Breaching Barriers: Global reinsurance firm gets an impressive new home on the fifth floor of Point House
When you walk through the door into the offices of the global reinsurance company that has taken up residence on the fifth floor of the iconic Point House, you are in no doubt that you have found the right place. A huge floor-to-ceiling three-dimensional feature wall of Andrew Stevenson’s breaching humpback whale can only mean one company: Pacific Life Re.
“The iconic breeching whale logo of the parent company was a clear link to the humpback whales of Bermuda,” explains Susan Behrens, senior architect at OBMI. This is a brand-new office for Pacific Life Re and when they took on the space, it was very raw. There wasn’t even a layer of plaster on the walls. What they did have, however, were windows and balconies with spectacular views of Hamilton Harbour, the Great Sound and Front Street, as well as a large column in an inconvenient spot, that they couldn’t move.
So that’s where they began, turning the column into a “pivot point” either side of an internal glass-walled boardroom. Go left for the offices and work stations, or straight on for the meeting rooms and kitchen commons area.
At the same time as Pacific Life Re’s Bermuda office was being created, the firm was undertaking a global workplace study with international architectural firm Gensler, and OBMI Bermuda was the first organisation to “test-drive” the new standards. One of the guiding principles for the interior design needed to be “global consistency and local expression” and the team realised that the humpback whale could provide more than just a mural to achieve this.
“I started looking at Andrew’s photography and you look at the texture of the skin and the barnacles. There’s so much going on, as well as the layers of the ocean and the spray and the transparency, and all of those issues and concepts became the inspiration,” explains Behrens. This inspiration can be seen to varying degrees throughout the whole office. The grey shades in the carpet look like barnacles, the enhanced “water splash” has been used for the kitchen backsplash, and the wave motif on the glass boardroom walls is actually the throat of the humpback whale.
From a technical perspective, getting the boardroom sound proofing, acoustics and lighting right was a very high priority, particularly for an international company reliant on video conferencing. Microphones on the table, for example, pick up every little sound including shuffled papers, so they were installed into the ceiling instead and are sensitive enough to pick up people’s voices but not the unnecessary background noise. “Acoustics was the biggest design requirement for the project,” adds OBMI interior designer, Vanessa Bean. “We went on an expedition, looking at all wall systems that are locally available and found that the V.I.A. wall system was the best for this project. We’ve been able to layer different levels of acoustics.” They also added wood panelling to the ceiling as well as integrated linear lighting. The wood softens and warms the room and has been successfully incorporated in other areas of the office.
Because it was so important, there was an anxious moment when it came to testing out the sound proofing. A radio was turned on outside, very loud, but huge sighs of relief followed when they went into the boardroom, closed the door and couldn’t hear a thing.
The same acoustic systems have been used in the small meeting and focus rooms. Tucked away behind the boardroom is a copy room and bar area which supports anyone using that meeting room.
Because of the phenomenal views, the company was adamant that all the staff get to enjoy them and to this end, explains Behrens, “all the desks are turned perpendicular to the windows to avoid glare and so nobody has their back to the view.” All the office furniture had to adhere to global standards and that included height-adjustable desks. Colour tones also had to adhere to the same standards, and the fixtures and fittings are predominantly light blues, greys and whites, but with striking pops of orange, which matches the company’s brand. These pops of colour include the seating in the kitchen area and bright orange Adirondack chairs on one of the balconies. The balcony furniture was also carefully considered and not just so that employees can enjoy some downtime in the fresh air. Some go out there to work, and when visitors are in town, the balconies can double up as additional, and more enjoyable, meeting spaces.
In addition to incorporating the branding colours, Pacific Life Re has an impressive collection of Bermudian artwork to adorn the walls, some of which was previously acquired and others that were sourced to fit the new spaces. These include vibrant digital photographic paintings of Gombeys by Andy Detzer and a huge picture of Grape Bay. The collection further supports the design mandate for “global consistency and local expression.”
The staff at Pacific Life Re work hard, so it was important to create relaxing spaces for a temporary “switch-off” or informal gatherings. Next to the kitchen is a commons area, which includes a foosball table, more relaxed seating and even walls that can be written on.
A stylish shower room has a Front Street view; there is, however, also a pull-down blind, just in case someone happens to be looking up at the wrong time. Elsewhere around this vibrant office, is a lot of hidden or out-of-the-way storage, particularly in the kitchen areas. The feature wall that greets you on arrival, for example, actually disguises a number of large cupboards, with the flute being the door into the shower, and there are lockers for staff in this area, too.
The precise detailing and the way that the OBMI team solved the challenges of sound proofing and lighting really impressed our judges. They reserved particularly high praise for the “whale highway” and the concealed storage areas behind it and enjoyed the fact that all the elements came together in a “very neat and crisp” way.
Significantly, the Bermuda office has now become Pacific Life Re’s blueprint for all its other offices.