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Inside String Theory's lively recycled workplace

Ad agency String Theory's workspace is full of airy, colourful, repurposed goodness.

Artist Jason Dempsey took to cruising the streets in a truck to find items to construct a recycled-style workspace for ad agency String Theory.

When newly created ad agency String Theory wanted to build a newly created workspace to match, the three shareholders – ad man Jeremy Taine, researcher and strategist Dr Jane Cherrington, and executive producer Nick Barnes – called artist Jason Dempsey with a simple brief: rescue, recycle, reuse.

“[We said] go nuts, do your thing,” Cherrington says. “We trusted Jason completely – and we were right to do so.”

Dempsey – who lists among his credits Neil Finn’s Roundhead Studios, Freight Train Music’s recording studios for Jimmy Barnes in Sydney, pop-up stores for Gravity Coffee and a video for Pajama Club – set about overhauling the empty character space of the old Laundry Building in Grey Lynn. Exposed cast concrete bond beams and timber sash windows over brick veneer infills formed the base for his work, and the north and east walls had full- length windows that let in an amazing amount of light, giving it a playful, warm and positive feeling, Dempsey says.

“From the first sit-down with Jeremy, Jane and Nick, it was easy to interpret a solid line on design. They all communicated their own vision based on how they saw String Theory being represented, and how the work environment should meet their functional needs.”

Dempsey’s first ideas were drawn from memories of baches and boat sheds: “Airy and useful with the look of distressed period colours, revealing beautiful native timbers.”

He sought to transform that feeling into a floating open boardroom between the central bond beams and work from there. He used old scaffolding planks to construct the inside of the boardroom, while its exterior is made from assorted weatherboards.

“Old cedar garage doors were turned into barn style sliding doors at each end to give the openness and mechanical feel, even the sliding hardware are 1950s pedigree. You could drive a car through the boardroom.”

Dempsey took the “rescue, recycle, reuse” brief literally, with sustainability awareness a big part of the brief.

“I decided to take the salvaging as far as I could and took a truck to the streets at various stages of the build with open eyes and hopeful attitude, the only way to get a rhythm with this type of build.

“After many trips and a lot of happy accidents we managed to collect enough materials to mould String Theory together.

“We all agreed we could achieve a low-impact project by using as much of the character that already existed within the space and add to it with recycled timbers, steel and salvaging fixtures and fittings from demolition yards, scrap yards, traders and Trade Me.”

Being such a big, open space, another design aspect was to adjust it to the climate without having to put in air conditioning; natural light and warmth are harnessed in summer and airflow can be controlled via mechanical windows and a commercial roller door. In colder times, winter blinds and a strategic placement of low-draw radiant ceiling heaters help battle the chill.

Builder Ian McKinnon was integral in the process, says Dempsey.

“He knows how I work and he has a great mind for details and finishing. We started by mapping out the boardroom, which is constructed on a floating floor system to help with acoustic transmission in a very live room, laser cut panels – a Trade Me find – were used to hold acoustic insulation in both ceiling panels and wall cavities to help with absorption of airborne sound.”

Ceiling and desk lighting, as well as a bookshelf light, were sourced from demolition yards and retrofitted to be energy efficient. The kitchen features an old factory workstation and 50s concrete laundry tub – again sourced from demo yards.

Dempsey and McKinnon cast the concrete top of the kitchen bench on site. The workstations are box section steel powder coated frames with tawa tops from a demo job of a 1960s squash court, with red and black court markings left on.

“With old things you also get their history – the large ceiling lights and decorative lamp were all salvaged from Eden Park as we used to know it,” Dempsey explains. “Couches made from plywood frames and lined with weatherboards sit between workstations to give an intimate and less formal interaction with clients, promoting a sense of ease and freedom.”

Room dividers on castors are original farm doors and can be moved to break up the space, the base for the table tennis table is made from an industrial air handling unit found in a commercial demo yard and shelves were constructed from 1960s cedar painters trestles.

Now Dempsey is working on a restaurant fit-out and commercial development, as well as “many hours keeping a few old English and American bikes alive”.

“This was a great project to be involved with clients who were trusting and communicative, and as a result a work space with a true reflection of their personalities and their String Theory working style was achieved.”