping to the Office’ (with the upgrade in the environment looking to stimulate a real desire to a return to in-office working) and making sure the client bought into every stage of the design journey, as there were anxieties to be managed about the scale of the changes coming their way.
The scheme also needed to be biophilic, flexible and highly-energy-efficient, creating a space that would nurture an easy and informal atmosphere which in turn would foster serendipitous collaborations, with work and social behaviours are no longer siloed and instead mixing together naturally.
“The successful integration of technology was also a major piece of the brief” Sarah Dodsworth added. “This is a client who really does invest in making technology work for its people, rather than paying lip service to the latest products and trends. Every single meeting room is VC-enabled, for example, whilst the ‘plug and play’ transitional areas between tea points and desking zones all feature Microsoft Surface Hub technology, using screens on wheeled stands, which make these areas properly effective as idea-sharing spaces. Several screens can also easily be brought together for Town Halls if required. In the quiet rooms and booth areas, tech controls – so often a barrier to a good design solution – are integrated discreetly into sideboards, which means people can relax in a comfy armchair and still take part in a Teams or Zoom meeting.”
The 8th floor reception is a bright and welcoming space with a hotel lobby vibe, featuring a warm neutral colour scheme, soft zoning curtains and styling nods also to residential design to make sure guests and team members feel relaxed and at home as soon as they enter the space. An open-plan co-working office area then stretches around a number of meeting rooms in the middle of the space, allowing staff to be close to the full-height windows and benefitting from the great natural light ingress permitted by the building. Each variation of meeting room has its own look and feel – from private, quiet spaces to two-, four- and eight-person rooms. There’s also a larger flexible event/breakout space with bi-folding doors, where warm shades of burgundy and grey sit against timber panelling and textured carpet.
“We put a lot of effort into making sure the meeting rooms didn’t feel too corporate,” said Ekho Studio Interior Designer Ellie McCrum. “They don’t necessarily have to shout either, but it did all have to hang together really well.”
In the main office area, suspended ceiling systems have been cleverly modified – a bespoke design by Ekho Studio to mimic the look of mesh, which was a way of offering an impactful finish without breaking the budget. Timber bulkheads are also bespoke and are amongst the feature elements that really impact on the atmosphere, aesthetics and acoustics within the open office areas.
“Our client had a vision for a ‘third space’ which, as they conceptualised it, was an environment sitting between a typical corporate office space and a boutique hotel” Sarah Dodsworth explained. “The design scheme reflects the best learnings from each end of the spectrum and these bespoke elements really speak to that aspiration. The Standard Hotel over the road was a constant reference point too, sparking off conversations about possibilities and the desired style, vibe and atmosphere of the new workspace.”
Timber flooring from Tedd Todd sits alongside carpeted areas with carpets by Milliken and Shaw, which guide visitors and staff throughout the main space. A number of collaboration areas act as a transition between more traditional workstations, whilst a bespoke ribbed wood and marble coffee bar sits under a curved frame which features integrated illumination.
Smaller and more intimate areas with soft seating are scattered thoughtfully around the more traditional desk spaces, with luxe finishes, soft lighting and warm timber continuing a hospitality feel. Surreal landscape photography by Tom Hegen was chosen to reflect the client’s vision, and to touch on issues of sustainability. All wayfinding and branding implementation was designed in-house by Ekho Studio, and live planting throughout the interior and the 8th floor’s external terrace was integral to creating the atmosphere and wellbeing ethos AstraZeneca was keen to promote.
“As part of our early visioning process, we managed to find a precious slot in-between lockdowns and spent a day benchmarking in London,” Sarah Dodsworth added. “The places we visited included boutique hotel lounges and amenity spaces, coworking spaces and high concept retail experience stores. The idea being that we could take influences and ideas from each of these to weave into the office design brief, with the latter the most familiar to the project team.”
The commitment to ensuring the right product was delivered meant that every piece of furniture was trialled and tested by the project sponsor / client team before orders were placed, ensuring the team’s commitment to supreme functionality – whilst also embodying beautiful aesthetics – was delivered on, from Senator desks with a slight mid-century feel to custom upholstery from Textile Mania and design classics by Carl Hansen.
“Every item had to fight for its place and be there for a reason” Sarah Dodsworth added.
In the large café and social area, a mix of soft and wooden furniture is complemented by mobile planters on castors, tying in with the material language of the workspace and allowing the space to be fully flexible for the various town halls and client events that would form part of its everyday life. Huge bi-folding doors open out onto the large, south-facing balcony/ terrace area, with plenty of outdoor and transitional furniture and offering incredible panoramic views of the capital.
The 9th floor is home to further open-plan co-working and collaboration spaces, plus meeting rooms and a special ‘focus zone’ for quiet work and a library, as well as an area for occupational health, quiet / private contemplation and a kitchenette and teapoint area.
The new workplace successfully nurtures an easy and informal atmosphere which will in turn foster chance collaborations – just as the brief requested – redefining how AstraZeneca UK works and engages with the outside world. Optimum energy efficiency was also achieved, with the project receiving a BREEAM ‘Excellent’ rating.
“Sarah and her team delivered a design that has met and exceeded the expectation of the AstraZeneca UK team” James Larkin, Director, Facilities Management at AstraZeneca commented. “The Ekho Studio team worked hard to translate a variety of sometimes conflicting requirements into a coherent and ambitious design package that is not only visually stunning but also works efficiently as an office space both operationally and from a user perspective. The Ekho Studio team were an integral part of our wider project team working across disciplines. I look forward to hopefully working with them in the future.”