There are a lot of reasons to love Buildings Alive’s new head office. For a start, not much of it is new! Like many start-ups (after two years, are we still a start-up?) we were faced with a daunting array of choices and challenges when it came to accommodating our growing team. How much space will we need? How do we balance comfort, fun, productivity and collaboration? Do we opt for a small presence in a large building, or a whole floor in a small one? How do we pay for it all?!?!

We were aiming for a team consensus-based decision and a few non-negotiables quickly emerged. We all wanted to be somewhere bright and airy. We wanted the ability to control our personal work environments – not just how they look, but also our thermal comfort and noise distractions. We wanted to be right near a major transport node. We wanted good cyclist facilities and collaborative spaces. We wanted an office with character and somewhere that would help shape our culture and identity.

The building

Our building, 283-285 Clarence St, Sydney, was constructed in 1910. At that time it was regarded as “Sydney’s first skyscraper” but it is now C-Grade (possibly D) on the Property Council of Australia’s quality scale that has “Premium” and “A” at the top and D at the bottom. Quality grade is important for determining market rent, but it does overlook a few factors that were important to us. For starters, our floor (Level 1) has 4 metre (14”) high ceilings and large openable windows on the east and west. This was important at the time of construction because there was no air conditioning. Now the office has “mixed mode” air conditioning which means we run the AC only when conditions call for it. So far, we’ve only found it necessary to run AC when outside temperatures hit the mid-30s (~95F) thanks to the thermal mass from the masonry walls, shading on the windows and the pleasant cross flow breezes aided by 2W USB-powered desk fans. Every office should boast a Personal Comfort System!

Being on level 1, we also have the advantage of easy stair access and an outlook onto street trees. Sure, they may not be Sydney harbour views, but there’s something soothing about looking onto nature, especially in the heart of the city. And being in the city with windows that are open most of the time, we have quite a lot of noise. Far from being a distraction, this actually helps concentration greatly – conversations between colleagues just blend into the background. Never have I been able to concentrate at my desk in an open plan office like I can here.

The fitout

Time is money when it comes to construction and, fortunately, we didn’t have much of either to play with! I say fortunately because too often fitouts are built to ludicrous deadlines with a lack of regard for the consequences – environmental and financial. We had two weeks to construct our fitout, but that didn’t prevent us from capitalising on one of the most incredible opportunities made available to us through the Sydney Industrial Ecology Network (SIEN) – a collaboration between Edge Environment, the NSW Environment Protection Authority and the Better Buildings Partnership. Thanks to DEXUS Property Group (with special thanks to Paul Wall) and the SEIN we were able to recover an array of materials from the office of the vacating NSW Department of Premier and Cabinet in Governor Macquarie Tower, including:

  • 18 office chairs
  • 14 workstations reconstructed from just six connected pods
  • 8 office doors used for shelving
  • 1 whiteboard
  • 30 metres of 20A power cabling for workstations with 18 double GPOs
  • 8 lockable steel cabinets
  • and an additional 3 office chairs, two steel cabinets and some other miscellaneous pieces (e.g. coffee tables) which we gave to other small businesses.

We were also able to reuse/reclaim materials from a variety of other sources, including:

  • 160 lineal metres of steel scaffold tube (which had been lying unused in a builder’s yard for 15 years)
  • Hot water heater (new time switch installed)
  • 4 lineal metres of metal stud Gyprock partition wall.

Our new office generated very little fitout waste and became a destination for others’. And yet the results are stunning. Other green features include the energy-efficient lighting, absence of data cabling, linoleum (rather than vinyl) and an abundance of indoor plants. But more than any of that, we have a wonderful new office that feels busy and vibrant with 12 people and a capacity and flexibility to accommodate twice that many with only the tiniest of adjustments.

Special thanks to our fitout team:

Architect: Tomek Archer, Tomahawk Studios;
Project manager: Anna Lancaster, Buildings Alive;
Builder: Matthew Kerr Builder.

As the old saying goes, waste not, want not!