Divergent office design

What do you call an office with no receptionist, no phones and a carpet of glossy black pebbles replacing carpet tiles? The Research Agency, of course. 

“We wanted to question what a typical office is,” says the company’s director, Andrew Lewis. The result is a commanding new fit-out at Auckland’s 35 High Street, by architect Jose Gutierrez

“The idea was to get away from the office as a ‘backroom’, and create a contemporary space to underline that we do things differently,” says Lewis. “We’re the sort of team where bare feet are OK. It’s a happy company. Work tends to happen within deadlines, but outside of that, there’s a lot of freedom.”

Gutierrez has completely remodelled the space to present the company’s brand in a new way. Formerly derelict and with its north-facing bank of windows covered by a false wall, the office now features extensive natural light and an unusual black and white colour scheme, underpinned by state-of-the-art wireless technology. 

The fit-out is so good, it’s been announced as a finalist in the ‘Offices and Workplace Environments’ category of the NZ Best Design Awards 2010, to be held this coming Friday. 

The key design features office are:


Gutierrez dispensed with a traditional reception, and referred to The Research Agency’s logo to design a ‘first impression area’ with impact. “It suggested the idea of an empty billboard in the desert with cars driving by,” he says. He recreated the logo large-scale in raw steel to let light in, but also screen the view of neighbouring commercial buildings. 

The concrete floor was replaced with a carpet of FactioStone black pebbles bonded with resin, to give it the look of a road glistening with rain. However, the colour means it also gathers heat, adding a surprising warmth and texture to the open-plan office.


The boardroom mixes quirky design with contemporary technology. A nearly invisible projector and camera facilitate Skype conference calls, but this is also where the agency presents work to clients. The colour scheme defies conventional interior design with a black ceiling, but uses glossy white surfaces and recessed lighting to bounce light around the room.

Gutierrez and graphic designer Musonda Katongo added a wall of Goldie-style portraits to play with the idea of a traditional boardroom, but with a twist: each has been tweaked with anachronistic elements: iPods, tattoos and biros.

Work area

Clutter was reduced or eliminated in various ways:
- New ceiling panels were installed to counter the open-plan area’s acoustics and hide the exposed electrical conduits common to buildings of this era;
- The linoleum surface of the shared desk space acts as one big mouse pad;
- Gutierrez designed the “beam of light” above the workdesk to act as a single lighting source and tie the space together visually;
- All calls come via staff desktops ‘tethered’ to iPhones, meaning the office operates without a landline or individual telephones, and staff are completely mobile;
- The bespoke desks, also designed by Gutierrez, feature joinery that makes them appear to float, minimising unnecessary visual detail.

Bar/breakout area
This area is differentiated with the use of casual elements; for example, a whole wall covered in whiteboard material, which the staff use for note-taking, and kitsch light bulbs (from Dark) arranged randomly above the lounge seating. The sculptural bar area – designed by Gutierrez – integrates storage space. 

More about Jose Gutierrez

Gutierrez graduated in 2000 with an honours degree in Architecture from Auckland University. Since then, he has worked in Auckland with the multi-award winning architect Andrew Lister and in the UK with award-winning London architects DMFK, on projects including the Tate Modern and the Body & Soul charity headquarters, as well as a range of residential projects. 

In 2008 Gutierrez set up his own architectural design practice, Jose Gutierrez Ltd, and has since worked on both commercial fit-outs and a range of residential projects.

All photos by Emily Andrews