Virgin Voyages

IA designs a forward-looking space for the soon-to-launch cruise division of Sir Richard Branson’s pioneering Virgin Group. Photography by Robin Hill

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Given his taste for adventure, it’s hardly surprising that the headquarters for Sir Richard Branson’s latest venture would radiate a sense of energy and excitement. Scheduled to debut in 2020, Virgin Voyages will expand the multi-faceted travel component of the legendary entrepreneur’s Virgin Group beyond its established imprint on land, air, and space by venturing into the sea with a line of cruise ships. And the offices for this new enterprise, designed by IA’s Miami-based team, inventively reflect the unique spirit of this addition to the maverick Virgin brand.

A flexible office space with room to grow
The new workspace, completed in December 2017, also achieves a broader mission to expand the new company over time. Located on one and a half floors of an office building in Plantation, Florida, the first phase of the freshly completed office currently houses 102 employees, known in-house as “crew members,” who range from ship designers and engineers to hotel operations, sales and marketing, and human resources personnel. “When we started the design process there were 32 crew members, but we expect to be close to 470 people when we’re done,” says Michelle Bentubo, Virgin Voyage’s vice president of shoreside operations and program management. In anticipation, the designers created a master plan that will allow the staff to grow as the business grows, and ultimately expand to another full floor to occupy a total 69,000 square feet.

The most important mandate from the leadership at Virgin, however, was that the overall design evocatively reflects the brand with intangible qualities that go beyond form. “When we were working with the architects, we thought about what drives our own people when they’re designing a ship,” says Bentubo. “Some of the words that came to mind were ‘innovative,’ ‘vibrant,’ and ‘electric,’ and we wanted to bring those qualities to our offices,” she explains. In response, the design team crafted a work environment that merges two identities—that of the new Virgin Voyages venture as well as the larger Virgin Group, which controls more than 400 companies. It also responds to other pragmatic demands from the client, including incorporating a mix of both collaborative and focused workspaces as well as what Bentubo refers to as “purposeful flexibility.”

The design team used color, light, and materials to shape a variety of moods and spaces that serve a multiplicity of purposes. “The moment you step off the elevator, you walk into a vestibule surrounded with light that changes colors and signals the vibrant energy of the company,” says Adam Treisser, IA’s project manager for the design. Upon entering the reception area, a trio of purple leather ottomans and a bold, red conference room immediately project the dominant colors of the Virgin brand, he adds. “At the same time, the angles of the long reception desk across from the red room tie into the angles of a ship and echo the DNA of the Virgin Voyages brand,” says Gisselle Amador, IA’s interior designer on the project.

Thoughtful design captures a sense of adventure
Several other playful design gestures enhance the Virgin vocabulary and reinforce the brand throughout. “We knew that Sir Richard Branson hated the word ‘cruise,’ preferring instead the word ‘voyage,’” says Marlene Liriano, managing director of the IA team. “Once travelers experienced one of the Virgin ships, he wanted them to feel transformed, as is life would never be the same,” she explains. “He wanted that sense of the unexpected to be felt in the offices as well.”

Evidence of such unexpected moments appears in key areas. A purple rope curtain enclosing a small meeting space, for example, combines a subtle nautical air with a peek-a-boo sense of mystery. Elsewhere, interior “cabanas” defined with wooden trellises and sporting hanging rattan chairs and lounge-like seating provide a relaxed, tropical-inspired space in which to commune with colleagues or retreat for quiet thought with a laptop. Nearby, retro-inspired British-style phone booths recall the roots of the company’s pioneering founder with pops of bright red.

In contrast, a mix of subtler materials and neutral furnishings extend the modern nautical flavor of the brand while underscoring the company’s values. Sleek white workstations devoid of dividing panels, for example, bring to mind the clean lines of a ship and support an open, collaborative ambience. Even the polished concrete floors, beach-y textured carpets made partially from recycled fishnets, and rattan-shaded light fixtures fitted with LED sources quietly evoke a waterfront atmosphere while responding to the company’s earth-friendly ethos.

“They hit it out of the park for us,” says Bentubo, summing up the crew members’ response to the space. “They created the same kind of epic sea change in our offices that we’ll be delivering on our ships.”

Who Architect: IA Interior Architects. Project team: Marlene Liriano; Gisselle Amador; Adam Treiser. Contractor: Cardella Construction Company. Engineering: KAMM Consulting. Graphics: IA Interior Architects/ Virgin Voyages.
What Wallcoverings: Wolf-Gordon. Paint: Sherwin Williams. Laminate: Formica. Movable walls: Modern Fold. Flooring: Six Degrees Flooring Surfaces. Carpet: Interface; Shaw. Lighting: Pinnacle; Coronet; Flos; Bover; Tom Dixon; Baselight; OCL Architectural Lighting. Hardware: Yale. Workstations and conference tables: Teknion. Seating: Humanscale; Teknion, Global; Emeco; Grand Rapids Chair; Kimball; OFS; Danish Design Store; Roche Bobois; Gunlocke; Tables: Gaber, Teknion; OFS; Fusion Tables. Files: Teknion. Architectural/custom woodworking: Fine Line Custom Millwork.

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