31st March 2009
Arizona's biggest and best-known British import is the relocated London Bridge, in Lake Havasu City. But another famous symbol from the English capital-a double-decker bus-is on prominent display in the Phoenix-area offices of architecture/design/branding firm Fitch.
FITCH, Scottsdale, Ariz.
(March 2009) posted on Thu Mar 26, 2009 2:42pm EDT
How We Work: Images and icons associated with the firm’s illustrious founder from London energize Fitch’s Arizona offices.
By Matthew Hall
Arizona’s biggest and best-known British import is the relocated London Bridge, in Lake Havasu City. But another famous symbol from the English capital-a double-decker bus-is on prominent display in the Phoenix-area offices of architecture/design/branding firm Fitch.
That 1960s-era vehicle once plied London’s streets, followed by a stint as a tour bus at a Hollywood movie studio before being put out to pasture and offered for sale. FITCH designers found the open-top coach through an online search, got a corporate okay to buy it and installed it in the lobby of the firm’s Scottsdale, Ariz., office.
But the refurbished bus isn’t displayed like a museum piece. Instead, FITCH workers converted its interior into usable space, with a conference room on the lower level and an employee lounge, replete with such retro features as psychedelic upholstery, bean bag chairs and lava lamps, on the deck above. (In a nod to today’s technology, the lounge is also home to a plasma screen TV.)
“We wanted something that would grab visitors’ attention, while also being functional,” says senior graphic designer Keith McCord.
In addition, the bus reflects and reinforces the FITCH firm’s origins as the creation of legendary London designer Rodney FITCH. Though FITCH once walked away for nine years from the company he founded in 1972, he was persuaded to return as chairman in 2003. WPP, the massive marketing communications conglomerate with corporate offices in London and New York, had acquired the Fitch firm a few months earlier. “We are delighted to put the Fitch back into FITCH,” WPP ceo Martin Sorrell said at the time.
Rodney Fitch is perhaps best known for the interior designs for Terminals 3 and 4 at London’s Heathrow airport, as well as for creating retail spaces for such diverse clients as the Topshop fashion chain and the Lego toy company. (He was awarded the honorary title of Commander of the British Empire in 1990 for his influence on that country’s design industry.) To capitalize on his cachet within the design and branding communities, WPP put him at center stage in the FITCH firm’s marketing efforts.
So when the company decided to move its Arizona offices into bigger digs in 2007, its in-house design team gave Rodney Fitch and his London roots a starring role in the space’s reception area. In addition to the converted tour bus, that space is also home to a 12-by-8-foot image of the founder on one of its walls.
“We feel both elements help infuse the entire space with a sense of energy and creativity,” says McCord.
DESIGN AND DELIVERY
Designers also wanted the firm’s 20,000-square-foot workspace to serve as a showcase of the firm’s talents “not only in designing a space, but also in the delivery of a finished environment,” says design director David Santos.
This particular FITCH branch (one of the firm’s 18 offices in 11 countries) employs a total of about 50 and specializes in architectural, design and implementation of retail and food-service environments. So, to show off its capabilities in the restaurant sector (where the firm’s clients include Baja Fresh, Noodles & Co. and P.F. Chang’s), FITCH designers eschewed the plain-Jane kitchen areas that populate many offices. Instead, the FITCH kitchen features an upscale look that incorporates stainless steel finishes, solid-surface counters and a glass-tile backsplash.
The kitchen is separated from the adjoining reception area by a curving, dark blue stretched-canvas wall that’s adorned with an abstract painting by Henry Hirsch, an engineer that the FITCH office has worked with for many years. Another curved wall shelters the office’s administrative zone. That façade is covered with a series of graphics that tell the WPP/FITCH story. Art gets accessible to the public with the “Friends of FITCH” gallery affixed to a mesh fence, which displays works by local artists and is refreshed several times a year.
While much of the FITCH office incorporates visually interesting angles and accoutrements, its central architectural studio-”where the real-world work gets done,” as Santos puts it-is a large open space. The architects work on generous tabletops separated by partitions topped with glass panels. “The panels offer a degree of privacy, while still preserving an open feel to the space,” he says.
It’s not all business in the studio; there are also some whimsical features that reflect the creative impulses of its denizens. Take, for example, the “bubble gum” wall, which features hanging strings of small circular headshots showing staffers blowing bubbles. On the flip side of each photo is a brief saying that summarizes the personal philosophies and/or passions of the person pictured. Examples: “Where’s the Beach?” “Star Wars Geek” and “Faith Works.”
Also noteworthy are the oversized windows that rim the studio, bathing it in Scottsdale’s seemingly perpetual sunshine. That use of natural light is just one of numerous green features designers incorporated into the space. Others include office furniture that incorporates formaldehyde-free plywood; zebra-wood laminate instead of veneer for side panels; and eco-friendly solid-surface countertops.
“We want to show that we practice what we preach, when it comes to infusing our designs with sustainability,” says Santos. Consequently, FITCH officials are seeking silver status for the Scottsdale offices under the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program.
Meantime, McCord notes that the office design has been a hit not only with clients, but with designers from other FITCH offices. As a result, similar Rodney-centric workspaces could be coming to the Fitch branch nearest you.