Special | The office after the office
initiated by evoline
Total turnaround
Franziska Eidner | Oct 9, 2013

“We wanted a swift and total turnaround,” says Pascal Havy. In his role as project manager, he oversaw the construction of the new building and coordinated the move of the French oil corporation to its new headquarters in Germany. The entire company packed up and made the move from the old to the new location at tremendous speed – while doing business as usual.

It took just one weekend to clear the offices in the Mosse-Haus in Berlin’s Mitte district (the listed building served as the company’s headquarters for more than ten years) and set up workplaces in the new “Tour Total” office high-rise near Berlin’s main train station. In the run-up to the big move the company management went to great lengths planning and organizing everything to the last detail. They were keen to ensure that the total turnaround would not boomerang on them and their staff. One year after it opened, we took a look around the new office tower, which just missed being voted “European High-Rise of the Year 2013”, eager to find out whether the “participative office planning” à la Total proved a success.


The architects at “Barkow Leibinger” dreamed up the 69-meter high-rise with its intriguing façade made of light-colored concrete modules, which was superbly received in the specialist and daily press alike. The client is “CA Immo”, which also owns the property. In 2009 “Total” signed a general lease for the 17-story high-rise and awarded the real-estate consultants at “Jones Long Lasalle” with the contract for the interior development, office planning, and the design of the workstations and processes. Meaning that inside the building “Barkow Leibinger” was responsible only for the design of the lobby. Here, the walls are clad with glazed white ceramic tiles, transporting the theme of the outside façade into the building. By introducing an angle to the cuboid structure of the building and opting for floor-to-ceiling windows, the majority of which can be opened, the Berlin-based architects succeeded in creating bright rooms of comfortable proportions. This formed the basis for an office high-rise whose exterior and interior do not reveal at first glance that the impressive outcome is due to specifications made to enhance efficiency and optimize the relationship between the space and its users.

f Total.

Bottom-up instead of top-down

Workstations in open-plan offices cost up to 20 percent less compared to traditional offices with one or two people. Plus they offer higher flexibility in working procedures and the option of direct communication into the bargain. It was clear from the outset that the new office floors at Total would be designed as open-plan offices for between 40 and 50 people. It was also clear that this would mean a total turnaround for the employees, who were used to enclosed offices for one or two people and now found themselves anxious that the change might introduce a considerable increase in ambient noise and the loss of their privacy.

The Berlin architects Barkow Leibinger designed office building (pictures left) and lobby (pictured right). Photo © Christian Richters

“We knew that it would not be a good idea to let the management alone decide on a radical transformation on this scale and expect people to go along with it,” explains project manager Pascal Havy. To aid acceptance of the new working environment, Total ran a comprehensive communication campaign and worked with its consultants to develop an extensive participation procedure. This also included the restructuring of work processes. We must bear in mind here that involving employees in the planning on a large scale is by no means something that can be taken for granted and, given the strictly hierarchical company culture at Total, is therefore all the more remarkable.

Several events were run to inform the staff about the project as early as three years in advance. Everyone was invited to participate in one of 11 working parties on “Tour Total”. It worked like this: For over two years, the members of the working panel on “Workplace Design”, 15 employees in total, held regular meetings in which they formulated their requirements of office furniture, evaluated interior design concepts and voted in the final decision-making.

Creating different atmospheres

Responsible for the design of the new staff restaurant on the ground floor, the “Service” working panel regularly exchanged ideas with the architects at “LWA” in Berlin, who had been commissioned with the design of the restaurant. The panel had a say right down to the choice of tableware. “Of course opting for this strategy meant that far more communication was necessary,” says Dietmar Leyk, Partner at LWA and Director of the new research studio “Knowledge Production and its Spaces” at the “Berlage Institute” in Rotterdam, mentioning that countless visualizations on various materials and colors were necessary to aid the decision-making process. “But I would be happy to do it all over again, because as an architect such a process allows you to come directly face to face with users on different hierarchical tiers and discuss their experiences. And that tells you far more about their real-life needs and rituals, giving you the chance to find the best possible solution.”

One of the first meetings with the staff looked at the theme of “Atmosphere”. What kind of atmosphere did employees wish to have in their restaurant? For example, they were not keen on having the very open and transparent style of the office spaces transported over into the eating area, but preferred the restaurant to exude comfort and security, offering areas to retreat. Moreover, the restaurant was to provide a new communication zone, inspire people to get together as much as possible and encourage information flow across hierarchies. “A collective territory that nonetheless ensures privacy,” was the common consensus, reports Dietmar Leyk. Consequently, the architects at LWA took the metaphor of the forest to give the space a permeable structure composed of 750 floor-to-ceiling aluminum bars with a matt gold finish, which in the place of partitions organized the 320-square-meter restaurant on the ground floor into several zones.

Left: Pascal Havy, project manager at Total, Pascal Havy, Project Manager at Total, accompanied the "bottom-up" process. Photo © Franziska Eidner
Right: An old petrol pump reminds of the origins of the company. Photo © Franziska Eidner

Ideas competition and testing swivel chairs

The 12 office floors, which, apart from the directors’ offices and the offices of the legal division, have been organized as open spaces with a north and south wing each measuring some 400 square meters, were furnished in conjunction with “Bene”. Based in Austria, the interior design company and office furniture supplier was selected by way of a two-step tender process. An ideas competition kicked off the selection stage. Seven manufacturers were invited to hand in their concepts, and the top three awarded. On the basis of this the “Workplace Design” working panel developed the specifications for the final tender along with an assessment system. Getting the employees on board meant that money was secondary when it came to awarding the job.

Round about a year before the big move, Total ran a kind of “pilot phase” to test a range of office furniture systems, carpets and lighting systems. Would they be suitable for daily use? To this end, 40 employees due to relocate to Berlin from the company’s Düsseldorf branch moved into newly furnished interim offices in the old building. They decided against having very white light, which is said to aid attention in the workplace, but was felt to be unpleasant. Moreover, a favorite in office seating, the swivel chair from Interstuhl’s “Goal Air” series, won the vote of employees who test-sat it. Consequently, it was chosen for all workplaces – from the administrative assistant’s desk all the way to the director’s office – a novelty at Total, where leather chairs had previously been the standard in all managerial offices.

The restaurant provides a new communication zone, inspire people to get together as much as possible and encourage information flow across hierarchies. The Berlin architecture office Leyk Wollenberg (LWA) designed it. Photo ©

Islands and cocoons

The open-plan working zones in “Tour Total” are arranged in a ring around the access core. For better orientation, depending on the direction you are walking in, a distinction is made between “Berlin Street” and “Paris Street”, each marked with the relevant architectural logo – the Television Tower for Berlin and the Eiffel Tower for Paris. The majority of workstations are organized into groups of four. There are no partitions; semi-high cabinets serve to structure the space instead.

The workplaces have been tested by employees before. Photo © Werner Hutmacher Photography

In addition to a range of meeting rooms, a lounge and a kitchenette, there are so-called “cocoons” for spontaneous team sessions, which also serve as retreats. For Total, Bene made as many as 35 lightweight-construction cabins, which offer superb sound-absorption qualities. 2.10 meters high and 2.30 meters wide, these modules come complete with a whiteboard, power and IT connection and can accommodate up to four people. As with the other workspace furniture, the dominating color white is set off by a light green. Not surprisingly, the entire staff voted on the new color scheme as part of a staff survey. “Asking everyone’s opinion on every single detail wouldn’t be feasible of course,” says Pascal Havy. “But providing transparency and offering possibilities to have a real say in what’s happening crucially lays the foundations for a harmonious working environment accepted by all.”

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