Clear-glazed partitions spread precious daylight in an ad agency's attic office. And, in a special twist devised by hotshot designer Softroom, they slope to reflect the mansard roof.
Amanda Walsh sure likes glass. She lives in Future Systems’ famous glass house in Canonbury, north London, whose all-glass rear wall made it the darling of the style press. So it’s not surprising that radical transparency abounds in the newly fitted-out offices of her advertising agency, Walsh Trott Chick Smith.

The designer is Softroom, a young multidisciplinary practice that specialises in a dynamic blend of built architecture and computer-generated imagery. Glass panels are used to partition the entire office. Ceiling-height panels in clear laminated glass have been set in inconspicuous aluminium channels at the top and bottom and butted up to each other with the narrowest of silicone strips.

This is glass in its most modern and minimalist form. But the real twist is that they slope.

The tilted partitions were inspired by the sloping external walls of the offices, which form part of the mansard roof covering the attic floor of a 1930s stone building on London’s Oxford Street, newly refurbished to a design by architect Allies and Morrison. Softroom has created a spine corridor with symmetrically sloping sides – one side formed by the existing external wall and the other by the new glass partitions. As it runs almost the entire 60 m length of an elongated narrow floorplate, the corridor is the dominant element in the office, and the sloping walls give it a strikingly dynamic effect. The impact is doubled by a mirror-wall at one end and by the rich patterning of reflections generated by the daylight that enters the windows on either side.

“We wanted to create a corridor that didn’t look or feel like one,” explains Softroom’s project director, Dan Evans. “There are large areas of circulation space, which seem quite generous and dynamic. But, in reality, they were dictated by the long, narrow shape of the building.”

The external walls and ceilings are plain, finished in white-painted plaster. The furnishings, including filing cabinets and desks, have been custom-built in light-grey MDF with matching melamine worktops. The chairs are modern Vitra classics in black moulded plastic on chrome legs. And the grey, galvanised-steel, raised floor slabs have been left exposed without carpeting.

Of course, image is vital to an advertising agency, and this monochrome minimalist interior is the last word in cool. It could hardly be further removed from the corporate baronial style and sumptuous inlaid hardwoods beloved by Saatchi and Saatchi in the 1980s. Indeed, the effect of all this glass is, in a word, glacial – Evans admits that he would have liked to introduce some wood.

Styling apart, the glazed partitions also have practical purposes. Says Walsh: “Daylight is really important to us in designing adverts for television and print. That’s why we’ve taken the top floor of the building and why we didn’t want solid partitions. We also wanted an open plan as far as possible, but at the same time have tried to create a sense of privacy for staff.”

These conflicting requirements have been successfully reconciled by the glazed partitions. All staff are fully visible and benefit from an unrestricted feeling of space, yet are also insulated from the general hubbub within their private offices. The effect is at its most intense at one end of the floor, where the creative staff are paired together face-to-face in a grouping of five compact rectilinear goldfish bowls.

Glass-lover Walsh is delighted with her new offices. “The big thing with us is that when you work in a creative business, being in a creative environment helps.”