Baker McKenzie embraces the new order of office space

By Carolyn Cummins, Sydney Morning Herald

Photo: Nicole England


Disrupting the look of a legal firm with its conservative and at times, mysterious traditional office space, where closed doors are the norm and staff are out of sight, is no easy task, but to be part of the new century the partners of Baker McKenzie have embraced the future.

While most companies in the current era have been engaged in agile and flexible work places for some time, lawyers have been preferring the slower lane of change.

So when designers and architects HASSELL were appointed to create new offices at lawyers Baker McKenzies’ Barangaroo, Sydney, tenancy it was a long but fruitful meeting.

The law firm has moved from its offices at AMP Capital’s 50 Bridge Street, overlooking Circular Quay, which is being redeveloped. Baker McKenzie has joined Gilbert + Tobin at Barangaroo.

Rob Backhouse and Domino Risch, the principals at HASSELL said the task was to bring the once staid and conservative thinking of a legal practice, that clients should be ushered to separate floor meeting rooms, and now into an open-plan space on the same floor as staff, was challenging.

Mr Backhouse said designing for an industry in transition required creativity, collaboration and flexibility.

No longer the ivory towers of traditional big business, companies are offering staff and clients more flexible and welcoming work places that are connected in sustainable buildings.

”HASSELL developed a hybrid space that will serve the company now and into the future – and set a new benchmark for legal workplace design,” Mr Backhouse said.

He said offices without walls, traditional office spaces, non-allocated quiet rooms, breakout hubs and semi-open workstations were the new normal for Baker McKenzie and a radically simple, yet new, approach for the legal industry.

Ms Risch said the firm now sits over three seamlessly connected floors, after occupying eight disconnected and relatively small-scale floors at its previous address.

Such is the success that the national managing partner of Baker McKenzie, Anthony Foley, happily sits out in the open area with his staff.

Ms Risch said Baker McKenzie shows how a hybrid – neither fully open or fully enclosed – functional and flexible workplace strategy can be achieved without sacrificing equity, daylight, views and diversity – all within a very strong architectural envelope.

”When designing offices of the future, we are also dealing with multi-generational staff with a different cultural approach to interacting with clients,” Ms Risch said.

”For the legal profession it was a challenge, but now clients volunteer to come to the Baker McKenzie offices.”

Mr Foley said that the workplace has ”exceeded his highest expectations” and that it has been transformative for the firm’s business.

”The design captures so many of the aspirations we have for our firm. It reflects our ambition to be imaginative and bold. It enhances our efforts to be collaborative and innovative, and it creates the space and flow for our people to come together with each other and our clients,” Mr Anthony said.

A commissioned kinetic installation by artist Marion Borgeld hangs over the three-storey void that also contains the striking floating staircase that connects the firm.

Calder Consultants founder James Calder, who led the development of the workplace strategy, said ”that it is arguably the best legal workplace anywhere in the world”.

“It was a true collaboration between the absolute best people and organisations in the business of workplace design globally and this combined to create the finest representation of a real hybrid legal solution that I’ve ever been involved with,” Mr Calder said.