THE 1980s office tower, on the corner of Exhibition and La Trobe streets, is typical of high-rise buildings designed at the time. Generic facades lead to a corporate foyer and security gates. But above the lobby, extending through 20 levels, are the offices of Origin, recently completed by GroupGSA.
''We literally inherited a shell to work with,'' says interior designer and director of GroupGSA, Graeme Hadenham, who worked closely with the practice's design director, David Whittaker. ''We were initially briefed to design 16 floors but the project grew as additional space was required.''
While the lobby at ground level is underwhelming, there's a nook of offices located off-centre. Made of oak veneer and extending over two levels, this fine ''capsule'' provides a sense of difference.
Transparent and lightweight, these offices are a new insertion by GroupGSA. Used for client and customer services, as well as for meetings by Origin staff, there is a lightness to the structure that is echoed in the cloud-like pendant light that hovers over one of the meeting tables.
''Our brief was to create flexible spaces, avoiding heavy masonry walls,'' Hadenham says. ''The design had to allow for different configurations to suit the various teams and projects.''
Pivotal to GroupGSA's brief was to create a green environment, to achieve a five-star environmental rating. So rather than rely on steel and plasterboard, the designers used a soft touch. Lightweight veneers loosely define spaces and the few enclosed offices feature concertina plywood screen doors. In the communal meeting areas, loose furniture is arranged in a variety of groups to define spaces.
Hadenham and Whittaker worked with furniture designer Russell Koskela, particularly in the meeting areas. To signpost each floor and allowing for greater ''ownership'', each open-plan meeting area has different furniture. There is a combination of commercial furniture from Vitra, as well as the type of pieces you might find in your own living room. Wall sofas, designed by Vitra, with high-back rests and arms, create a mini-cone of silence within the larger meeting spaces.
''It's important to provide a variety of spaces where people can work. They can recline in an armchair or use their workstation,'' Hadenham says.
Kitchens, located on every floor, provide a sense of domesticity. On one floor, for example, there are high-back colonial timber-style chairs framing a large round table. And like messages plastered to the fridge at home, staff use the pinboard walls for notes. Unlike most domestic kitchens, the services and ducts in the ceiling have been left exposed, creating a more industrial aesthetic.
''There are 2000 staff on the 20 levels, so it was important they feel comfortable rather than constricted,'' Hadenham says.
One of the most striking features of the GroupGSA fitout is a vertical green wall framing a staircase linking three levels at a time. Inspired by the work of French botanist Patrick Blanc, the wall provides a connection between the levels and also to the outside world. It extends over the 20 levels and is richly planted with ferns and lilies.
GroupGSA also included storage for bikes in the building's basement, along with staff showers.