On the Creative Floor: Wieden & Kennedy London

Does a special room set aside for creativity inhibit it, rather than free it? That's the view of W&K, where conventional office walls don't exist and everyone brings in ideas and objects that might fire the agency's muse, as Tony Davidson explains.

On the Creative Floor: Wieden & Kennedy London
On the Creative Floor: Wieden & Kennedy London

There is no creative floor at Wieden & Kennedy. The borders between who exactly is and isn't creative are very blurred in our office.

We sit in mixed-up teams and are currently exploring a loose version of hot-desking. We try to move people round the building from time to time. These days, a "creative team" at W&K might include a comms planner, a technologist, a designer, maybe even (whisper it) an account handler.

My sister, who teaches furniture design, helped design the basement of our previous building. She said she thought ad agencies were some of the least creative environments she had seen.

Their receptions all tried to tell visitors how successful they were: big marble lobbies with designer furniture and banks of televisions showing off their own work.

She believed "creativity" is the stuff you bring into the agency each day. With this in mind, she designed see-through cabinets that sat next to people's desks, where they could display objects of inspiration. When we moved to our current offices in Spitalfields, we tried to take this same philosophy with us. The building we chose is not particularly impressive. What's important is the stuff that we bring into it. The end result looks somewhere between a junk market and an art show. We often have to turn people away at the door who think the agency is some sort of shop or gallery. It has also been mistaken, not unreasonably, for a community care centre for dropouts.

Architects often want one overall look for a building. Their vision forced on to you. We are an eclectic bunch of folks who didn't want this to happen to us. There's no unifying design aesthetic here.

Many of the decisions as to where we ended up and how we designed the building came as a direct result of spending four years stuck in a basement back in Great Portland Street. We wanted our own front door on street level. We wanted a shop window to showcase stuff we had made. We wanted to get away from the advertising "goldfish bowl" of Soho and have a more diverse creative community walking past.

We decided no-one should have to sit at a desk in the basement with poor light, so we put all the meeting rooms down there.

We wanted space we could grow into.

And cheaper rent was a bonus. Not everything was logical. Our creative Matt Gooden joked that I was a lunatic and should be locked up. I took him literally and a bright green padded cell was born. Not the most practical meeting room, but it turned out to be a great room for conference calls because of the acoustics.

Some decisions that may appear random did have a reason. "The Sherlock Holmes Room" is based on an old-fashioned study with wood panelling and period fittings. It has a glass wall to the early Georgian street outside so we thought it would be nice to reflect on the interior what's outside.

Giving back to the community is another value we try to live up to. When we extended to a second building, we decided to have a large event space the local community, and not just us, could benefit from. This space is our village square, where we host talks, meetings, screenings and gigs.

There are no private offices here. We sit in teams round big tables and get together informally in project areas to review work. Clients often join us to sit with the teams for the day. The walls here aren't for keeping people out - they're for sticking ideas on so everyone can comment on and contribute to what others are doing. This is not a calm, contemplative work environment. It's noisy, chaotic and busy. We think the best work comes out of shared ideas, happy accidents and overheard conversations.

Finally, I would like to return to my sister's point about creativity being what you bring into the agency. In order to do this, you had better be inspiring yourself outside of the office. We live in London, one of the most inspiring cities in the world. I firmly believe most great ideas are not born sitting in front of your computer in an office. Get out there and soak up what's happening in culture. You are who you meet and what you get up to.

Tony Davidson is the executive creative director of Wieden & Kennedy London.