London, UK

Citation for Excellence

SJ Berwin is a large, growing law firm with its headquarters in London and nine offices throughout Europe. After 25 years in business, the company outgrew its London offices. Providing legal services to entrepreneurial companies and financial institutions, the firm wanted to portray a sophistication to match that of its clients. The similarly large and international architectural firm HOK International understood SJ Berwin’s vision and designed an office complex that resembles less the mahogany-lined, hierarchical model of a law office than it does the hip, luxurious aesthetic of a boutique hotel.

Located in the three-story Thames Exchange Building, which previously housed the HSBC dealing-room floors, SJ Berwin’s new headquarters looks out on the river Thames and St. Paul’s Cathedral. HOK’s objective was to form an energizing space that would allow the large staff to work more closely with one another—a difficult task in a building that could enclose three or four professional soccer fields.

The solution was to create three atria, which bring daylight into centralized arteries surrounded by glass-fronted offices.

The strategic use of glass throughout the building opens sight lines across each floor, facilitating collaboration and allowing SJ Berwin’s clients a glimpse of the firm’s inner workings.

HOK also added a fourth floor to the building, with space for a 1⁄2-acre roof garden, among the largest in London. Two additional private gardens accompany meeting rooms where gatherings can move in and out of doors during the warmer months.

The democratic format of the building does not reserve desirable views of the river and cathedral for partners. Instead, the views remain in public break-out spaces and in the several dining facilities. Client areas include a confidential meeting suite for those who wish to be inconspicuous, and a “deal suite” with private meeting rooms and a relaxation and refreshment area for use during negotiations.

Light cubes and recessed lighting illuminate walls and floors with the entire spectrum of colors, supplementing the daylight that permeates most of the building. Clients enter the lobby through a double-height light cube that can change color with infinite variation.

The showy features of the building—its private gardens, deal-clinching suites, and flashy lights—place it somewhere between a law firm and a trendy club. Sleep pods for overworked lawyers add another luxurious touch to the company, named one of “Britain’s Top Employers” this year by the Corporate Research Foundation. Jurors noted, “The space must be a fantastic recruiting tool.” SJ Berwin admits to actively using the newly designed office in recruiting activities, suggesting that better design can attract better employees.