The fitout at law firm Corrs Chambers Westgarth’s new Brisbane office at One One One Eagle Street had to meet some strict sustainability guidelines in keeping with the building’s 6 Star Green Star rating.

The two key elements that contributed to achieving a green space were designing for an open-plan workplace, and also ensuring the fitout will minimise churn by enduring for the life of the 15-year lease, according to Bates Smart studio director Brenton Smith.

Bates Smart won a national design competition to undertake the fitout design for four new offices for the law firm, in Sydney’s 8 Chifley Square, Melbourne’s 567 Collins St, Perth’s 123 St Georges Terrace and the Brisbane space.

Eddie Scuderi, partner-in-charge of the firm’s Brisbane office, said the shift to green commercial buildings is part of an overall aim the firm has to implement a sustainability vision and ensure its offices are energy-efficient.

“Corrs is committed to sustainable practice. We aim to reduce our environmental impact and carbon footprint through using leading technologies, engaging in the latest environmental practices and committing to strong collaboration,” Mr Scuderi said.

“Our new Brisbane office has allowed us to break away from traditional ways of working, and adopt both new technologies and innovative work spaces that create a more flexible, efficient and sustainable working environment.”

The building is owned by GPT, and the firm has signed a 15-year lease on 6000 square metres from levels 41 to 44 at about $800 a sq m face rent.

Mr Scuderi said the lease, and the fitout requirements, contained significant sustainability obligations to assist the landlord in maintaining the 6 Star Green Star rating and five star NABERS Energy rating.

Some of the specifications set for the fitout included FSC-certified timber products throughout, and the use of Green Tag Certified, Green Rate Level A and Gold Plus materials.

Lighting is LED, with occupant sensors and daylight harvesting to adjust light levels. Mr Smith said the open-plan floorplate design, which is unusual in a law office context, allows daylight to penetrate deeply into the interior. A decision was made to avoid installing furniture, fixtures or other elements such as partitioning against any glazed part of the facade to ensure maximum daylight.

Mr Smith said a national set of design guidelines was drawn up that applied across all four offices, with variations in each state to reflect the distinctive architectural character of the building through bringing elements into the interior. In the case of Brisbane, this translated into incorporation of the building’s “fig tree” columns within interior elements.

To reflect a distinctively Queensland aesthetic, subtle elements of the traditional Queenslander home and the colours of the Great Barrier Reef have been used within the palette.

A long-term view

Mr Smith said the focus was on creating a fitout that would sit comfortably on the international stage to reflect the firm’s international client base, using materials elegantly and in a sophisticated way that will also ensure the fitout is kept for 15 years or more.

This, he said, aims to avoid the wasteful tendency in the commercial sector to “rip out and gut” fitouts.

The open-plan style of the interior contributes to this, as it allows the firm to expand and contract staff in response to business fluctuations without the need to strip out partitioning or other elements.

“It’s a fitout where people can move, but walls don’t come down, furniture doesn’t move and the airconditioning doesn’t get stripped out,” Mr Smith said.

“It’s a much simpler way of working.”

Technology has been installed into all the Corrs fitouts to enable staff to move about and work in appropriate spaces for tasks, including soft-wired desk phones and laptops instead of desk PCs.

Follow-me printing is being used to minimise waste of paper, and there are clearly signed and easily accessible bins to separate recyclables from general waste.

Mr Smith said that on a previous project the client found there was a 50 per cent saving on energy use through using laptops and follow-me printing compared to more traditional IT set-ups.

To encourage movement, a penetration was put through all four floors with a void and stairwell. Continuous Barisol lighting at the top of the stairwell void changes colour through the day to mimic the changing colours of natural light.

Mr Smith said the staff cafe and breakout space was put in the middle of the four-floor office to ensure staff do have to go up and down the stairs. The furniture in the office spaces also includes a number of sit-to-stand desks.

Open-plan and collaborative

The fitout aims to increase the degree of client engagement within the space and the business, and break down the traditional “front of house” and “back of house” divisions in a law office. It also aims to increase incidental opportunities for knowledge sharing and flexible collaboration within the workforce, which in Brisbane is currently around 200 people.

There is ratio of one team-focused room for every four staff that can be accessed within a 10-second walk while holding a soft-wired phone. These rooms also function as the spaces for quiet and confidential conversations.

Mr Smith said that while an open-plan workplace could save on spend for materials, that was not the prime motivation for this project.

“It was more about collaboration and embedding a degree of collaboration in how they work,” he said. The strategy was born out of an analysis the firm carried out internally about how the legal business was likely to evolve in future, and the influence of technology in changing the workplace.

On activity-based working

Though open-plan, it is not activity-based working, as every staff member still has their own personal desk space. This Mr Smith said reflects the needs of the work itself, and that generally there are some firms and sectors where ABW simply will not be an effective strategy.

“You have got to be doing activity-based working for the right reasons,” he said.

To maintain a high level of indoor environment quality, indoor plants have been incorporated, and low-VOC carpeting installed.

Mr Smith said there are still few clients specifically asking for low-VOC products, but that it is applied across all projects in any case as part of the practice’s fundamental approach to interior design.

The base building

One One One Eagle Street won Building of the Year in 2013 at the Australian Institute of Architects Brisbane Awards.

Some of the sustainability features of the base building include a trigeneration plant for on-site electricity generation that was designed to meet 25 per cent of the building’s peak energy demand and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20 per cent.

The building has a German-engineered, high performance facade treatment and automated motorised blinds to manage thermal transference and glare, and high efficiency heating, ventilation and airconditioning systems. In the Corrs fitout, zoning controls have been added along with occupant sensors so only areas in use are being mechanically cooled.

The building has high efficiency hydraulic fittings and fixtures to minimise water consumption, including minimum 3 star WELS rated tap ware and fixtures, and a rainwater tank captures rainfall from the roof areas for use within the building.

It is also located close to public transport within Brisbane’s “Golden Triangle” commercial and legal district, with end of trip facilities for cyclists.