26 Feb 2020 • Work
How designers wove references to Indigenous culture into a Perth workspace
To understand architect Woods Bagot’s redesign of KPMG’s Perth office, one must trace the history of the surrounding site: the 6,300-sq-m Australian workspace is situated on Spring Street, a location traditionally revered by the local Nyoongar people as a peaceful no-warfare zone. Inspired by that Indigenous culture, the Woods Bagot team developed a workplace framed around references to Nyoongar traditions.
KPMG and Woods Bagot collaborated with Indigenous Australian elder, activist, educator and cultural consultant Dr Richard Walley to authentically incorporate local rituals into the design. One reference is to the historical practice of controlled burning, the strategic use of fire to remove old debris and stimulate growth: Woods Bagot manifested the tradition into an interior strategy the designers call ‘regeneration for the next generation’.
The ‘regeneration’ speaks of the designers’ intent to design for what they believe to be the future of workspaces, namely flexible and agile interiors. Having decided to extend their office lease for another 12 years, KPMG spatially regenerated the design of their original, highly segmented workspace of individual offices and assigned seating, into one that accommodates growth and flexibility. The redesign embraces an agile, open-plan arrangement that reduces the office’s total workplace design by ten per cent, while simultaneously supporting a ten per cent increase in employee growth.
It is the Aboriginal six-season calendar that informs the interior material palette: Woods Bagot incorporated one based off of birak, known as the fire season. Traditionally viewed as a time of rebirth and new possibilities, the local Indigenous would burn their land in order to increase grazing pastures for animals and aid in seed germination; the designers worked with colours that draw on the forest-greens and flame-orange hues of these pastures. On meeting room doors, smoke graphics are etched into the glazing, while the doorframes themselves are framed in an ashy walnut timber reminiscent of the burnt bushlands.
Throughout the workspace, references to broader Australian culture can be found: a wavy, black-walnut timber wall produced in collaboration with industrial designer and craftsperson Jack Flanagan conjures up the natural carved rock faces found along the West Australian coastline. The terracotta-toned breakout area, a reference to Australia’s camping culture, attempts to eschew staff hierarchy with its circular shape. And lastly, hardy indoor plants incorporated throughout the office provide workers with a visual connection to Australia’s native bushland.