In the 19th century it was the heartland of London’s light industry; today, tourists, foodies, and a new generation of small businesses and startups are driving the area’s growth… Bankside has a long history of being one of the capital’s economic powerhouses, and it’s exactly that idea that inspired the creative planning of one of Workspace’s latest locations.
Three years in the making, Metal Box Factory represents a £16 million investment, and is in many ways the place where all of Workspace’s latest ideas, tech innovations and design experience, allied to years of commercial property expertise, have coalesced. Just a couple of minutes’ walk from Borough Market and London Bridge, it occupies the footprint of not one building, but three: a former stationer’s-cum-tin box manufacturer’s – hence the name; a second 19th-century warehouse with 1930s additions, and a 1950s printing works. With a dash of Workspace vision, not to mention some clever, out-of-the-box thinking by architects Pringle Richards Sharratt, this disjointed jumble of structures has been reborn as a cohesive, handsome, light-filled space.
“Our starting point is always the same: find out what New and Growing Companies want from their working environment, and then provide it."
In place of the steep steps that once led up from the pavement there is now an imposing concrete arch, framing the entranceway beyond; beneath it, a lighted stone pathway seems to draw you in off the street and into the building’s heart, a five-storey-high atrium – formerly a dingy loading bay. Inside, grid-like windows, with occasional Mondrian-like splashes of red and yellow, visually reinforce the box “theme”.
It’s a sophisticated, well-thought-out space, but the idea behind it was incredibly simple, asserts Angus Boag, Workspace’s development director. “Our starting point is always the same: find out what New and Growing Companies want from their working environment, and then provide it. We’re in constant contact with our customers, and their feedback means we’re always improving our buildings in order to better meet their needs.” In the case of Metal Box, this meant factoring in plenty of co-working space – “It’s one of our more recent developments; we noticed people wanted a different way of working,” says Angus – in the form of a designated Club and breakout seating areas on every floor, as well as ensuring the building’s eco credentials exceeded customers’ expectations.
“A lot of our businesses are very keen that the building they’re in is as green as possible,” Angus explains. “They’re after lots of natural daylight. In smaller office units people like to get fresh air by throwing open a window, instead of relying on air conditioning. It’s much more sustainable, it uses a lot less energy. Our customers love to be part of that. They also like it that we recycle a significant portion of our waste and none of it goes to landfill, and our targets are set higher each year.”
“Digital startups pushing tech boundaries are next-door neighbours to fashion designers, greetings card companies, sports agents, financial advisers."
Metal Box delivers on those counts, of course, but also factors in something that’s vital to startup and SME success: collaboration. The building’s layout has been designed to encourage people to socialise and network via multiple communal areas: there’s a café, a restaurant next door and plans for a bar; upstairs there’s a games room, another courtyard (on the fifth floor) and a terrace, with incredible city-wide views, on the fourth floor.
Over 150 New and Growing Companies now call Metal Box home, and the place has a vibe that reflect’s Bankside’s unique character – a blend of the traditional and the new, of history and forward thinking. Digital startups pushing tech boundaries are next-door neighbours to fashion designers, greetings card companies, sports agents, financial advisers…
Exposed brickwork, original glazed tiles and steel girders hint at the industrial past, while high-speed internet connectivity and building-wide wifi, meeting rooms that can be booked online and come with 55-inch LCD screens and all the latest tech, point to a state-of-the-art future.
Read our interview with 6Tribes a social networking app based at Metal Box
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