On the creative floor: M&C Saatchi Sydney

It was love at first sight when Tom McFarlane set eyes on this art deco office with a view, even though it was in need of a refurb and full of rats.


Welcome to our home. Without bias (well, perhaps a smidge), our creative floor is one of the most beautiful office spaces in Sydney.

It occupies the grand hall of the former New South Wales Transport House, a seven-storey art deco classic, purpose-built "between wars" in the late 30s.

Its proud sandstone facade sits on Macquarie Street – a grand boulevard flanked by the Royal Botanical Gardens, which links Hyde Park to the Sydney Opera House.

In times past, it was Sydney’s Harley Street – somewhere you went to consult the most eminent specialists in town. We like to think our clients still do that.

Until 2009, M&C Saatchi occupied a 60s high-rise on Macquarie Street but had seriously outgrown it. We were, however, determined to stay on our favourite street.

We looked and looked and looked. Finally, our chief financial officer noticed number 99. Despite being vacant for 35 years and uninhabitable (except for a population of happy rats), it was love at first sight.

Further investigation revealed that the owners had purchased the building when they acquired the adjacent InterContinental, one of Sydney’s premier hotels. Apparently, they were happy to leave it idle as a buffer for their investment next door.

So we approached them with an offer – if they would refurbish the building, we would commit to a lengthy lease.

They accepted and we appointed the award-winning Australian architect Dale Jones-Evans, who took on the project with zeal.

Working with the Australian Heritage Council, Dale did a remarkable job of restoring the building to its former glory. Six months later, in July 2009, we moved in.

Level three, our creative floor, is an epic space that soars past a mezzanine to an ornate ceiling high above. Giant windows that run from terrazzo floor to ceiling bathe the space with natural light.

The floor’s central atrium is flanked on each side by a row of towering marble columns. As you would expect, we have a highly integrated creative department. No walls or cubicles supports that seamlessness.

Beyond one colonnade, creative teams are organised in pods of three, with the code guys joining the copywriters and art directors.

Digital production, PR and social strategy intermingle beyond the other row of columns.

Our creative directors sit at a communal table at the head of the atrium, with the executive creative director, Ben Welsh, on a table behind them. The creative heads are just a chair swivel from the strategists, data people and channel planners.

The floor’s centrifugal force is the "long table" that runs for 15 metres down its heart.

It’s the communal anvil at which our thinkers and makers regularly congregate to hammer out ideas – fuelled by an espresso machine that hisses and gurgles away at one end.

Le Corbusier said "a house is a machine for living in". To paraphrase the great man – our office is a machine for working and playing in.

The big, open, airy, slightly dreamy space lends itself perfectly to a culture of creative collaboration.

I reside with the chairman, Tom Dery, and the chief executive, Jaimes Leggett, on the mezzanine – handy for us to lean over the rail to see what’s going on and be part of the buzz, which is constant.

Thankfully, the long table is made from solid timber. Sturdy enough to handle being danced on when our agency all-staffers get a little out of hand. Its load-bearing capacity was severely tested when our 360-odd staff popped Champagne corks after winning Australia’s largest bank, Commonwealth Bank, last year.

Another space that is great for getting the creative juices flowing is the third-floor cafe – home to our resident chef and barista. And, yes, there’s the bar – the Bunker Bar in the subterranean depths of the building.

But my favourite is the rooftop for sun-baking, barbecues, cold beers and the best view in Sydney.

Leaders from all 25 M&C Saatchi offices will be here for the annual worldwide meeting in a few weeks. We’re looking forward to showing them our home (and making them all a little bit envious).

Tom McFarlane is the regional creative director for Australia and Asia-Pacific at M&C Saatchi Sydney