Accountable design

Pricewaterhouse Coopers, now known as ‘PwC’, has moved into a new headquarters in Frankfurt where the monolithic architectural structure of Tower 185, the country’s fourth tallest building, belies the lithe organic style of the interiors.

Instead of following the conventional route and working with an office designer, PwC awarded the contract to JOI-Design, a European-based interior design practice known mostly for its hospitality projects.

The financial consultancy was looking for a design that would differentiate the business, give it a modern edge and reflect its corporate ideology of being a forward-thinking partnership.

The design brief stipulated that the scheme needed to convey an element of clever sophistication.
At the same time, the firm wanted to break away from the corporate image traditionally associated with financial organisations and to bring instead a fluid, imaginative approach to the interior spaces that would reinforce the company’s position as a progressive consultancy.

Since hotel designers are accustomed to making big statements within the constraints of commercial practicalities, PwC recognised the potential for JOI-Design to make them stand out from the crowd.

“The brief given to us was actually rather vague; however PwC´s intention was for its German headquarters to have an ‘intelligent’ style that would linger in the memory of its visitors,” said Peter Joehnk, founder and co-managing director, JOI-Design.

“Since the services PwC provides as accountants and auditors have traditionally been seen as conservative, it did not want a building that was brimming with cutting-edge design. PwC’s point-of-view was that its clients would be looking for a modern yet distinguished style that would encourage trust in the company.

But, on the other hand, PwC is definitely a young and forward-thinking consultancy, one which certainly belongs in a “state-of-the-art” offices,” added Joehnk.

Work has now been completed in the lower wings of the building, which features a horseshoe shaped courtyard and flanks the 55-storey tower on either side. This first phase included a reception lobby, conference spaces, a small public café counter and a private cafeteria for the company’s employees.

The colossal style of the building’s architecture is characterised by clean geometric shapes and straight lines. To balance its imposing masculinity, JOI-Design introduced graceful curves and playful organic shapes into the interiors that makes a personalised statement and reflects PwC’s corporate culture. The result is a mixture of form and function.

“There were many challenges in realising the reception desk/bar as it has no straight lines. Everything is curved and three-dimensionally formed. Our CAD drawings were completely different from any we’d previously created for our furniture designs. These CADs took 20 times longer to draw than those for a “normal” reception desk/bar,” added Joehnk.

“The next “mission impossible” was to get it built. We sent the drawings out to tender and it became apparent that all the manufacturers calculated a fear-based risk factor into their prices.

“But finally we found a specialist in Austria who could create it out of glass fibres rather than the Corian or LG HI-MACS proposed by others – and for about 15% of the cost as well.

“Since we weren’t allowed to drill into the load-bearing concrete columns, which help support the floors above, devising a solution for stabilising the desk’s structure, especially the web-like overhang that projects above the counters, was a difficult issue. In the end, this was resolved by incorporating an elaborate metal skeleton within the glass framework.”

The focal point of the entrance lobby is an über-hip, UFO-like “island” which functions on one side as a reception desk and then doubles on the other side as a café/bar for social events.

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