Leading architecture and design practice BVN Donovan Hill has moved to new refurbished premises in Brisbane. The space is an ageing office building owned by DEXUS that is part way through a full upgrade, just one of a clutch of buildings looking for new life after losing legal and financial sector tenants to the latest crop of premium office towers.

BVNDH principal Brian Donovan said the studio, which accommodates about 80 staff, has done away completely with the desktop or personal computers switching completely to cloud-based technology and “thin client” computing as a way to save “massive” amounts of energy.

The fitout combines a mix of formal and focused meeting and work spaces with casual, collaborative and activity-based zones. These are linked by a continuous whiteboard-type “working wall” that is both magnetised and pinnable, providing a focus for collaboration and communication via in-situ drawings, pin up, image projection, video conference and model making.

Mr Donovan said the materials palette was kept deliberately restricted and expressed the studio’s “fundamental” approach of minimising energy and resource use and appropriate materials selection.

The base building is concrete, and this has in many areas been left unpainted and exposed. Marmoleum was chosen for the work surfaces and flooring, due to its extremely high eco-credentials as a fully recyclable material that is made from all natural materials that contains no volatile organic compounds.

Mr Donovan said the material is one the practice specifies frequently for projects, as it also has the advantage of being a sheet product with a wide colour range that produces a seamless surface when the joints are welded in-situ.

“We have established a set of floor level changes and terraces throughout the space, so with the marmoleum, once the joints have been welded it is like a single folded landscape,” Mr Donovan said.

The other material that dominates is fabric, with breakout areas of floor-level cushioning and cushions and footstools scattered throughout. In this case a deliberate choice was made to choose a material that does not off-gas VOCs.

The ceiling has been left raw, exposing the electrical and mechanical infrastructure. Zoned energy-efficient lighting and zoned airconditioning outlets reduce office-wide energy use. Mr Donovan said the use of variation in temperature and lighting levels and ducts has been intentional.

“Variability is a good part of the experience of being in a space, rather than it being consistently the same, and the most influential way to achieve that is through variable light levels.”

An interesting innovation to save on energy is the technology. The studio operates on cloud-hosted information and communications technology instead of desk-based hard drives. Each work area has single or double screens, a keyboard, and a “thin client” – a small box that sits in or under the desk and gives anyone using it access through their personal log-in to the digital space.

Mr Donovan said this has resulted in a “massive” energy saving of direct power use by computers, as well as through heat generated by hard drives and the impact it has on airconditioning loads.

Mr Donovan said it also reduces clutter on the desktops, and allows for a lot of open horizontal surfaces for ideas-based working, drawing and collaboration.

“Architecture also revolves around the digital world too, so people can roam anywhere in the office and log in to the cloud-based system,” he said.

A state-of-the-art videoconferencing system has been incorporated to enable open and real-time collaboration, and “talk on the walls” with BVNDH’s Sydney and Bangkok studios.

“It’s about us engaging with each other, so we are a connected organisation and function as one studio,” Mr Donovan said.

“The biggest thing I emphasise in design for any workplace, whether it’s an architects, a lawyers or an education institution, is workspaces are all about knowledge transfer and passing on what we know to the broader group. So we set up places [in the studio] where people can connect, we set up organisational and circulation space, so in the course of their regular day people run into each other.”

The goal is to maximise interactions, he said, just as researchers now know they want to cross paths with other researchers because they make breakthroughs by talking to each other through cross-pollination of ideas.

“That’s what we need to do as architects, is put across ideas and have them be well-received.”