The Victorian Auditor-General’s Office (VAGO) previously occupied two lower levels in the I.M. Pei Collins Street tower.
However, when the top floors in the building came up for lease, offering better views and a chance to reshape the work environment, the decision was made to move.
VAGO’s new office needed to be less corporate but still professional and accessible. Photo: Dianna Snape
“We literally inherited a shell [2500 square metres over one and a half floors],” says architect Marcus Baumgart, director of Baumgart Clark Architects, who worked with project architect Pat Hurley and interior designers at Nexus Designs.
VAGO’s 110 staff previously worked in traditional offices, with a distinct hierarchy that saw Auditor-General Andrew Greaves have a private office.
Many others in the higher echelon also had private offices.
The former arrangement was senior executives located on the higher level, with remaining staff below.
“Our brief for this project was considerably more egalitarian and open-plan,” Baumgart says, pointing out Greaves’ transparent glass-walled office at the nexus between the two levels.
“Here the two floors are mixed with senior and more junior staff,” he says.
Having a staircase connecting the two levels was at the heart of the new fit-out.
Previously, staff would need to walk out into the lift lobbies if they needed to change floors.
“The staircase was pivotal in the design, strengthening the connectivity between the two floors, but also allowing for greater natural light and transparency,” Hurley says.
The brass undercroft used to finish the staircase also adds a lightness in the design.
Unlike the former offices, where there was a secured door, here, it’s open to the lounge and reception area.
Timber floors and timber-battened ceilings provide the framework for the comfortable lounges.
Spotted gum perforated wall panels in the foyer give the impression there’s something beyond, perhaps a meeting room.
“There’s very little behind that wall, except for storage.
It’s a direct response to the angular walls designed by I.M.Pei,” Baumgart says.
The main conundrum for Baumgart Clark Architects was to make VAGO’s office less corporate, but professional and accessible.
So while there are enclosed meeting rooms with translucent glass walls, the open-plan work spaces are unencumbered.
“Our brief was to work towards a paperless office, but it was clear from the start, that every staff member required their own workstation,” Baumgart says.
Although the hierarchy of offices has gone with this new fit-out, there are subtle divisions that only those working here would know.
Specific booths, for example, designate where those higher up the chain sit.
Likewise, the deputy auditor-general and assistant auditors-general occupy corner glass-sided offices, with large sliding doors that retract.
The architects also included a number of communal meeting areas over the two levels.
There’s a cafe-style sitting area adjacent to reception, with banquette seating, tables and chairs.
On the higher level, there’s a large kitchen, including bench seating at the large picture windows to allow staff the benefit of the views over Parliament House, appearing as a quaint Victorian marquette from the 32nd floor of the tower.
Colours selected by Nexus Designs were inspired from various parts of Victoria, from the Grampians through to the valleys.
Muted greens, deep plums and earthy browns reflect the various regions, including some of the mountain ranges and wine-growing areas.
“The tones are understated and refined.
It’s far from having that stark corporate feel most are keen to move away from,” says Baumgart, who saw the need to create an office that was befitting of Parliament.
Unlike some offices that appear hotel-like, there’s also a sense of ownership to one’s workstation.
“Many of the staff work outside the office and there is a move towards flexibility.
People are encouraged to move around these spaces, but they also have a strong connection to their own areas. It’s far from ‘hot-desking’,” Baumgart says.