Say goodbye to dark colours, timber panelling and small kitchenettes. The modern law office is all about clean lines, neutral colours and plenty of natural light. But it is not all about aesthetics: a good sense of judgement, preparation and a willingness to try new concepts are the secret to creating an office environment that will remain contemporary in a decade’s time.
Firms on the move
Overall, vacancy rates for CBD office space across Australian capital cities are higher this year than in 2009. Kevin Stanley, the executive director of global research and consulting at CB Richard Ellis, says that it’s a typical story of demand fluctuating with the economic circumstances. Brisbane, he notes, is a good example. There was a shortage of commercial office space during the resources boom; building activity increased to meet this demand, but then demand for space tapered off during the financial crisis. Brisbane’s Cooper Grace Ward is one law firm which took advantage of increased vacancy rates and competitive rents in the CBD. When the firm began its hunt for new office premises back in 2007, ahead of its 2009 lease expiry date, 400 George Street was still a construction site.
On the one hand, the internal project team which oversaw the relocation and fit out process knew this presented a great opportunity for the firm to be involved in the construction process with the fit out it wanted. On the other hand, the team ran the risk of not meeting its 2009 lease deadline if there were any setbacks in the construction of the building.
Despite some artistic differences between the firm and its designers, Cox Rayner, CGW managing partner Chris Ward says that the end result ticked all the boxes. “We managed to achieve what our team wanted. It’s an efficient, clean and serviceable area,” he says. “I don’t think clients would want to walk in and see fountains in our reception area or pink pelicans walking around. Clients would like to see something which reflects the service they are hoping to achieve.”
The fact that the project entailed an integrated fit out in a yet-to-be-constructed building, rather than simply adapting an existing office space, meant that a larger budget and longer timeframe was required, but Ward says that an integrated fit out is a more efficient way of creating a new office space. “Doing a fit out as the building itself is being built requires a great deal of planning for everything to work like clockwork,” he says. “Integrated fit outs can be considered a more expensive way to do it but it is also an efficient way as you can build the office as you go along and make subtle changes on the way.”
When CGW began to make plans for its 2009 relocation the Australian economy was strong; the construction industry booming. This led to inflated building costs and a fit out estimate which far outstripped the firm’s budget. But when the GFC hit the construction industry slowed, forcing costs down and making the market more competitive. “It was a benefit to us because costs dramatically came back in line with sanity. When we got the initial quotes we thought, ‘boy this is out of the park’ but that was back in 2007 when the world economy was flying,” Ward says.
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