Primark

Connecting what had been vacant space between its two office buildings, the atrium is the new center of the Primark headquarters. Photography by Donal Murphy.

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Since opening in 1969, the Irish fast-fashion retailer Primark has grown quickly. The company, which has nearly 300 stores in Europe, opened its first of many planned for the U.S. in Boston in September. In the midst of this expansion, though, Primark never left its humble first office, located in a building that dates back to 1906, which also housed its original Dublin store. The company added offices within an adjacent building constructed in 2002, but this left Primark with a discontinuous array of ad hoc, unconnected workspaces.

“Primark occupied both buildings, but there wasn’t any connectivity between them,” explains Andrew McCann, creative director at MoreySmith, a London-based architecture and interiors firm that designed Primark’s new headquarters. “If employees had a meeting, they’d often have to go down to the street, walk around the corner, and into the other building.” For a company in the design industry, its own workplace had become something of an ungainly outlier. But given the site’s significance to Primark, the company chose to stay, and razing the existing buildings in favor of all new construction was never an option.

To upgrade Primark’s interiors and provide the company with increased efficiency for more than 600 employees, MoreySmith set out to create an office with much-needed cohesiveness. The firm renovated the interiors in phases and integrated the two buildings by glazing the space that had once separated them, transforming a dowdy courtyard into a connective atrium. “It became the central heart of the new building,” McCann says.

Atrium supporting communal spirit

MoreySmith arrayed shared corporate amenities— including a cafe, informal gathering areas, and an exercise studio—around the atrium as a way to reinforce the communal spirit of the office. Once characterized by a series of enclosed spaces in discrete areas (“rooms within rooms,” as MoreySmith Associate Dani Salamon puts it), the headquarters now allows employees to work in completely open-plan workspaces.

Because the various departments each had different needs in terms of work area and lighting requirements, the architects clustered departments together but left the office free from the boundaries that could constrict possibilities for collaboration. “People walk to other desks now to have face-to-face meetings instead of falling into the email culture,” Salamon says. Primark CEO Paul Marchant calls this change “transformational,” noting that the design provides an “opportunity for cross functional interaction.”

Clarity in office circulation was paramount for the creation of the kind of collaborative and efficient headquarters that Primark wanted. MoreySmith consolidated the building access to one mainentrance, increasing the likelihood for chance encounters. An elevator core, located at the center of the headquarters, brings people to a second level, where the designers placed shared amenities. From there, employees disperse to the working areas that flank the atrium from above.

An office conducive to the fashion business
The redesign has also allowed Primark to make its headquarters available for new uses, including a more open environment for outside consultants and vendors. A press lounge, for example, provides the company with a space to stage its latest products for visiting editors and journalists. Enclosed in glass and positioned along a central corridor, the press lounge has become a highlight of the office. “Primark can put its entire line on display,” McCann explains. “But employees walk by that space every day, so everybody can see what’s going on, what the latest designs are.” A separate lounge for suppliers gives these busy travelers a place to conduct business or freshen up after a long flight.

A photography studio offers anotheropportunity to stage Primark’s work and allowsthe company to shoot its products consistently. An exercise studio with bicycle storage and showers lets employees maintain healthy lifestyles amidst busy work lives, while a convenience store that is run by a local charity simplifies outside errands. Collectively, all of these interior elements combined with the progressive workspaces help Primark to recruit and retain the best talent.

For both the client and the design team, the refreshed office has, more than anything, brought employees together—not just in terms of professional collaboration but also with informal social gatherings. For the lunch held to mark the opening, all of Primark’s employees assembled in the atrium. As Salamon says, “they never had that before—one space in which the entire company could get together.”

Primark International Headquarters

Architect: MoreySmith
Client: Primark
Where: Dublin
What: 125,000 total square feet on four floors
Cost/sf: Withheld at client’s request