The more eagle-eyed amongst you may have noticed that our normal pagetopping ‘lozenge’ rather grandly refers to this feature as ‘Global Exclusive’. There are a couple of reasons for this; one, we hope it will grab some attention. Secondly, this story isn’t really a case study, nor is it a profile or a focus. It’s a bit of a mix of all three.
Now we might be over-egging the whole ‘Global Exclusive’ bit here, but we are genuinely excited to be meeting with recent double Mixology award-winner Lee Penson, founder of PENSON.
Lee has, over the past 18 months or so, led the team that has played a key role in transforming the Google London landscape. We’ve known Lee for most of both Mix’s and PENSON’s corporate’ lives – in fact we think (definitely, maybe) that we were the very first national design title to speak to the man-of-the-moment.
As the majority of you will be more than aware, Google has set new standards in, well, just about everything it does in the past couple of years – in fact, a recent issue of Stuff magazine claims on its front cover ‘Google Just Became Unstoppable’. Well, in terms of making headlines in titles such as ours, this is certainly true.
A variety of leading design and fit-out firms have, over this period, aided Google’s unprecedented London expansion – and PENSON has been at the heart of this. So how did the creative (and award-winning) relationship begin? ‘We came in as the underdogs,’ Lee admits. ‘They’d never heard of us. They were having a few issues with another firm and we were given five days to
prove our worth. In those five days we cured all the problems they’d had over a three month period with this other firm.
‘It’s been something of a match made in heaven since then. The way we think and the way we approach things just works so well with the Googlers.
To read the full article from Mix Interiors September 2012 issue click the icon below
We ask Lee to tell us a little more about the symbiotic nature of the working relationship. ‘It was always, always commercial – that’s the key here,’ he enthuses. ‘We were thinking commercially
all the time. I think they really clung on to that commercial astuteness, together with the creativity, of course.
‘We started by working on Level Four – the Engineering HQ – at Belgrave House, Buckingham Palace Road. We’ve now moved on to do Level Three there, which is completely different from Level Four, which in turn is completely different to every floor at Central Saint Giles. None of this is different for the hell of it – it’s different for a reason. There’s a reason behind everything we’ve done for Google and for everyone else we’ve been lucky enough to work for. ‘
The Engineering Suite is a real Space Odyssey, Star Wars number – in a very nonliteral way. It was – as everything we do with Google is – a real collaborative, twoway street. We sit down with them and they’re often chatting away to us and not even realising that we’re starting to get into
‘That was great timing because, just as we were in the early design of that space, they were signing the lease at CSG. So they suddenly needed a swing-space for 420 people. We were literally given a day to design a floor at CSG as a temporary project – which we labelled as the ‘Google Inflatable’ project which was formally named L5 Lite. We space planned it in a day – they loved that initial space plan and they loved the idea of going down the inflatable route as it was inexpensive, commercial and quick to do. There was an inflatable main reception, inflatable meeting rooms, a micro-cafeteria, 420 people…there was a lot going on with that inflatable floor. I love the idea of spending £5.95 on an inflatable sofa and it taking 5.95 seconds to inflate up to a ready-to-occupy state. We collaborated intensively with Parkeray, the main contactor, and CBRE, who worked wonders with the break-neck pace. The floor was an instant hit!
‘I think we all learnt a great deal from the subsequent main CSG work because the metrics of that scheme are very shrewd and very commercial. It’s easy to criticise that project in some eyes as being luxurious and flamboyant – but actually there wasn’t an amazingly big budget for that per square foot. It was about doing things differently. The desking and the collaborative seating per desk and the meeting chairs per desk are all very shrewdly calculated.
‘That is a very commercial space. Take away the dressing and you have a very intelligent and shrewd product, that Christian Hurzeler of Google and I worked very closely on, with the support of a concentrated user group. Leave the dressing on and it’s even shrewder, because the Googlers like working there. At CSG, an allotment tub is a meeting-come-collaborative space! It’s about thinking about these things differently.’
At this point, we should say that Lee recalls all this with a big smile on his face. He and the PENSON team clearly enjoyed every tight minute of these forwardthinking and headline-grabbing schemes. Not that these headlines equal a road paved with Google gold.
‘We still have to pitch for absolutely everything – we have to win every single job,’ Lee admits. ‘
We make sure we bid for everything at a level where we’re making sure we are not doing that irresponsible thing with low fees. That’s bad behaviour all round, isn’t it!
‘So we pitched for the main job at Central Saint Giles – which was quite a lengthy process. Luckily, we also secured that, and from there we’ve really just rolled on with everything for the past year. It’s strange to think that we’ve only really known Google for 18 months. In that time,
we’ve basically delivered over 300,000 sq ft of intricately detailed space in London.’
Furthermore, that 300,000 sq ft continues to receive plaudits and rave reviews, it was all delivered under budget and on time and, crucially, Google has a lot of happy people in London who love their new workspaces. ‘It’s nice to look back and see that,’ Lee admits. ‘The first question mark you get as the underdog is whether you can deliver. It’s the right thing to ask the consultant, however, when you are the underdog, trying to come up through the industry with a nice alternative for people to consider, with some fresh ideas and new commercial thinking, it can be incredibly frustrating. You know you can do it, but often you have someone standing in your
way saying ‘No, you’ve not done it before, so you’re not going to get the chance’. For years I’ve been infatuated with breaking through that ceiling. There’s no going back in my mind now that we have.’
We cast our own minds back and recall PENSON’s creative and incredibly commercial work for CISCO some years back. ‘You need stepping stones,’ Lee continues, ‘and it was ironically a referral from that CISCO project which led to us being recommended to Google.
‘It really has been a match made in heaven. We’ve had such a good laugh doing it. We’ve had a few too many great nights out and we’ve had oodles of collaboration – from Google, CBRE, from contractors Parkeray, Como and Cameron Black – literally from everyone involved. It’s taken a
big group of people, all working together, to deliver these things with the odd group hug being required from time to time. That’s great fun – and it’s important to us that we work in this way. Everyone loves to work for Google – and we’re no different. We feel extremely lucky to have been able to do so. ‘There’s never any fear – the programmes are so quick. But that’s almost the making of it; you can’t dwell on things. Everything inherently comes together. It’s about informed talented instant gut design decisions – that’s why our team were based on-site for much of the time. We’re just a bunch of designers – we’re very hands on and we’re used to turning things around in a very quick, responsive way. It’s the same with all of our clients. We want to keep
knocking out great stuff – and we want to keep things on that personal level, always giving our personal attention. That’s the way I think it should be. ‘
It’s amazing how, if you try to overcomplicate a project, it often misses the point for the client – and then it becomes a difficult project to deliver because it’s not inherently doing what it really should be doing, for one reason or another. So we constantly work to keep things to the point
for all of our clients and that’s why our work for many other organisations is very varied, depending upon the client and location. This ethos has been essential to cater for Google’s needs.’
And Lee and the PENSON team clearly continue to hit that point with Google. As we said at the start, this is a slightly different feature. Fitting then that the subject matter should be about how being slightly different in your approach can often lead to great things.
In this case, we’re just about to walk into PENSON’s latest Google scheme for Level Three at Belgrave House, so that’s where we’ll leave things. Now that’s different!